Cuomo’s Behind-The-Scenes Power Plays Contradicted Public Image During Pandemic’s Early Phase, Report Says

Despite insisting he left politics at the door in the early days of the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared to be obsessed with how the public viewed him during the early days of the pandemic, while pre-empting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own pandemic relief initiatives, and even violating state rules by printing drafts of his book on government-owned printers, according to a damaging report by the Washington Post.

The report on Saturday detailed Cuomo—now embroiled in dueling scandals involving his handling of nursing home deaths and claims of inappropriate behavior towards women—outlined several behind-the-scenes accounts that detailed the following:

  • He commissioned various polls that asked whether he was doing a better job in handling the pandemic compared to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then presidential candidate Joe Biden. Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Cuomo, told the Washington Post that the governor regularly commissions polls to determine his standing with the public.
  • Enlisted Melissa De Rosa, secretary to the governor, to help him write his book, and printed drafts from government-issued computers in violation of state ethics rules.
  • Used government-issued computers in violation of state ethics rules to print versions of his infamous “New York Tough” poster, which was paid for by his campaign.
  • Ensured de Blasio, a longtime rival of Cuomo, would receive negative headlines by pre-empting the mayor’s announcements with his own. One instance involved state employees scrambling to create its own antibody testing program after learning the city was about to launch an equivalent program. Azzopardi told the Washington Post that, “Policy shifts did happen on a daily basis as the facts on the ground about the pandemic changed on a daily basis.”
  • Announcing the four-phase reopening plan as staffers learned about the phases the same time as the public and pivoting to carry out the policy. This also applied to his so-called micro-cluster plan, in which oddly carved out color-coded maps were initially distributed.
  • Routinely asked his aides how to improve his ratings for his televised news conferences and to increase the amount of time the networks carried them, which Azzopardi said was “crucial to the state’s response.”

READ MORE: Ethics Concerns Over Cuomo’s $4 Million Book Payout Punted To Cuomo-Controlled Ethics Agency

Azzorpardi did not respond to a request for comment from Gothamist/WNYC on the veracity of the Washington Post report. Bill Neidhardt, a spokesperson for de Blasio, told the Post he found it “disturbing” to see all the time and effort spent by aides in helping him craft the book.

The revelations demonstrate a departure from the early days of the pandemic for Cuomo, whose reputation as a nationally known governor was built on casting politics aside. During news conferences, Cuomo would rail against President Donald Trump for politicizing the pandemic, and begin building up his national image the point where he had been considered a 2024 presidential candidate or even a nominee for U.S. Attorney General.

There have since been calls by elected leaders for Cuomo to step down as governor. Cuomo insists he did nothing wrong.