In his first gubernatorial campaign in 2002, Andrew Cuomo took a jab at then-Gov. George Pataki that misfired badly.
“There was one leader for 9/11. It was Rudy Giuliani,” Cuomo told reporters on the campaign trail. “If it defined George Pataki, it defined George Pataki as not being the leader. He stood behind the leader. He held the leader's coat. He was a great assistant to the leader. But he was not a leader.”
Cuomo was widely criticized for politicizing a tragic event, and eventually dropped out of the race. Since then he has been more careful about his public statements, but at times he has been unable to avoid inviting controversy. Just over this past week, he joked that Jewish people don’t have rhythm and shot down a query about his relative lack of small-dollar campaign contributions as “small questions.” Indeed, as some have suggested, the governor may be his own worst enemy as he seeks a third term this year.
Here’s a rundown of some of his more memorable off-the-cuff remarks – whether they were misguided or simply misconstrued.
“He held the leader’s coat.”
In that disastrous 2002 episode, Cuomo also had this to say: “Cream rises to the top and Rudy Giuliani rose to the top.”
Giuliani defended Pataki, saying he was a ''total partner'' and that “I held his coat as often as he held mine.” Pataki himself was stunned. “He actually said that?” the governor asked. "There are things I can say, but I don't think it's appropriate.”
Dozens of politicians and organizations condemned Cuomo's remarks, although a few supporters – including then-City Councilman Bill de Blasio, interestingly enough – came to his defense.
“I am the government.”
In 2011, his first year in office as governor, Cuomo was talking about his high poll numbers in a radio interview when he made a bold assertion: “I am the government.”
He did acknowledge that the state Legislature is also part of the government, adding that he meant “on the executive side.” (There apparently was no mention of the judicial branch.) And the point he was trying to make was that the support for him personally reflected renewed faith in state government.
But political foes quickly pounced, the Daily News mocked up the governor as Louis XIV, and City Hall and The Capitol – City & State’s predecessor publications – even turned the sound bite into a ring tone.
“It’s my commission.”
When Cuomo set up the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, he told reporters that it would be completely independent.
“Anything they want to look at they can look at – me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” he said. “They have total ability to look at whatever they want to look at.”
But when reports arose that he was meddling in its investigations, he changed his tune.
“The Moreland Commission was my commission,” he said. “It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It’s my commission. I can’t 'interfere' with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”.
In a January 2014 radio interview, Cuomo alienated many upstate New Yorkers with a broad critique of the state’s “extreme conservatives.”
“Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right to life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay?" he said. "Is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are."
Among the conservative politicians and right-wing commentators who seized on the statement was Ed Cox, the state GOP chairman, who called on Cuomo to apologize to “New York's good conservatives and Catholics” and for “poisoning New York's politics with divisive rhetoric.”
“Read my book.”
In the midst of the Ebola outbreak in October 2014, Cuomo joked that health care workers who were under quarantine after returning from treating patients in Africa should take the time to read his memoir, “All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and in Life.” “Twenty-one days, in your home, with your friends and your family, and you’ll be compensated,” he said. “Read a book, read my book. You don’t have to read my book, but stay home for 21 days.”
Bill Samuels, a liberal Cuomo critic, blasted the governor for his “cringe-inducing gaffes about Ebola patients reading his book while quarantined.”
“The grades are meaningless to the students.”
At the height of the opt-out movement in 2015, Cuomo tried to tamp down the backlash against the controversial Common Core education standards by pointing out that the test results wouldn’t have any immediate impact on students – even though they would be used to evaluate teachers.
“The grades are meaningless to the students,” he said. “They can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand if the child takes the test, it’s practice and the score doesn’t count.”
Times Union columnist Fred LeBrun tore into Cuomo for what he called a “monumental gaffe.” “So, remind us why they're taking these tests, if they aren't being used to steer and model learning and personal improvement?” LeBrun wrote. “Ah, practice. So, all the anxiety and tears by young learners, parental anguish, all for nothing but practice. I'm sure parents especially will be pleased to hear they've been played for suckers and their children used as pawns.”
“You do a disservice to women.”
This past December, the governor was asked about what changes he might make after a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against Sam Hoyt, a former state economic development official appointed by Cuomo.
“You have it going on in journalism, what are you going to do differently?” Cuomo told Karen DeWitt, the public radio reporter who had posed the question. “You miss the point. When you say it’s state government you do a disservice to women, with all due respect, even though you’re a woman. It’s not government, it’s society.”
Republicans quickly denounced what they called the governor’s “sexist rhetoric,” while others called his answer a textbook case of “mansplaining.”
“Could be worse.”
In late July, Cuomo opened a Brooklyn Women for Cuomo campaign event with a bizarre comment addressing the many women in the audience.
“What a pleasure to be here, one of the few men in a room full of women,” Cuomo said, adding: “Could be worse, could be worse. Usually, it is worse.”
In a blog post on The Cut, Amanda Arnold wrote: “Being patronizing and downright creepy toward women – perhaps not the best way to win their vote!”
This is the first thing Andrew Cuomo said at a “Brooklyn Women for Cuomo” event today, per his campaign’s transcript. pic.twitter.com/xyTyJhNkLo— Jon Campbell (@JonCampbellGAN) July 28, 2018
“We are not going to make America Great again. It was never that great.”
Cuomo mocked President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” in August, during a bill-signing event for increased penalties on sex trafficking.
“We are not going to make America great again. It was never that great,” he said. “We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.”
Trump was quick to tweet against the governor, who wrote that Cuomo was having “a total meltdown.” Trump was joined mostly by Republicans in deriding Cuomo’s comment, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro quickly calling for the governor to apologize. Cuomo’s Democratic opponent Cynthia Nixon also criticized the governor, telling NY1, “I think this is just another example of Andrew Cuomo trying to figure out what a progressive sounds like and missing by a mile.”
How does a politician, Cuomo, known for pushing people and businesses out of his state, not to mention having the highest taxes in the U.S., survive making the statement, WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT? Which section of the sentence is worse?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2018
To make what was dubbed the #GreatGate scandal even more confusing, a Cuomo spokeswoman backtracked on his initial comments, saying in a statement that Cuomo “believes America is great” though it has not reached its “maximum potential.” Cuomo himself said, two days after the initial comment, “I want to be very clear. Of course America is great and of course America has always been great.”
“I’ll bring you all up on charges under the Me Too movement.”
On the first day of the 2019 legislative session, the same day that state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the first woman to lead the chamber, Cuomo once again found himself making an ill-received joke. At one point, as he was leaving his office, a gaggle of reporters swarmed the governor. In response to the onslaught, Cuomo told them, “Space. We need space. Or I’ll bring you all up on charges under the Me Too movement.” A few reporters responded with an awkward chuckle. Stewart-Cousin’s history making moment in the state Senate just hours before made the joke ring especially sour. The fact Cuomo started the week stumping for the Reproductive Health Act and a state constitutional amendment ensuring abortion rights even more so.
Stop him. Unlike the gop, we have a much better history of weeding out our bad ones. Look it up before you @ me!— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) January 9, 2019
Cuomo had the opportunity to apologize, but the day after he made the joke, during an interview on WAMC, he brushed it off as an “off-hand comment” in response to being “assaulted” and getting hit “in all sorts of my anatomy.”
With reporting by Kay Dervishi and Rebecca C. Lewis
NEXT STORY: Day 1 of Democratic-controlled Albany