In recent days, it has been revealed that the administration of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo withheld data and other information from state lawmakers surrounding his decision to return seniors who had tested positive with coronavirus to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This disastrous decision, according to the New York Attorney General, led to the deaths of nearly 13,000 seniors, nearly double the number officially reported by the Cuomo administration.
Lawmakers in the Empire State have been relentless in seeking information from Cuomo’s office related to this tragedy. Yet, they have received little information in response. And what they have received has now been shown to be intentionally inaccurate. During a briefing with New York lawmakers, Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa admitted that they provided false and incomplete information amid concerns of a federal investigation of the aforementioned decisions.
It most certainly appears that the Cuomo administration’s decision to undercount those deaths was politically motivated and the governor has thus far not given the public a satisfactory explanation as to why those figures were underreported. At best, it’s an irresponsible oversight that had disastrous downstream effects. At worst, it’s a conscientious decision to avoid transparency and criticism during the height of his national popularity and book release. It’s against this backdrop that Tuesday’s mea culpa rings as empty as a Bronx classroom.
Whatever the reason, though, a deluge of criticism has been unleashed, and not one drop is unjustified. The 13,000 families who lost loved ones and New York’s 213 lawmakers are entitled to answers. What did Cuomo know and when did he know it?
If he didn’t know members of his administration were manipulating and hiding data from the public, then surely any praise heaped on him by a fawning Hollywood and press corps is undeserved.
If he did know and sanction the acts to deceive, he needs to be investigated and prosecuted for breach of the public trust. For, what else is he hiding inside the machinery of New York state government that is costing lives, breaking families, and wasting taxpayer resources? The gravity of this situation calls for nothing short of a suspension of any benefit of the doubt and a suspicious eye for every word he utters from today until eternity.
Gov. Cuomo’s behavior in this episode is uniquely abhorrent, yet his heavy hand is not an aberration. Governors across the country are wielding unprecedented power over Americans’ lives. In this case, Cuomo’s decisions cost thousands of New Yorkers theirs.
Cuomo has issued multiple statements in an attempt to quell the backlash and frustration of New Yorkers and lawmakers in Albany to no avail. He has been hostile towards the press and indignant with lawmakers. On February 16, it was learned that he has been threatening lawmakers with political retribution for failing to provide him public relations cover.
Earlier this week, in response to this episode, The Heartland Institute reached out to legislative leaders in Albany, urging reform of their emergency authority statutes under which Cuomo has been operating and ostensibly used to justify his deadly decision to return seniors to nursing homes and assisted living facilities amid the pandemic. The letter was in response to many lawmakers openly questioning whether Cuomo should wield such broad authority in light of the tragic consequences of his decisions and his refusal to be held accountable by lawmakers.
Empire State lawmakers need to first hold Cuomo accountable for the tragedy of the deaths in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. That starts with clawing back his authority and power under emergency response statutes. The legislature must then reassert itself in the process as a co-equal branch of government and decentralize the authority of the governor so that political careers of well-meaning legislators can’t be threatened by governors run amok.
Of course, all of this stands in stark contrast to the successes of other governors, most notably Ron DeSantis of Florida. The two men faced like crises and were armed with same-sourced data. The decisions made by the two men have borne their fruit and the verdict is in. Consider that Florida’s per capita coronavirus infection rate is comparable, and its death rate (despite a far more elderly population) remains far lower than New York’s.
Similarly, while Cuomo scrambles to contain scandal and seeks scapegoats like Jewish communities, Florida’s houses of worship remain open and Sunshine State children are in school.
And even with those considerations, it is incumbent on lawmakers to rein in governors. A few bad apples have, and will continue to, spoil the bunch. In this case, the scandal has made the government of the home of the Big Apple rotten to the core. Because Cuomo has failed New Yorkers, he should similarly be held up as the reason no governor should enjoy the latitude that states have given them.
While I may not align to the legislature in Albany’s political proclivities, on this issue, common cause demands intent and speaking with one voice, that these men and women who lead us are just governors, not gods.
Cameron Sholty ([email protected]) is director of Government Relations at The Heartland Institute. He has been leading the organization’s efforts across the country to rein in executive branch authorities during the coronavirus pandemic and to empower state lawmakers.