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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

The downside for Cuomo, Dems of losing Trump as a foil

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at his daily coronavirus

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at his daily coronavirus briefing Monday. Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo/Darren McGee

Losing ex-President Donald Trump's performance as a point of comparison may already be proving detrimental to the prestige of New York State's top Democrat, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Nearly a year ago, at the worst of the pandemic, Cuomo's daily televised briefings emerged as a favorable contrast to the Republican president's what-if-we-inject-disinfectant buffoonery and false claims. The governor made a display of aggressiveness in fighting the pandemic and explained data. He outclassed Trump’s it’s-all-going-away passivity.

Now the governor's shiny armor as an anti-Trump knight is rusting. A data-release gap in COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes in the state were concealed amid Trump administration inquiries. Cuomo's 2018 state-ticket running mate, Attorney General Letitia James, last month revealed the data-juggling and local lawmakers of both parties are responding.

Trump's removal by the voters last year has implications for the role-playing of other blue-state leaders, for whom resisting federal policies on the environment, taxes and culture became a rallying cry for the past four years. California Gov. Gavin Newsom's COVID-19 response actions also have drawn questions.

What are no longer Trump's problems become President Joe Biden's problems. That changes the angles and perspective from which other Democrats can speak, the context in which they run big states and cities. For the moment, outcry against the White House and congressional majorities are off limits to them.

For Republicans, especially in New York, Cuomo has for months served as a lightning rod. Call it Trump Displacement Syndrome: GOP partisans deflected problems with government response onto the Democrats.

Besides, nothing made Cuomo sound smart and competent like a tweet from Trump attacking him.

But with Trump gone from the White House, demanding accountability on a state level no longer seems partisan or defensive. Republican critics can and will issue the kind of hard criticism one would expect from the "out" party. And it will resonate better than it did before, even among a number of Democrats.

For Cuomo, the threat of a witch hunt by Trump's hyper-politicized Justice Department no longer hovers. Honest, rational skeptics have clamored for months for clear answers about the transfers of COVID-19 patients between hospitals and nursing homes. It will not suffice for the Cuomo camp to keep describing the issue as trumped up.

The waxing and waning of Cuomo's stardom might remind New Yorkers of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then-Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani. At that shocking time, Giuliani gave an impressive telegenic show of local leadership. It caused long-simmering suspicions about him to be cast aside while front-line workers and citizens unified behind the grim task ahead.

With time, Giuliani pushed it too far, seeking and failing to stay in office past his term and going all in on the mythology of his performance. Naturally flaws emerged. Supervisors at Ground Zero did not keep workers protected by respirator equipment. The city's emergency headquarters was in a bad location. Radio problems kept fire personnel from hearing the eventual evacuation order.

Once a crisis passes, or even before, the pluses and minuses of a public official's record will come out. There are no known exceptions, whether the name is Trump, Biden, Newsom or Cuomo.

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