Andrew Cuomo ran New York badly â because he ran a toxic workplace
A ndrew Cuomo, the governor of the state of New York, has resigned after the publication of a report by the attorney general which documented that he sexually harassed 11 women and his staff retaliated against one of those women who had the temerity to speak out. (Cuomo denies any wrongdoing.)
Some commentators have taken the opportunity to note that not only did he run a toxic workplace, sexually harass staff and violate state and federal laws in his actions, he also has run the state poorly, despite the reputation he developed during the coronavirus pandemic. But, based in part on my experience of having worked in his administration, it would be more accurate to say that Cuomo has run New York poorly because he ran a toxic workplace, sexually harassed staff and violated state and federal laws.
Start with the number of women whose careers were cut short and harmed by the governorâs actions. That left New York without the contributions of many women who could have made the state a better place but who left because of the abuse. And who are the women who did not get jobs in the government at all because Cuomo may not have found them attractive? What was their contribution to our collective wellbeing that was missed? It is impossible to have worked for the governor and not have noticed that the senior women who worked directly for him predominantly looked alike and notably none of them where non-white.
Similarly, the attorney generalâs report meticulously detailed the ways in which the stateâs hiring and staffing decisions were based upon Cuomoâs proclivities. On the one hand, the governor had the New York State police change their seniority rules to allow a woman that he had met to be assigned to staff him, even though she was underqualified for the role. On the other, numerous women were given non-substantive jobs in the governorâs vicinity rather than substantive work for which they were qualified. Cuomo was more than willing to use his power to degrade government because of his personal desires, and it did not stop at discrimination against women.
The brain drain as a result of his toxic administration hurt New York. I made it seven months in the Cuomo administration in 2017. I was looking for a new job after two months. But working in an abusive and chaotic environment where nobody cared about policy outcomes was not worth proximity to power. The staff often justified what they went through as necessary for good governance, but I knew otherwise, having just come from the Obama White House, where working long hours was the norm, but so was kindness coming from the top.
While I would not count myself as a large loss for the administration, the number of smart people who walked in the door and realised they could do more good work elsewhere is innumerable. For example, Andy Byford, who was fixing the subways that had withered under Cuomoâs time leading New York, left because working for the governor was so unpleasant.
The report also documented the ways in which a staff obsessed with serving the governor, his wants and his image rather than delivering for New Yorkers leads to bad outcomes. Led by the now departed Melissa DeRosa, the staff were all hands on deck to silence the harassment claims against Cuomo in the middle of a pandemic. They are alleged to have retaliated against Lindsey Boylan and lied to the press hoping to ward off future accusations. That campaign was described by the governorâs office as âfighting for our livesâ, which should give us a sense of how much energy was being devoted to issues other than running the stateâs government.
Indeed, itâs this media obsession and policy failure that led to Cuomoâs massive popularity amid the pandemic while New Yorkers died at higher rates than almost any other state in the country. If it had to do with television, he and they cared and they could get good headlines. While I think very little of Cuomo, I do believe his Emmy was well deserved. He did an incredible job every day playing the competent foil to Donald Trump, assuring a shell-shocked nation desperate for the mere performance of competence. TV Andrew Cuomo is good at the job of being TV Governor.
When the cameras were off, the image-obsessed staff failed to deliver for New York. New York is second among the USâs states in deaths per capita, and while a fair assessment would note the early timing and geography â nearby New Jersey and Connecticut also struggled to prevent Covid deaths â nothing suggests Cuomo did anything more notable to limit the spread of the virus than other governors. Instead, when his policies potentially led to larger numbers of deaths in elder care facilities, his administration reportedly scrubbed the numbers at his behest. As New Yorkers struggled to get Covid tests, his administration pressured hospitals to provide them for his friends and family. And when news broke of his sexual harassment last year, his administrationâs Covid âczarâ gauged the loyalty of county officials struggling to get vaccines to their constituents, according to media reports.Andrew Cuomo is gone. But his lawless legacy will live on | David Sirota Read more
That is my memory of working there: seeing people screamed at by his close staff if the temperature was not sufficiently cold for the governorâs events. Cuomoâs administration has constantly failed because it prized loyalty, subservience and shiny objects over making things work. New York received billions of dollars in rent relief money from the federal government this year, but the programme has been marked by dysfunction, with lawmakers demanding details of the awarding of a no-bid $115m contract to a company that was charged with distributing the funds. The state wasted $106m on unused lights for New York bridges, because the governor prized the veneer of infrastructure, all while subways broke down.
Andrew Cuomo is gone. But there will be more politicians who are said to sexually harass their staff and run toxic work environments. We should remember that the harms do not stop at the women they harass or the staffers they abuse, although that should be enough. The abuse is corrosive, the harms leak out throughout the government, and we are all worse for it.
Joel Wertheimer is a civil rights attorney and was formerly associate staff secretary for Barack Obama