New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who served as a political icon during the early days of the pandemic with his daily press conferences and mentions of his family to soothe listeners as the coronavirus rampaged the nation, is facing serious blows of criticism from all sides after admitting to intentionally withholding data on virus-related deaths in the state’s nursing homes.
Efforts to punish Cuomo include calls for his impeachment, his resignation and a strip of his unilateral emergency powers granted during the pandemic. The governor jabbed at a public apology this week, arguing that his inaction formed a “void” that enabled misinformation to flourish.
“Apologize? Look I have said repeatedly, we made a mistake in creating the void,” Cuomo said. “The void allowed misinformation and conspiracy, and now people are left with the thought of ‘Did my loved one have to die?’ And that is a brutal, brutal question to pose to a person. And I want everyone to know everything was done—everything was done—by the best minds in the best interest, and the last thing that we wanted to do, the last thing that I wanted to do, was to aggravate a terrible situation.”
Meanwhile, the FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are looking into how Cuomo’s administration handled some of the coronavirus-related death data in long-term care facilities—an investigation that could dim his political ambitions of seeking a fourth-term.
But bad headlines aren’t new for Cuomo—as he pushed through scandals uncovered before his last election win in 2018. And while Cuomo has been thrown into a firestorm of condemnation, there are still no signs of significant competition in next year’s election. The governor holds national name recognition, a spate of political allies on Capitol Hill and clinching support from New York’s power brokers. And his approval rating remains high, despite the waves of controversy.
Experts, however, expected some sort of electoral heat for the governor—even before the nursing home fiasco.
“Given that Andrew Cuomo was already running for a fourth term, he was bound to face a challenge from both within the Democratic Party and from the Republican Party as well. Given the nursing home debacle, the prospects of a challenge from within the Democratic Party are guaranteed,” Bruce Berg, a political science professor at Fordham University, said.
Berg added that a Democratic candidate will likely be from the progressive wing of the party “since that is where the challenges have come from in the past.”
“The difference now is that there are [a] number of young progressives who could challenge [the] governor,” Berg said.
But a successful progressive contender would have to rally support from New York City and upstate and western New York—regions that Cuomo retains an iron-like grip over.
Any 2022 election challenger against Cuomo will also face his strong approval ratings, as a new Siena College Research Institute poll released Tuesday revealed that the governor’s overall favorability rating stands at 56 percent among registered voters, with 39 percent having an unfavorable opinion of him. That’s a minor change from last month’s poll, as his approval ratings stood at 57-39 percent. And when asked about Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, 61 percent of voters said they approve of the job he’s doing, only a two percent drop from last month, despite the revelations over the nursing home data.
The poll also showed that 46 percent of voters said they’d like to reelect Cuomo next year—a two percent dip from last month’s poll—while 45 percent said they would “prefer someone else.”
“While Cuomo remains popular and gets strong ratings across the board from Democrats, independents are closely divided on their feelings toward Cuomo. Republicans, who had shown Cuomo some love early in the pandemic last spring, are now overwhelmingly negative in their views on Cuomo,” Siena College pollster Greenberg said in a statement.
Although Cuomo’s approval ratings remain high among voters, Republicans and Democrats have jumped to attack him for his recent inactions.
The state Assembly’s Republican conference introduced a resolution that calls for Cuomo’s impeachment—a move that will likely hit a brick wall in New York’s blue wave of state Democrats. And Assemblymember Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat, said Cuomo threatened him last week, asking him to lie about the alleged cover-up—an accusation that the governor's staff said wasn’t true.
“The interesting thing about Cuomo is that he is being attacked by his own party. That is trouble for him. He cannot say it is just partisan attacks,” Leslie D. Feldman, a political science professor at Hofstra University, said. “Many, many people were affected by the actions regarding COVID and nursing homes. Gov. Cuomo received an Emmy award for his press conferences which added insult to injury for those affected. Yes, he could be challenged on this point alone.”
Cuomo will also confront national pushback, as nine Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sent a letter Wednesday night to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to open an investigation into the nursing home death scandal and to immediately start hearings to look into Cuomo’s administration.
“The American people deserve to know the extent to which Governor Cuomo and his senior staff violated the civil rights of New York seniors, lied to the Department of Justice about their actions, and violated federal civil and criminal laws in the process,” the lawmakers wrote.
One candidate who’s rumored to be eyeing a campaign against Cuomo is Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), but her loyalty to Trump likely wouldn’t translate to an electoral victory in a state that voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for nearly four decades.
“Because of Donald Trump, New York State is even bluer than it was before, so the prospects of a Trumpian Republican competing well in New York State are poor. At present there is a much greater chance that Governor Cuomo would be defeated by a fellow Democrat than a Republican,” Berg said.
Another, more centrist Republican who’s reportedly considering a run for governor is Rep. Tom Reed (N.Y.).
“Gov. Cuomo: Your days are numbered. There’s leadership coming to Albany very soon,” Reed said on a call with reporters earlier this month.
Reed, who was first elected to the seat in 2010, serves as co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group that he said helped swiftly pass the $900 billion bipartisan stimulus package amid a period of complete political disunity.
Currently, Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli is the only other candidate in the running, as he’s ignited a campaign for the Republican Party.
And while Cuomo might appear to be in a comfortable position despite the national scandal, some experts remain skeptical over his reelection chances.
“Everyone thought that Mario Cuomo was unbeatable, but he was beaten by little-known George Pataki. And if someone does challenge Gov. Cuomo, they will bring up COVID and the nursing home residents and that works against him especially the attempt to distort the information,” Feldman said.
Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo’s father, served for three terms as governor of New York and was known for his liberal views and compelling public speeches, but saw defeat when he ran for reelection against George Pataki, the most recent Republican to hold statewide office in the state.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.