From heroes to villains due to covid: this is how political stars fall in the United States

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From heroes to villains due to covid: this is how political stars fall in the United States
Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York. (Reuters)

Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom are two former Democratic heroes of the pandemic who in recent weeks are increasingly looking like two villains because of their management

The coronavirus never tires of reaffirming its authority: not content to upset the personal and economic routines of mankind, and to end half a million lives alone in the United States, it is also twisting political careers with the force of a hurricane. Or at least creating the conditions for politicians to fall into their own traps, such as Democratic governors Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom: two former pandemic heroes who in recent weeks are increasingly looking like two villains.

As in a Greek tragedy, the character traits that gave Cuomo glory have been the same traits that can bring him downfall. The governor of New York spent 2020 using his classic tools: twisting arms, persuading, intimidating, and sometimes going over the line in his passion for getting things done effectively, whoever falls. The Italian-American became a kind of New York Father. His policies were those of an iron surgeon and his daily press conferences those of a shepherd who reassures his flock. The formula worked and Cuomo came to enjoy a popularity of 87%, more typical of an authoritarian regime than of the colorful and turbulent American democracy.

The governor reached the top; communication agencies studied his methods, the press flattered him and Cuomo strengthened his presidential credentials. Perhaps encouraged by the sweetness of the moment, the politician publicized in October, in the midst of a pandemic that was about to worsen with the arrival of the cold, memoirs in which he naturally defended his performance during the crisis, cementing his point of view and, in passing, tying up his adversaries.

In February, however, a senior Cuomo adviser, Melissa DeRosa, acknowledged in a meeting that she believed privately that the cabinet had withheld the actual death toll in nursing homes for fear of a Justice Department investigation. Of the 47,000 deaths from covid in New York state, it turns out that 13,000 occurred in residences. One third of the total.

DeRosa’s comment came alongside new investigations and allegations about what happened. A tricky situation to which Governor Cuomo has responded, according to members of the Democratic Party itself, with insults and personal threats in phone calls that can amount to 45 minutes of expletives. One of his victims, Democratic State Congressman Andy Kim, decided to share publicly how he had been treated by Cuomo, and this has sparked similar reactions from Republicans and Democrats fed up with being beaten.

Suspicions of harassment

Added to the controversy over the residences and the governor’s seemingly bully style are suspicions of sexual harassment. A former adviser of hers, Lindsey Boylan, has said that Andrew Cuomo kissed her on the lips without permission, during a solo meeting in 2018. On another occasion, during a flight, Cuomo would have suggested that they play strip poker. The governor has denied both accusations, made for the first time last December. At the same time, last Saturday another former collaborator reported that Cuomo asked her uncomfortable questions about her personal life, which the Democrat has also rejected, according to a New York Times report. The second woman was identified as Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy advisor until last November, who assured the New York newspaper that the politician asked her if she was monogamous and if she had ever had relationships with older men.

As a result, the press that seemed to love the governor so much just a couple of months ago keeps squeezing these cases, and a coalition of Republicans and state Democrats has come together to demand that Cuomo’s emergency powers be removed. The Republicans in the New York Assembly want an ‘impeachment’ in the case of the nursing homes, and, in the Mayor of New York, Cuomo’s archenemy, the also Democrat Bill DeBlasio, takes his little-concealed revenge by fanning the flames in against the governor.

Another leader whose fortunes have changed is Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of California. The former San Francisco mayor won the governorship in 2018 with a record 24-point lead over his rival. Almost a year ago, in April, his handling of the pandemic earned him a vigorous 70% popularity. For several weeks, Newsom and the governors of neighboring states, Oregon and Washington, also Democrats, appeared to have bowed down to the virus and allowed themselves the detail of sending back the respirators they had received from the federal government.

Summer was smiling on the West Coast, but then the virus got off the ground and made Los Angeles County a covid hornet’s nest that just surpassed 20,000 deaths. A relatively high number for its 10 million inhabitants. At the same time, the Californian government has recognized that, last year, up to 30,000 million dollars paid in unemployment benefits have been able to end up in the pockets of criminal networks. According to the investigative commission, it would be the “most important taxpayer fund fraud in the history of California.”

Newsom himself, beyond the intrinsic difficulty of handling the virus, capable of overthrowing the governments that were supposed to do it fantastically, did his part. In early November, the governor was caught having dinner, at a round table of people without masks, at the luxurious French Laundry restaurant. Nothing to object, if it were not because Newsom, shortly before, had ordered the population to stay home and wear the mask when leaving at all times.

Now a Republican rival, Orrin Heatlie, has taken advantage of the situation to gather more than 1.5 million signatures that will allow him to call an off-calendar election against Newsom, possibly this year. “It’s an easy thing to sell,” Heatlie told The New York Times. “I like to say that we can only thank him and that he has no one to blame but himself.”

Beyond these two cases, the pandemic has been piercing the image of other US governors, for the most varied reasons: some for having been too severe in their confinement measures, punishing sectors such as tourism or hospitality, and others for the opposite: by letting the virus take over the population by having worried too much about the economy.

One factor that plays against Newsom or Cuomo is Donald Trump. Before, the former Republican president used to magnetize public debate, especially in the mainstream progressive media. CNN or ‘The Washington Post’ had a movie villain in Trump; a machine to generate scandals with weekly or even daily frequency. Pure cover material and primetime slot.

Now Trump is flickering at the edges of the political landscape, more active in the shadows than onstage, the media must have encountered a crippling information gap – at least compared to the last four years of constant adrenaline. So stories like those of Cuomo and Newsom have served as a bone for reporters and an excuse to continue wallpapering the covers of scandals, as does Senator Ted Cruz and his idea of ​​going on vacation to Cancun while the state he represents “Return of the ice age”.

Trump himself seemed to have succumbed to the vagaries of the virus as well. A series of polls published in December suggests that his hasty management of the pandemic would have cost him dearly among different groups of voters, such as older and more sensitive white people to health issues. Showing us, and a year goes by, who really controls events.