Eight months ago, Andrew Cuomo unveiled a poster celebrating New York state’s triumph over Covid-19. Embossed on a mountain, symbolizing the state’s journey over the preceding four months, were a host of images and metaphors: a fire for the first outbreak; a dollar sign for the economic downturn; a disengaged President Trump sitting on the moon; a “boyfriend cliff,” a wry nod to Cuomo’s own widely praised and personal daily press conferences, in which he ragged his daughter’s boyfriend. Hanging over the summit of the mountain was a rainbow and the words “Love Wins.” The poster—and an accompanying three-dimensional foam model—are almost certainly the closest thing a sitting elected official has come to producing outsider art. They were also macabre mementos: “The ‘mountain’ is a triumphalist materialization of an overwhelming pile of bodies,” my colleague Alex Pareene wrote at the time. “It is a manifestation of a horrific and avoidable failure.”
The mountain served as a better metaphor for Cuomo’s profile than it did for New York state’s response to the pandemic. At that moment, New York’s death toll was the highest in the country, but the state’s governor was strangely viewed as the public official who had done the most effective job fighting the virus. This was an outcome that had far more to do with aesthetics than policy—Cuomo’s austere, science-led briefings were used as counter-programming to Trump’s conspiracy-filled logorrhea. By midsummer, Cuomo was one of the most popular politicians in the country. A few months later, with his state about to enter a second wave, he took a victory lap, publishing a book of leadership lessons he learned during the pandemic. He was being touted as a leading Democratic presidential candidate in 2024.
But over the last few weeks, Cuomo has careened down the mountain. Throughout 2020, Republicans had tried to turn New York’s staggeringly high rate of Covid-19-related nursing home deaths into a scandal. Last month, it was revealed that the state had deliberately undercounted those deaths, apparently fearing that they would be politicized by President Trump. A dam broke with that revelation: The governor has since been overwhelmed by a wave of scandals relating not only to his handling of the virus but also his toxic management style and penchant for bullying and making sexually suggestive remarks. On Saturday, a former aide accused him of sexual harassment, outlined in damning detail in The New York Times, which followed a previous accusation of harassment made by another former staffer. On Sunday, Cuomo conceded to undergoing a formal investigation into his behavior that will be conducted by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James. All of a sudden, after 10 years in power, the walls are closing in.