“In a New York minute, everything can change.”
— Don Henley.
Wow. Andrew Cuomo couldn’t have fallen more quickly had he taken a dive off the Empire State Building.
Just over a year and a half ago, my wife Gail and I looked forward to sipping a glass of wine in the late afternoon and listening to the New York governor’s daily press conferences on the COVID pandemic. At a time when we were simultaneously quarantined, anxious and bored to the point of stupefaction, he provided relief.
Sometimes in those talks, Cuomo sounded more like a football coach than a politician, cheering for the state’s population every time its COVID numbers went down a few points. The only reason we started near the bottom of the national virus rankings, he kept saying, was because when everyone thought the virus was only coming from China, infected travelers from Europe were pouring into LaGuardia Airport and infecting unsuspecting New Yorkers. He kept telling us it wasn’t our fault.
Other times, Cuomo talked a little about his personal life, expressed sympathy for the families of those who had died from the virus, pushed the benefits of mask-wearing and social distancing, and occasionally allowed himself a poke at Donald Trump’s hands-off approach to the COVID calamity.
In the process, he came across as both comforting and in control (as much as anyone could be in control back then), somewhat like the rescue worker who peers into the automobile wreckage that has trapped you and says: “Don’t worry. We’re going to get you out of there.”
And the rest of the nation noticed. There was talk at the time of Cuomo being named attorney general if the Democrats won the presidency. Or maybe, it was even hinted, he would make a much more dynamic presidential candidate than the rather flaccid Joe Biden.
All that now seems like a long time ago. Between then and now, a dozen or so women — many of them former staff members — came forward to accuse Cuomo of assorted acts of sexual harassment and/or chauvinistic bullying. That set the ball rolling, and Cuomo’s many enemies came pouring out of the woodwork. The New York State assembly was sharpening its knives for impeachment proceedings, and Cuomo’s long-loyal first lieutenant, Melissa DeRosa, bailed out two days before he did. Somewhere, Donald Trump was probably laughing.
All this is not to advance the delusion that Cuomo was a saint. He has a large ego, along with a quick temper he occasionally exhibited when the press corps stepped on his toes. He was not, by all accounts, an easy person to work for.
Nevertheless, he got a lot done during his time at the helm of the Empire State. You can read the list at the bottom of every current story about his demise.
Typically, Cuomo tried to depict his resignation in a positive light.
“I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let the government get back to governing,” he said. “And therefore, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Step aside” sounds entirely voluntary. In reality, he was shoved.
To be clear, Cuomo was not directly accused of sexual assault (not yet, anyway). Rather, he was depicted as a dinosaur who acted much as untold numbers of male supervisors and politicians had acted before him. He admitted crossing a line, then added, “but I didn’t realize the extent to which that line had been redrawn.”
Since he was once a vocal supporter of the “Me, Too” movement, that’s a little hard to believe. In his case, “Me, Too,” had an entirely different connotation.
Still, we have a history in this country of stopping on a dime when it comes to societal injustices or communal threats to health. Smoking was what everybody did — then, seemingly overnight, it wasn’t. Having that jovial last drink “for the road” was part of our culture — until it wasn’t. Punishing your children in a “hands-on” way was once thought to make them stronger — now, it can get you arrested.
True, those things obviously needed to change. Moreover, a “boys will be boys” defense of Cuomo would be grossly disrespectful to those whose lives he apparently made miserable.
It does seem, though, that when a societal line is reconfigured, the first high-profile individuals accused of disregarding this new reality take the brunt of generations of pent-up resentment.
In the wake of Cuomo’s announcement, President Biden said his fellow Democrat did “a hell of a job” as New York governor. That was after Biden had called for his resignation two days earlier.
And it makes me wonder. Whenever a public figure — especially a politician — is accused of some social offense that appears to fall short of criminal (like using the “N’ word in a private conversation 10 years earlier), perhaps they should be given the opportunity to admit their mistake and redeem themselves before they are, as the current saying goes, “canceled.”
These could be teachable moments for society, rather than simply an opportunity for vengeance.
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