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Andrew Cuomo apparently concluded that Neil Young was right: it's better to burn out than to fade away.
Why, then, did his Aug. 23 farewell speech sound less like Johnny Rotten and more like his Sex Pistols bandmate, Sid Vicious, deconstructing "My Way"?
The 15-minute goodbye was a kind of compilation album, featuring greatest hits, biggest whines and tired cliches about "the COVID beast" and "New York Tough.
But the reason that few who knew him were lamenting Mr. Cuomo's departure from state government—hopefully for the final time—was that too often he was hard and nasty rather than tough.
He began with an ode to Richard Nixon's "Far be it from me to impugn my opponents' motives" misdirection, saying, "There will be another time to talk about the truth and ethics of the recent situation involving me, but let me say now that, when government politicizes allegations and the headlines condemn without facts, you undermine the justice system—and that doesn't serve women and it doesn't serve men or society.
"Of course everyone has a right to come forward, and we applaud their bravery and courage in doing so, but allegations must still be scrutinized and verified, whether made by a woman or a man."
A Sentence Full of Sophistry
This was particularly rich coming from a man whose key aides did not clap when his first accuser, former staffer Lindsey Boylan, came forward nine months earlier with a tweet accusing him of sexual harassment. Perhaps it was because their hands were otherwise occupied calling reporters in an attempt to smear her that included handing over her confidential personal file.
As to scrutinizing and verifying the allegations of the 11 women who claimed he had behaved improperly, that was what two investigators tapped by Attorney General Letitia James—acting on Mr. Cuomo's own request that she conduct an internal probe nearly six months ago—did over the course of their 165-page report. His lawyer, Rita Glavin, has since twice dissected the report for its supposed omissions and misrepresentations, but has not been able to explain the lack of effective rebuttal in his responses to the investigators.
"Facts still matter," the departing Governor said. "A firecracker can start a stampede, but at one point everyone looks around and says, 'Why are we running?' The truth is ultimately always revealed."
He continued, "Now there are moments that test our character, that ask us, are we the person we believe we are? You know me. I am a fighter, and my instinct is to fight this because it is unfair and unjust in my mind. But you also know that I love New York and I serve you."
Those remarks were a near-verbatim rehash of what he said 13 days earlier in announcing that he would resign. The problem was, the Attorney General's report offered compelling evidence that Mr. Cuomo was actually the person his longtime critics believed he was: a manipulative bully who could be ruthless in his quests for a political or psychological edge.
Leaning in to 'Mean'
The reason so many people believed his accusers even before the report substantiated their claims was that it was known that he behaved abusively toward those who crossed him, and toward his own staffers when they displeased him. What was stunning about the report's description of the toxic culture in the Executive Chamber was that Mr. Cuomo referred to some of his most-trusted aides as "The Mean Girls," making juvenile cruelty and vindictiveness into essential qualities to win his favor.
"No Governor in the nation has passed more progressive measures than I have, but I disagree with some people in my own party who called to defund the police," he said, as if this was a maverick stand rather than what has become, if somewhat belatedly, conventional wisdom among most Democrats.
Trying to evoke his late father Mario, his voice throbbing with intensity, Mr. Cuomo spoke of "the New York spirit that reached for the skies, that refused to accept defeat, that challenged possibility, that said no to the status quo, that took on bureaucracy that still exists...We built the canals, the roads, the bridges and education system and the economy that made us into the greatest state in the nation."
But, he added, "Somewhere along the way, government lost its competence, and then people lost confidence in government."
That didn't seem to be a comment on his own fall from grace, the gulf between the commanding presence he projected in his daily briefings on the coronavirus last year and the actions—from the questionable decision to discharge nursing-home residents from hospitals where they were treated for the virus once they'd been stabilized, to the $5.1-million advance for a book he wrote and published while the pandemic continued. Those are two of the subjects being examined by Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, along with whether two key aides, including then-Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, deleted a passage from a state Health Department report that indicated nursing-home-resident deaths from the virus were significantly higher than originally reported.
'What We Do Matters'
He spoke of the infrastructure projects he had completed or initiated: "a green grid," "rebuilding our upstate airports," "a new LaGuardia, a new JFK, a new Penn Station." He didn't mention the pending inquiry into whether there were construction flaws in the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge because work was rushed to benefit him politically during his 2018 run for a third term as Governor, or the Buffalo Billion economic-development project that became a crime scene, with one of Andrew's top aides convicted of improperly skewing the bidding process to ensure that contractors who were big contributors to his boss got the work.
"It's not what we say in life that matters; it's what we do," Mr. Cuomo said.
This was not a self-rebuke for the great case he talked about combating sexual harassment in the workplace while bringing attractive women into jobs that made them easily accessible targets for his advances. Rather, it was a prelude for asserting, "We have developed, over the last decade, a new paradigm of government in this state government that actually works and actually works for people."
Except, of course, when it's been largely paralyzed for the past six months by a sexual-harassment scandal that placed him at odds with both houses of the State Legislature.
He spoke of how New York, because it attracted so many visitors from foreign countries, 18 months ago had "the highest infection rate in the nation" but now has one of the lowest because "we faced up to the facts and we made the tough-but-necessary decisions."
But as the Delta variant ravaged many states, primarily in The South, he said, "we must realize the reality that the spread will inevitably affect us, and we have to act before it becomes critical."
...What He Says Doesn't
For more than a month, a debate has been raging in New York about reinstating masking mandates in indoor settings and whether vaccinations should be made mandatory for government workers.
Twelve hours before he would step down as Governor, Mr. Cuomo finally brought himself to say, "Masks must be required in high-risk areas and private businesses must mandate proof of vaccination for large gatherings. Now this simply will not happen without a state law mandating that it happen...Let us remember, political procrastination in COVID collaboration. We know the choice is between the politically contentious or the medically infectious. You decide which is worse."
What was most startling about those remarks was that our New York Tough Governor was leaving it to his successor, Kathy Hochul, to take the controversial steps he had procrastinated over—if he considered them at all while swamped by his personal troubles.
Speaking directly to state residents, he said, "You are the u in unity, and New York chooses unity over division every time." Even if his own style owed a lot more to divide-and-conquer than to building consensus.
He closed by saying, "Never forget, always stay New York Tough: smart, united, disciplined and loving."
It wasn't clear whether he was trying to keep the door open for a political comeback—with $18 million in his campaign fund raising the possibility that in the right circumstances he might run next year for the job he was about to vacate—or just looking to restore some shine to his muddied legacy.
Nostalgic Shot at Media
Early that evening Ms. DeRosa, whose resignation was also taking effect at midnight, tweeted, "If the NY press corps had a Jimmy Breslin or Pete Hamill or Jim Dwyer, this story would have been cracked wide open."
The implication was that her boss had been done wrong, and that those celebrated newspaper columnists—all of whom have died within the past five years—would have been more-diligent about getting to the truth than reporters who were still around.
Mr. Breslin and Mr. Hamill were actually much closer to Mario Cuomo; it could be argued that his 1977 run for Mayor was launched with a program early that year called "The Friends of Jimmy Breslin" that they and other journalists turned into a showcase for the elder Cuomo to reach voters.
Washington Post journalist Paul Schwartzman, who during stints with the New York Post and the Daily News either worked for or became friends with all three columnists, replied to Ms. DeRosa by tweeting, "They liked the father. Not so sure about the son."
Late that evening, Ms. DeRosa's tweet became unavailable. It joined her boss as a casualty of the truth.