Nearly a year into the pandemic, people on both coasts are increasingly fed up with their leaders. In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has done such a poor job handling COVID-19 that activists in the state have submitted more than 1.1 million signatures for a “Recall Newsom” ballot initiative, hoping to qualify for inclusion by the March 17 deadline. In New York, previously chummy reporters and TV anchors are finally holding Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s feet to the fire after reports surfaced that his administration had not only issued a March directive that put nursing home residents’ lives in peril but had also hidden the total deaths resulting from that decision.
For those who soured on the efficacy of lockdowns many months ago, or voiced skepticism of executive power right from the start, the incompetence of Newsom and Cuomo is unsurprising. It’s encouraging, though, because now people other than partisans and principled critics of executive power are taking notice of the ways these two governors failed their constituents over the last year.
In California, schools remain closed, meaning 6 million children continue to be subjected to ineffectual virtual learning. The vaccine rollout got off to a terribly slow start. The second ban on outdoor dining, which was in place from early December until late January, has been lifted but was in place for far too long. The 10 p.m. curfew for all non-essential work and gatherings, which was put in place at the end of November, was finally lifted at the end of January. And, as Newsom asked residents to continue to stay home and avoid gatherings this fall, he was caught redhanded attending a lobbyist’s 12-person birthday dinner at the Michelin-starred French Laundry in early November.
So now the chickens have come home to roost, and an effort to recall Newsom is gaining steam. Recall proponents must submit nearly 1.5 million verified signatures from registered California voters by March 17. As of February 5, proponents had submitted 1.1 million signatures, 800,000 of which have already been officially verified. Of those verified signatures, 84 percent belong to registered voters, which the New York Times notes is an unusually high percentage compared to typical recall efforts. Wasting no time, the former mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, is already campaigning—as a Republican, no less—for the Newsom’s job.
If the recall effort is successful, Newsom would be the second California governor to be fired from the job. And, according to organizers, it will be in no small part due to the crippling effect his policies have had on small business owners, school children, and working families.
A related story of incompetence is playing out on the opposite coast.
Cuomo has not covered himself in glory since the start of the pandemic. New York has been afflicted by typical blue-state pandemic governance, the likes of which we also saw in places like California: a winter of closed indoor dining and 10 p.m. curfews, very limited school reopening, guidance from leaders advising residents to double mask, and maybe even to continue masking once vaccinated. But Cuomo’s administration has also been embroiled in an enormous scandal. Just a few weeks ago, New York Attorney General Letitia James reported that the governor had undercounted the state’s COVID-related nursing home deaths by nearly 4,000, making the true nursing home resident death toll about 40 percent higher than Cuomo’s administration claimed. Then, Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa admitted during a private conference call with Democrats that the administration had covered up the true death toll, afraid of provoking a Department of Justice investigation.
For months, the Cuomo administration has been rightfully hounded by critics asking for more information on the March 25 directive, which required nursing homes to admit or re-admit COVID-19 patients regardless of whether they’d tested negative for the virus. Though it was intended to free up hospital space by shifting patients back to nursing homes, many theorize that the total death toll in nursing homes could have been significantly reduced had they required negative COVID-19 tests prior to admission. So Cuomo is essentially facing two different scandals: The initial negligence of the March 25 directive, which resulted in thousands of additional people dying, and a disgraceful refusal to come clean and face accountability.
Though Cuomo’s blameworthy nursing home directive has been an open secret for many months, the national news media largely averted their glance from this story while people like Fox’s Janice Dean sounded the alarms alone. (Locally, journalists at the Newark Star-Ledger were ripping the policies of New Jersey and New York as far back as May 2020, but national media outlets took fairly little notice.) Of late, they’ve taken a gruffer stance, even examining Cuomo’s past and present of strongman bullying. A New Republic headline reads, “The Andrew Cuomo Show Has Lost the Plot“; New York Times headlines declare “Uprising Grows Over Andrew Cuomo’s Bullying” and “Cuomo Faces Revolt After Handling of Nursing Home Deaths” and even “As Outcry Over Nursing Homes Grows, Cuomo Lashes Out at Critics“; The Wall Street Journal bluntly asks if Cuomo did the same thing to disabled people that he did to the elderly in “Another Cuomo Cover-Up?“
Another Times article notes that Cuomo has for years “berated aides and elected officials, brought people to tears and threatened to fire them or end their careers. People outside the governor’s direct control who have clashed with him said he told them they would be subject to negative news stories or political challenges or, in one case, would be publicly likened to a ‘child rapist.'” Most recently, Ron Kim, a New York state assemblyman (and fellow Democrat), has come forward with stories of Cuomo calling him to threaten him after Kim called the nursing home cover-up an “obstruction of justice.” Kim has also declared his intention to pursue impeachment proceedings in a scathing piece in Newsweek.
As Cuomo and Newsom face deserved condemnation and maybe even real consequences for their pandemic malfeasance, it’s worth remembering that the two combined make decisions affecting a collective 60 million people, or about 18 percent of the U.S. population. The pandemic—and subsequent deprivations of liberty in the form of cyclical lockdowns—are too-late reminders that we ought to be choosy not just about who sits in the Oval Office, but also the governor’s mansion.