In New York everything takes on a special symbolism. The celebrations, the catastrophes, the heroes, the villains. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, from the ashes of the Twin Towers emerged a mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who knew how to connect with a desolate and terrified city. It was – who would say it today – the mayor of America. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, when the city has become one of the epicenters of the pandemic, it is the governor of the state, the democrat Andrew Cuomo, 62 years old, of Italian origin like that, the leader who is speaking to the heart and the bowels of the city and, by extension, of the country.
His daily appearance before journalists, at mid-morning, has become a television product of prime necessity beyond the borders of his State. The national news networks connect live to hear their balance of the situation. Even President Trump has had to schedule his press conferences in the afternoon so as not to compete in audience with Cuomo. They have known each other for many years, the two were raised in Queens, they both followed in the professional footsteps of their respective parents. The love-hate relationship between the Republican president and the Democratic governor would be pure gold in the hands, depending on the taste, of Aaron Sorkin or David Simon.
Amid the general display of sophisticated animated graphics, there is something endearing and comforting about the humble Power Point presentations that accompany Cuomo’s interventions. Some of those slides have inevitably gone viral. Like that one, directed at young people who continued to go out into the streets defying confinement, which contained a succinct and resounding text in capital letters on a blue background: “YOU ARE WRONG.” Oblivious to blush, other times he takes to reproduce on the screen extensive quotes from his father, Mario Cuomo, who held the same position as governor of New York between 1983 and 1994. As one in which the father spoke of “the idea of family ”that should underlie“ all good government ”, and that gave rise to his son to release this Wednesday one of the most beautiful reflections that have been heard about New York and this pandemic. On why the city’s misery drinks from the same source from which its salvation will flow:
“That’s New York,” said Andrew Cuomo. “That closeness, that concept of family, of community, that is what makes New York New York. And it’s what made us vulnerable. But that closeness will also be our greatest strength and it will be why we will win at the end of the day. I promise you. I see how New York responds, how New Yorkers help each other. This is New York. And that, friends, is invincible. I am glad that we are the first, because we will win and show the way to the other communities. And we will be there for the others, as we have always been ”.
Then there’s the outfit, no less comforting than the graphic component in this show of Cuomo that enthralls the country in these days of spiritual distress. From Obama to Pete Buttigieg, all the latest Democratic men seem to need to literally roll up their sleeves to convey the symbolic message that they are rolling up their sleeves. This is not the case with Cuomo, whose bulky cufflinks do not detract a shred of credibility from the “I’m going back to work” words he says goodbye to every noon. Don’t think, of course, about tight suits to the Jared Kushner, modern patterns incompatible with the burly forms of the governor. His are old-school suits, baggy fabric, generous lapels, those cuts that first designer Hedi Slimane and then President Donald Trump have done so much to discredit.
Other days Cuomo chooses more battle outfits. Jackets, polo shirts and baseball cap, all with an interesting personal brand: an enormously revealing shield. A man of simple aesthetic tastes, whom his daughters choose those wide and smooth ties, the governor had a burst of creative inspiration in the spring of 2011. “I have an artistic side and I like to be in contact with him from time to time,” he admitted then in The New York Times, and he laughed. Eager to restore pride to the Government of the State of New York, when he stood in front of it, he decided to design a blazon himself that all members of his team should wear on their lapels. Around the state shield, Cuomo placed a text. Above, the three principles that were to guide your administration: “Performance”, “integrity” and “pride”. Below, the message that he never tires of repeating: “I work for the people.”
This is its success. In the midst of tragedy, as promised upon coming to power, Cuomo works for the people. It transmits that American security of the man who, faced with difficulties, rolls up his sleeves and rows. He is the chief organizer. He doesn’t know anything about virology, but he knows what it takes, where it is, and how to get it. “What am I going to do with 400 respirators when I need 30,000?” Cuomo asked the federal government. “You choose the 26,000 people who are going to die because you have only sent 400 respirators.” Hours later, the vice president announced the shipment of thousands of respirators to New York.
Unlike Trump, who boasts a supposed natural gift for science, Cuomo acknowledges his limitations. “The most important thing in life is to know what you don’t know, and I don’t know about medicine, so I give the floor to the doctor,” he said on Wednesday, when faced with a technical question. He is one of the public authorities that has criticized the federal response to the crisis the most, as slow and inadequate, but he also recognizes the successes and has managed to get Trump and his Administration to respect him and, more importantly, listen to him.
The coronavirus crisis has wiped the Democrats off the map. It’s hard to believe that, just a few weeks ago, political news was dominated by a dozen diverse candidates who were fighting to face Donald Trump in November. Today, the already clear favorite in the party’s primaries, Joe Biden, 77, seems to have taken the recommendation for confinement with exemplary rigor, and in one of his rare appearances he referred to Cuomo’s appearances on the coronavirus as “ leadership lessons ”. Bernie Sanders, 78, the other contender still in contention and whose numbers are barely coming out, resists crouching for what could happen. Nancy Pelosi, the highest Democratic authority, is too busy on Capitol Hill working out the colossal bailout of the economy. So it is Andrew Cuomo who, unexpectedly, has become the voice of the Democrats in the most serious crisis in the recent history of the country.
A politician who circulated on the margins until very recently. Too moderate for the left wing of his party, too brusque in general. But that same pragmatism and direct character have become his virtues to lead in the midst of the crisis. His response has not been without criticism. He reacted late, which confronted him with Mayor Bill de Blasio, with whom he shares a party and a historical enmity, and whom he has totally eclipsed. He has hesitated, has changed his mind from one day to the next. But, unlike the president, Cuomo admits his mistakes and always relies on facts and experts.
This crisis has highlighted the federal nature of the United States, often hidden under the noise of Washington and a ubiquitous president. Trump speaks to the country every day, but it is the governors of the States who decide whether to close the bars, decree the confinements or build field hospitals. And when the spotlight has been on governors, Andrew Cuomo has taken it. “I accept full responsibility,” he said after ordering the closure of non-essential businesses. “If someone is unhappy, if someone wants to blame someone, blame me.”
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.