Bully, or just Queens tough? Criticism piles up for Cuomo

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 24, 2020, file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, in New York. Over his long career, Gov. Cuomo has been known as a brutal political opponent to people who oppose his agenda or challenge him publicly. That penchant for punching hard at perceived enemies drew fresh condemnations this week in the wake of a tirade against a lawmaker who questioned his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

ALBANY — Republican lawmakers are pressuring their Democratic colleagues to join them in an effort to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of his emergency powers to control all pandemic decisions.

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County and Assembly GOP Leader Will Barclay turned up the heat Monday on Cuomo, whose administration is facing a federal investigation into the state's undercount of what is now reported to be more than 15,000 COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents.

"It's been abundantly clear the governor abused this authority for months," said Ortt, criticizing Democrats for stopping 14 efforts by the GOP this year to revoke Cuomo's emergency powers.

That authority, granted as part of budget legislation enacted last March, is slated to expire April 30.

Democrats have been discussing the possibility of setting up a commission to review Cuomo's emergency decisions. But Ortt said such a panel would simply become a "rubber stamp" for the governor.

At a time of the year when debates over the proposed state budget usually dominate the statehouse, Cuomo's powers have been under scrutiny since late January. That's when Attorney General Letitia James issued a scathing report drawing attention to misleading public health data concerning nursing home fatalities. While thousands of nursing home patients died from the contagion after being transferred to hospitals, the Cuomo administration was not including those deaths in its count of fatalities at the facilities.

Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said it was time to cancel Cuomo's "unbridled power" and hold him accountable for an "orchestrated cover-up."

The nursing home data controversy and subsequent allegations the governor threatened to "destroy" one of his Democratic critics, Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens, have negatively impacted the governor's standing with voters, Morning Consult, a Washington polling firm, reported Monday.

It's survey of more than 3,200 New York voters found Cuomo's approval among independents "has fallen underwater for the first time since the start of the pandemic," Morning Consult reported. The latest survey found 42% of independents approve of Cuomo, while 49% signaled they disapprove.

But the same poll noted 57% of voters approve of the governor's performance, a drop of 6 points since it was reported by the New York Post that a top aide had acknowledged the nursing home data was intentionally kept from lawmakers.

Veteran campaign consultant George Arzt said he expects Cuomo will weather the criticisms without having his emergency powers yanked. For the Democrats who control both chambers of the Legislature, he said, "It is just feeding the Republicans if they take him on.

Cuomo will likely be tested by a progressive challenger in next year's Democratic primary, though, "I just don't think it's a winnable election from the left," Arzt suggested.

A string of high ranking New York politicians have had their careers upended when running for a fourth term, a challenge Cuomo will face in 2022, noted Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political strategist.

Among those who ran aground angling for fourth terms were Cuomo's father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, and former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, the Republican stopped in 1998 by Charles Schumer, now the U.S. Senate majority leader.

"The governor will be facing an opponent known as 'Been Around Too Long,' and 'Been Around Too Long' is an enemy that's very hard to defeat," observed Sheinkopf.

He said some of his critics are using the nursing home controversy to weaken the governor in order to drive through their goal of imposing higher taxes on wealthy residents.

"If the progressives get rid of him, then they get to pass everything they want," Sheinkopf said. "There is a political revolution going on and the left is hoping to make Andrew Cuomo its next victim."

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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