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Disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approach to the pandemic was largely fueled by politics and preserving his own ego rather than actual science, according to a new report.
Former state health officials described the Cuomo administration as a “frantic” environment where public health experts “were not just overruled, but constantly responding to Cuomo’s ‘ridiculous demands’ that were expected to take precedence,” Politico reported Friday.
NY ASSEMBLY FINDS ‘OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE’ CUOMO ENGAGED IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Cuomo, who resigned in August amid multiple scandals, prioritized his Emmy-winning televised press conferences above all else, which “diverted people’s attention to service the press conference instead of servicing the running of the state,” a former Department of Health staffer said.
“It became more about the press conference and about the issue that he was talking about at the press conference,” the staffer said.
Cuomo “was managing by press release, by press conference. If he saw a bad story he pivoted, and we reacted to it, the policies reacted to it. Everyone who worked with him put up with it. But he got a lot of kudos,” a member of the former governor’s COVID-19 task force told Politico.
In the summer of 2020, Cuomo reportedly asked the state health department to deploy an “army” of roughly 5,000 employees to enforce COVID-19-related rules at restaurants, because he wanted to publicly tout his crackdown on violators. An official charged with the deployment called it an “impossible request” and said he ended up only enlisting 50 employees.
“[T]op officials quickly formed a plan they hoped would placate the mercurial governor until he moved on to some other idea,” Politico reported. “It worked, and became just one of several subterfuges state health officials concocted to deal with demands from the governor’s office they believed to be based in politics, not science. That continuous pressure from Cuomo’s office contributed to dozens of high-level staff departures in the months after New York became the global epicenter for the viral outbreak, according to several people who worked on the state’s Covid response.”
Cuomo’s spokesperson, Rich Azzopardi, blasted the allegations reported by Politico.
“These are second or third hand interpretations from an employee whose only interaction with the Governor or his top staff was during a live COVID briefing and the fact that this line of questioning was even pursued in this unrelated matter speaks volumes about how this entire situation was politicized and weaponized,” Azzopardi said in a statement.
“This pandemic was unprecedented, there was zero support from the federal government and — as was the case with many other governors — it required a centralized all-hands-on-deck response,” he said. “We listened to the evolving science, but pushed back against the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy has been trying to get even every day since.”
The New York state Assembly Judiciary Committee released a report last week that said it found “overwhelming evidence” that Cuomo engaged in multiple instances of sexual harassment while in office, and that Cuomo tasked top state officials with helping him develop his book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
One senior official even complained that working on the book was compromising his or her ability to work on COVID-related matters, the report said.
Cuomo “utilized state resources and property, including work by Executive Chamber staff, to write, publish, and promote his book regarding his handling of the COVID-19 crisis – a project for which he was guaranteed at least $5.2 million in personal profit,” the report said.
Investigators also found that the Cuomo administration “was not fully transparent” with the American people about the number of nursing home residents who died as a result of COVID-19, and that out-of-facility deaths were deliberately left out of a published state Department of Health report, which Cuomo had a significant hand in editing and revising after he faced criticism for his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
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The report also said state health Commissioner Howard Zucker, the only medical professional on Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force, did not have regular meetings with the former governor during the pandemic and “did not feel able to speak freely” to the former governor, “as advice that was contrary to the Chamber’s views was often rejected.”
Cuomo has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has vehemently defended his pandemic response.