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I’ve been wrong before. In my 42 years I’ve had the privilege of being wrong many times and since I’ve been sober since I was 19, I can’t now blame booze. Besides being wrong many times, I’ve also crushed it with some scorchingly bad hot takes, like my piece for the Beast about how Biden should drop out a few days before he won South Carolina. Spoiler alert: He’s president now so I didn’t exactly nail that one. But “Why We Are Crushing on Andrew Cuomo Right Now,” which I wrote for Vogue, may have been my worst take.
A caveat: I did not write the headline. I do not have the power to approve or write my headlines. But since three much younger women, two of them former staffers, accused New York’s governor of harassment over the last week that headline is what people online have used to dunk on me. As Aristotle said, “Live by the tweet, die by the tweet—or figure out how to auto-delete your tweets.”
And headline aside, the piece was extremely bad and not at all good. In my defense, I did note his partnership with the very sketchy IDC, “a group of supposed Democrats who helped the Republicans control the New York State Senate for many years.” I called him joyless, but I also noted “what a difference a pandemic makes” as I praised my “competent governor/imaginary boyfriend.”
My take was the subject of some ridicule from various smart people back then but here’s the thing about back then: I was really really really scared. I was convinced I would die of coronavirus.
In late March of 2020, my apartment building was empty as all my neighbors had left the city. It was like the Decameron. The streets were all of a sudden completely empty. No cars, no trucks, no sounds except for the ambulances ripping by my apartment. There were so many of them, and so few other vehicles on the road, that most of the ambulances stopped using their full sirens and just went with a sort of honking noise.
And at a time when Trump was holding daily briefings with no information at all, just his madman ravings as doctors and others stood by, somebody projecting decency and competence seemed appealing to me and to tens of millions of others who tuned in.
None of this makes my bad take better, but it does explain my state of mind. In hindsight, my “crush,” as the headline put it, was more like Stockholm Syndrome.
A better take would have been to see the theater of Cuomo for what it was… theater. “Cuomo, who’s spent many years selling himself as the Man of Action, is earning all sorts of wild praise now for his briefings, despite or almost because of the virus’ wild success here.” New York City was the center of the storm, not only in the country but in the world. While things have improved since then, New York state has lost 47,247 people to the virus so far, second only to California, a state with twice the population.
And a better take would have been to see the ways, more obvious in hindsight but not hidden then, that Cuomo mismanaged the crisis here, by delaying an urgently shutdown because his rival Mayor Bill de Blasio had called for one and, most damning, by forcing nursing homes to accept COVID patients from hospitals and then fighting for nearly a year to cover up the death count tied to that decision.
And while it really did seem comforting to see Cuomo bring his 22-year-old daughter Michaela to one of his briefings and to hear him talk about his family sheltering in place together, all that is tainted now by the accounts of him pursuing women his daughters’ age and on his payroll. I’ve met the smart Lindsey Boylan before, who bravely made herself the first woman to come out and talk about what the famously vengeful governor’s disturbing and creepy harassment and unwanted kiss:
“He gave roses to female staffers on Valentine’s Day and arranged to have one delivered to me, the only one on my floor. A signed photograph of the Governor appeared in my closed-door office while I was out. These were not-so-subtle reminders of the Governor exploiting the power dynamic with the women around him.”
And Charlotte Bennett then followed with her own disturbing account, which Team Cuomo—which has categorically denied Boylan’s story—first tried to excuse as “mentorship” before issuing a phony “apology” if he’d done anything that was “misunderstood,” all without contesting any of Bennett’s facts. That “misunderstood” “mentorship” consisted of asking the 25-year-old staffer if she slept with older men and volunteering that he was open to sleeping with younger women, not to mention the sort of office touching men with power like to do.
That was followed by Anna Ruch’s account of having to remove Cuomo’s hand from her backside at a wedding, only for the governor to then hold her face between his hands. Three’s a crowd, and a trend, and it seems likely that more stories will follow.
Whether or not they do, the bottom line is that I was wrong about Cuomo. My take was superficial and dumb and wrong. Luckily, the internet is forever and there are plenty of people to remind me of my bad take. But the good thing about being an opinion journalist is that I’m not a surgeon so at least I didn’t leave the sponge in when I sewed you up.