I was never prouder of my state then when Governor Andrew Cuomo put us on the map after the coronavirus had leveled us to Ground Zero. He commandeered not only the forces to combat it, but also captured the news media. Friends around the country told me they made time in their day to watch my governor. He filled a void created by federal leaders.
I live close enough to our state Capital to have heard unflattering things about Andrew from people who work with him – his ruthlessness, his cunning. We’ve all heard what a bastard he is. My teacher-union friends were no fans because of his support for charter schools. But resistance to him melted away when he became our protector, our Dutch Uncle telling us what we had to do to survive this pandemic. He stood up to a bullying president who wanted to punish our blue state by denying us life-saving resources.
Many thought his strategy was too dictatorial; memes surfaced of him spying through our windows and counting cars in our driveways on holidays. But I felt like I’d been given a clear prescription as to how to stay well when people in my demographic were dying by the thousands.
I believe Andrew has been good for New York State overall. His biggest accomplishment, in my book, was banning fracking, when neighboring Pennsylvania has been decimated by that fuel extraction process. Under his leadership, reproductive choice, marriage equality, and gun safety became law. He’s helped me feel safe in this state I love, which I acknowledge is ironic for a woman to say right now.
He cuts deals, to be sure. No doubt shady ones. How to explain away the misreported nursing home stats? It’s also highly likely that he has committed sexual improprieties as charged. Women who come forward must be believed because why else would they put themselves through such scrutiny. Andrew obviously has a problem with women and must pay the price. I just don’t think he should resign. And I don’t understand why that’s the conclusion so readily reached.
Don’t get me wrong: I am FURIOUS with Andrew Cuomo. His arrogance, his ignorance. Who the hell does he think he is to push himself on women? Has he been asleep the last decade? Do the names Elliot Spitzer, David Paterson, and Eric Schneiderman not ring a bell, all having stepped down from New York State leadership for sexual misconduct in our recent past? How can someone so smart be so damn stupid?
But the overarching question for me is whether an individual can be personally deeply flawed and still be a competent leader, still contribute to the higher good despite what goes on when the cameras are off. That doesn’t make their private behavior okay; it’s not okay and must be called out with harsh consequences because it can and does spill over into job performance. But why and when should they step away from a role they well-performed because of personal impropriety? Almost every U.S. president, including revered FDR (also a former NY State governor), did reprehensible things. Mother Theresa’s canonization was jeopardized when her private journals were scrutinized, and Gandhi was emotionally cruel to his wife. We’re all deeply flawed people; few among us could pass the public purity test.
I resent the calls for him to step down by members of Congress who have nothing to do with New York State governance. Democrats hasten to claim the moral high ground at our own peril; in our haste to distinguish ourselves from the misogynistic GOP, we gave up a Senate seat by forcing out Al Franken before an inquiry. Some of these same moralists were silent when Trump had more than 25 sexual allegations against him, including rape and assault. (To be clear, Trump was not a good leader who demonstrated predatory behavior. He was incompetent in office as well as disgusting in his personal life.)
I’m just asking if we can be more strategic about this. In raising children and supervising employees, a basic tenet is that the consequence should align with the misbehavior to reduce recidivism. Removal does not reform the individual; they just no longer pull that crap under your watchful eye. Is there a way to address misconduct of competent leaders by making the punishment better fit the violation? [Insert your wicked thought here.] How about censure, counseling, and/or paid damages if found guilty?
Steven Covey, a planning and time-management guru, spoke of deposits and withdrawals in human relationships. Relationships can tolerate withdrawals if there have been enough deposits to sustain them. As governor, Cuomo has made enough deposits in my progressive portfolio to warrant my support.
This is a disturbing place for this feminist to land. And, I’m not just a feminist – I’m a militant feminist. I designed and teach a feminist history course. I publicly call out gender bias. I march and rally. I lecture and write about the suffrage movement and the ERA. I still feel dirty over being pressured decades ago to kiss a man in exchange for a small personal favor, an experience previously undisclosed. So, why am I advocating for this governor?
To answer that, I had to consult other feminist friends. I’d wondered if I’d become inured to this man-on-woman issue, accepting that it comes with the territory. Did House of Cards jade me so much that I’m willing to look the other way if my agenda is being met? I was surprised when all six women agreed with me: If these allegations are true, Cuomo should be punished but not forced to resign his elected post.
Andrew is instructing us to “Wait for the facts” in the same commanding tone he used to warn us, “Do not gather in groups” months ago. “An opinion without facts is irresponsible,” he declares.
Don’t worry – I get the irony of him calling anyone irresponsible right now. Maybe I just got used to complying with my governor’s edicts. After all, he likely saved my life.
Patricia A. Nugent is a retired school administrator living in upstate New York whose creative nonfiction work is frequently published in trade journals as well as literary magazines.