America’s favorite governor has made some new enemies

Governor Cuomo's COVID response has not pleased everyone.
Governor Cuomo's COVID response has not pleased everyone.
Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Cuomo's COVID response has not pleased everyone.

America’s favorite governor has made some new enemies

Not everyone has fallen for Andrew Cuomo during lockdown.
July 14, 2020

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Judge me by the enemies I have made.” The oft-misquoted maxim has a straightforward meaning: The character of the people who oppose you says a lot about the values you hold dear. And while New York’s journey through the coronavirus pandemic garnered Cuomo national acclaim, the governor’s shutdown orders have also made him a whole slew of new enemies. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in response to one legal action, “We’ve lost track of the frivolous lawsuits filed against us during this pandemic.” Allow City & State to help, with this roundup of some of Cuomo’s most notable lockdown foes. 

Religious leaders

Orthodox Jews and Catholic priests may disagree on a lot, but nothing brings religious leaders together like a common enemy. Two upstate Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn joined forces to sue Cuomo for closing houses of worship while supporting public protests after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. The suit also named state Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for enforcing the shutdown order, saying lockdown orders “clearly discriminate against houses of worship.” That’s not the only recent beef between Cuomo and religious leaders. The Association of Jewish Camp Operators, along with a group of parents, sued the governor over the state’s decision to close sleepaway camps this summer.

Deaf New Yorkers

While Cuomo’s star power rose over his handling of the pandemic, de Blasio’s plummeted. But even de Blasio got one thing right that landed Cuomo in hot water: having an American Sign Language interpreter on hand for press briefings. Initially, Cuomo didn’t have one, prompting advocates including Disability Rights New York to request one be added. Even when he did, advocates for the deaf community pointed out that ASL interpretation was only available to those watching the web stream, and not on the television broadcast. It wasn’t until after a lawsuit from Disability Rights New York – and an order by a federal judge – that the ASL interpreter was actually added to the TV broadcast. By that point, New York was the last state to add ASL interpretation of coronavirus briefings on a television feed.

Gym rats

Although experts are still wary about the health risks of reopening gyms, some of those who frequent group weight rooms or workout classes – not to mention the people who run them – are fed up with getting flabby.With gyms still shuttered in phase 4 of reopening, hundreds of gym owners have filed a class-action suit against Cuomo– and Attorney General James – arguing that keeping fitness facilities closed causes “irreparable harm” to their livelihood, seeking $500 million in damages. Who knows what will come of the lawsuit, but in the meantime, Cuomo might want to steer clear of mentioning his home gym in the governor’s Executive Mansion. 

Strip club owner

Strip clubs and social distancing might seem like a bad match, but that didn’t stop one Long Island club owner from suing Cuomo for closing nonessential businesses – a move the suit alleges violated the state constitution. That suit was later dropped, though it’s likely Cuomo won’t be invited to the Blush Gentlemen’s Club in Commack anytime soon.

Gun rights advocates

While far from a new enemy, gun owners are pissed off at Cuomo again, but this time it’s personal. The National Rifle Association sued Cuomo in his capacity as both the governor and as a private citizen, arguing that the closure of gun stores – deemed nonessential – was a “pointless and arbitrary attack” on New Yorkers’ constitutional rights. Another suit, filed by two men looking to purchase guns and a retailer, made similar arguments, though a federal judge tossed the complaint. “I wish you could become immune to this virus the way I've become immune to NRA lawsuits,” Cuomo said back in April.

Civil liberties advocates

It’s rare – though not unheard of – for civil liberties groups and gun rights advocates to agree on something. But if the enemy of your enemy is your friend, then groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union and the NRA might be closer pals than we thought. The NYCLU sued Cuomo in late May after he issued an executive order allowing people to congregate in groups up to 10 for religious gatherings or to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, arguing that easing of those restrictions should apply not just to religious gatherings, but other First Amendment-protected activities like protests, too. Soon after the lawsuit, Cuomo amended the order to reflect that any type of gathering of up to 10 people would be allowed.

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.