Meet Andrew Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo during his first State of the State as Governor of New York in 2011.
Andrew Cuomo during his first State of the State as Governor of New York in 2011.
Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo during his first State of the State as Governor of New York in 2011.

Meet Andrew Cuomo

The New York governor everyone’s talking about these days.
May 30, 2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily coronavirus briefings quickly became must-watch TV in March. They were aired on multiple national cable networks while the state’s outbreak began to escalate.

The governor gained a national fan base that took comfort in both his stoic assertiveness and calming presence in the face of the nationwide crisis. He also showed a softer side of himself by discussing his concerns for his family’s safety. But most importantly, he has championed the importance of letting scientific facts guide the state’s decisions during this outbreak, as opposed to President Donald Trump, who has let his own political interests and feelings dictate his responses.

However, Cuomo’s newfound national popularity has begun to fade. The governor has been condemned for the high number of nursing home deaths, estimated to be over 6,000, which many have blamed on Cuomo’s directive that recovering COVID-19 hospital patients be sent to nursing homes.

While many people have grown to admire the governor’s leadership skills, both in and outside of the state, it may be some people’s first introduction to the ruler of the Empire State. So we decided it’s time to get everyone better acquainted with the Cuomo we know all too well.

Who is Andrew Cuomo?

While Cuomo has been a comfort to many throughout the coronavirus outbreak, he’s not known for being an affable or sentimental politician.

The governor has always been obsessive when it comes to his work, so much so that his workaholic tendencies reportedly caused issues in his marriage to Kerry Kennedy before they divorced in 2005. Cuomo was introduced to the world of politics at a young age, learning the tricks of the trade from his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who he worked for and with throughout his early political career. “Andrew has been trained, since he was a child, to be a leader,” Dan Klores, Cuomo’s friend of 35 years, told Vanity Fair. “He’s got a reputation as a hardball player, and some of it’s true … but he has a deep, deep belief in public service. Yes, he’s a politician. He was brought up to be a public servant.”

Cuomo worked as his father’s driver during the elder Cuomo’s unsuccessful 1977 New York City mayoral campaign against Ed Koch. He also worked on all of his father’s gubernatorial campaigns from 1984 to 1992, with the exception of his fourth in 1994, when he was working as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for President Bill Clinton. Cuomo continues to blame himself for his father’s fourth-term loss to George Pataki, according to a 2018 Intelligencer report.

The governor is currently in his third term and has already announced plans to run for a fourth term in 2022, which would eclipse his father’s tenure as governor. Though the two had similar political ambitions, they have very different governing styles. Mario was known for his impressive, eloquent speeches, while Andrew’s governing ethos has been more deal-oriented à la “Glengarry Glen Ross.” “If I don’t make a deal, I get nothing done,” Cuomo told The New Yorker in a 2015 profile. “If I get nothing done, I am a failure. If the objective is to make a nice speech, it means nothing.”

During his time in office, the governor’s curtness and well-documented temper has earned him a reputation as a “bully,” the “Prince of Darkness” and a “son of a bitch.” Cuomo is known for being particularly “brutal with underlings and ruthless with his rivals,” Michael Shnayerson, author of “The Contender,” a biography of the governor, told Rolling Stone. And an anonymous source told New York magazine in 2018, that he “gets joy” from punishing people.

One of the governor’s main punching bags over the years has been New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom he has taken potshots at since the mayor took office in 2014. Cuomo’s control freak tendencies have often rendered de Blasio fairly ineffectual, including during the state’s coronavirus outbreak. Instead of allowing the mayor to issue a stay-at-home order in the city, Cuomo chose to undermine him. He said only the governor had the power to make such an order, and then later created a directive that was functionally the same as de Blasio’s. And by delaying the shutdown, it resulted in more coronavirus cases in New York.

Cuomo’s road to Albany

Cuomo began working in the Housing and Urban Development department for the Clinton administration in 1993. He was then promoted to secretary in 1997. During his time at the housing department, Cuomo was credited with reorganizing the department, which was once considered a haven for waste, fraud and abuse.

Nine days after Cuomo left his position and Washington, D.C., he launched his first gubernatorial bid in early 2001. Not long after his campaign began, the state was forced to recover from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Months after the tragedy occurred, Cuomo criticized the leadership of then-Gov. George Pataki during the crisis, enraging many. “There was one leader for 9/11: It was Rudy Giuliani,” Cuomo said on the campaign trail at the time. “If it defined George Pataki, it defined George Pataki as not being the leader.”

Eventually Cuomo dropped out of the gubernatorial race and laid low for a few years until he ran to become New York’s attorney general. Cuomo was elected attorney general in 2006, which made for a natural steppingstone to become governor. Cuomo’s time as attorney general has received mixed reviews over the years. Some lauded his ability to continue the work of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, while others felt he mishandled cases.

In 2010, Cuomo launched his second gubernatorial campaign while still serving as attorney general, promising to clean up Albany and get its fiscal state in order. This time, Cuomo won with 63% of the vote.

Cuomo’s gubernatorial record

Since taking office in 2011, Cuomo has overseen the passage of stricter gun measures, the legalization of same-sex marriage and medical marijuana, built impressive new bridges, increased the minimum wage and created paid family leave. In 2019, Cuomo supervised one of the state’s most progressive legislative sessions – but critics might argue that had more to do with the new Democratic majority in the state Senate than Cuomo’s leadership.

The governor has also had his fair share of controversies.

Cuomo has been accused of encouraging and benefiting from partisan splits in the state Legislature. You might assume that in an extremely blue state such as New York that most lawmakers would be Democrats, but for years the state Senate was controlled by Republicans. 

It was reported that Cuomo liked having Republicans in charge because he could take more power for himself. As Republican control over the state Senate began to wane in the early 2010s, a group of Democrats formed a union with the Republicans, called the Independent Democratic Conference, which allowed Republicans to retain their majority. Cuomo lent his support to the Independent Democratic Conference, which was heavily criticized by other Democratic lawmakers for creating a power-sharing agreement with Republicans. 

However, the group was disbanded in 2018, and later that year, Democrats defeated six of the eight former IDC members.

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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