The opening night of the Democrats’ virtual convention was the beginning of a coronation for Joe Biden, but it was also a victory march for Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor and a supposed hero of the coronavirus pandemic. “For all the pain and all the tears, our way worked,” Cuomo declared in his five-minute speech. “And it was beautiful.”
“Beautiful” is an odd way to describe a virus that has killed more than 25,000 New Yorkers, or about 15 percent of the total number of Americans who have died from COVID-19. But Cuomo has long been a curious leader for Democrats to hold up as an emblem of successful leadership during the pandemic: He has somehow presided over the worst and deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the country while eluding the widespread criticism that has surrounded both President Donald Trump and New York City’s Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio.
In contrast to other prominent state and local leaders, Cuomo’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak was slow and mistake-filled. He initially balked at issuing stay-at-home orders while cases mounted and then ordered sick elderly patients out of hospitals and back to nursing homes, where the virus spread like wildfire. But to the unending frustration of Republicans, the governor’s buoyant image has been a study in the power of public communication to overshadow policy failures: Cuomo’s detailed, candid, and often weirdly funny daily briefings became appointment television for New Yorkers stuck in their homes and for a national cable audience transfixed by a leader who, unlike Trump, was tackling the crisis head-on.