Analysis: A Democratic star rises in the coronavirus gloom

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s briefings deliver a daily dose of measured rationality to assuage deep fears of coronavirus.

Andrew Cuomo
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference against a backdrop of medical supplies in New York. [John Minchillo/AP Photo]

Over the last few days, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York State, has quickly risen to the status of coronavirus counterpart to United States President Donald Trump.

Presenting his public health orders and recommendations every day from the state capital of Albany, Cuomo has used the platform to relay factual and practical information about the pandemic to a widening audience across the country.

Cool, calm and collected, Cuomo is seen as the mouthpiece for the liberal, coastal and scientifically oriented part of America. And his civic leadership appears to deliver a daily dose of measured rationality to assuage deep fears of COVID-19.

Cuomo, 62, entered the national spotlight when his state became the US epicentre for coronavirus. The sky-high population density of New York City provided fertile ground for its spread.

In stark contrast to Trump’s often-blusterous daily briefings, Cuomo exhibits effortless fluency with PowerPoint slides, testing statistics and heartfelt personal tips. The attention lavished on Cuomo in recent days appears to be wearing thin on Trump.

After days of conciliatory remarks towards the governor by the president, Trump on Tuesday changed his tune during a town hall event on Fox News and attacked the governor for not ordering medical equipment years ago. Trump also attempted to pry a critique for the state’s high rate of infection from one of his chief science advisors, Dr Deborah Birx.

“Do you blame the governor for that?” Trump asked Birx, referring to the infection rates.

Birx did not respond.

‘Public health comes first’

Polls released this week show that governors like Cuomo are receiving high marks for their handling of the coronavirus crisis. A Monmouth University poll released on Monday, suggests that around three-quarters of Americans believe their governor has done a good job dealing with coronavirus. Only half approve of the federal response mounted by Washington.

Since 2011, Cuomo has walked in his father Mario’s footsteps as governor of the state with the nation’s biggest city. With sharp elbows, his personality can best be described as typical of New York: blunt, brilliant and a bit brash.

Trained as a lawyer, Cuomo began his career as campaign manager for his father. He served as secretary for housing and urban development under former President Bill Clinton. And Cuomo became attorney general for New York prior to taking the state’s top office.

His supporters far beyond New York have started calling him the “Luv Guv”, with many women on social media expressing infatuation with Cuomo.

One of Cuomo’s own tweets published on Monday highlighted his approach to the crisis. “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Public health comes first,” it read. “This is a Matter of Life and Death #NewYorkTough.”

Supporters praise his crisp official attire and composure, referring to Cuomo’s appearances as their morning “fix”. And seeing as the governor broke up with his longtime romantic partner last year, the single ladies especially have been singing his praises.

Some are particularly smitten with Cuomo’s familial comments about steps taken to protect the wellbeing of his own mother and to welcome one of his three daughters home for the duration of the coronavirus storm.

Andrew’s younger brother is CNN journalist Chris Cuomo, who has on many occasions interviewed the governor on air about coronavirus and many other topics.

The best strategy for the economic recovery should “protect older people, and let younger people go back to work”, the politician told the TV broadcaster. “But it can’t be reactive. It can’t be emotional.”

Perhaps in a nod to the family’s Italian-American heritage, Cuomo has featured public service announcements about the need to stay home from actors Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito.

See you on the other side
People walk by the Nitehawk cinema, which is closed due to the coronavirus, shortly before Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ‘New York State on PAUSE’ order went into effect in New York City. [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

‘A whole different president’

Detractors, for their part, knock Cuomo’s brash style and dismissive attitude towards political foes, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But as governor, Cuomo has received high marks for accomplishments with infrastructure construction, gun control, climate change regulations and wage equality.

His sober management of the rapidly worsening coronavirus medical threat and economic meltdown has confirmed what backers have always said.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow describes the dichotomy as “one president in Washington and a whole different president for the coronavirus crisis in New York”.

Cuomo has for weeks been emphasising bottom-line considerations about logistics, equipment and capacity. And he analogised ventilators in this “war” to what missiles were in World War II.

“We now have 53,000 beds, we need 110,000 beds,” Cuomo said during his briefing on Monday.

During a visit to the Javits Center in Manhattan, which the Federal Emergency Management Authority is turning into four field hospitals to accommodate 1,000 beds, Cuomo told the media, “We have not even begun to see the influx of patients”.

‘That is a wave’

The governor has referred candidly to the increasing cases in New York, which doubles every two or three days. “It’s not a curve, that is a wave, that is a tsunami,” he told his brother. “That is the scene in the Perfect Storm. The wave is going to crash over our healthcare system.”

Cuomo has been very critical of efforts to attack the virus on an “ad hoc basis”, calling for Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to speed up the distribution of essentials.

Cuomo was in and out of consideration as a Democratic 2020 presidential candidate last year. But many wonder if that possibility is again back on the table.

The no-nonsense and handsome divorced dad who repairs cars as a hobby is captivating the attention of Americans everywhere, as COVID-19 ravages his state.

In Tuesday’s briefing, he spoke optimistically about recent findings on drug cocktails, plasma therapy and antibody testing. But the news remains exceedingly bleak.

“It is spiking,” Cuomo said of coronavirus. “The apex is higher and sooner than we thought.”

“I’m not just asking you to help New York,” he added. “If we learn the lesson here, we will save lives in your community.”

Source: Al Jazeera