In the early weeks of the pandemic, a song parodist named Randy Rainbow, clad in pink pajamas, did a gushing, over-the-top tribute to his beloved “Andy”—and proudly declared himself a “Cuomosexual.”
In pledging his undying love for the New York governor, Randy showed clips from the daily briefings and declared, “You’re wise, level-headed, eloquent and sexy at a time when the country needs it most.”
It was hysterical (if you like that sort of thing), but also an exaggerated form of hero worship that too often marks our approach to politics.
That’s worth remembering as Andrew Cuomo sinks more deeply into political trouble, with his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, abruptly resigning. Equally devastating, the woman known as Executive Assistant #1—Britney Commisso—described in a “CBS This Morning” interview how the governor groped her.
Cuomo is hardly the only politico in the country to be both idolized and idealized. Donald Trump retains a very strong hold on the loyalty of most Republicans, who were willing to overlook all kinds of excesses during his presidency. The same is true for Bill Clinton, whose conduct toward women was also shameful yet defended by many liberals, some of whom now have regrets. And Barack Obama practically had a cult following in 2008.
The trap is that such figures come to be viewed as superhumans who can do no wrong—or if they do it, it isn’t wrong—as opposed to flawed human beings. I learned as a young reporter that politicians as a class could be charming and persuasive in pursuit of noble-sounding goals, and yet most would mislead and prevaricate when necessary, and their personal lives often weren’t that great either.
Ben Domenech put it this way on “Media Buzz”: “We shouldn’t lionize politicians and elected leaders as if they’re somehow perfect avatars of everything we could like to see in leadership…It’s a reminder that we should not put these people on a pedestal,” regardless of “which side of the political spectrum they’re on.”
The press is part of this build-’em-up phenomenon as well, attacking or defending depending on ideology and style, all of which is then amplified on social media.
Cuomo, with his tough-guy persona, was never exactly loved, but after a decade of knocking heads to achieve liberal goals, he was respected, and his folksy virus briefings gave him a national fan base well beyond New York. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, he would do things like scream at the top editors of the Albany Times-Union, to the point that they vowed never to talk to him off the record.
Melissa DeRosa was his enforcer, but the state attorney general’s report made clear that she and others also enabled his behavior toward women.
She led what can only be described as an effort at retaliation against the first accuser, Lindsay Boylan. It’s no coincidence that DeRosa resigned as his top staffer Sunday night—saying the past two years have been “emotionally and mentally trying”—after CBS released the first clip of the Britney Commisso interview.
In that sitdown, she calmly and meticulously explained how Cuomo’s hugs and kisses–“It was not welcomed, and it was certainly not consensual”—led to two groping incidents. In the first, she said the governor rubbed her butt during a selfie that he suggested. In the other, just last December, Commisso says she warned him “you’re going to get us into trouble”—but he closed the door, put his hand under her blouse and cupped her breast. She stopped it and now calls his denials “disgusting.”
Asked why she has filed a criminal complaint, Commisso says what Cuomo did to her “was a crime.”
She has no incentive to lie. In fact, she maintained her anonymity until now. Commisso only told co-workers about what happened after watching the governor’s presser in March, when he denied touching anyone inappropriately (as he continues to argue.)
Cuomo’s insistence that he won’t resign is on a collision course with state Assembly Democrats moving toward impeaching him (which would sideline him through a Senate trial).
The City reports that Cuomo is trying to persuade these Democrats to drop their investigation in exchange for his agreement not to seek a fourth term next year, but no one is buying. He has few cards left to play.
No matter how this turns out, Andrew Cuomo is not going to get the fourth term that also eluded his father Mario. His legacy, regardless of what he accomplished for the state, will be forever stained. Perhaps those who genuflected at the Cuomo altar should realize the folly of projecting their hopes and dreams onto politicians who invariably let them down.