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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Cuomo vs. Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wears a mask

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wears a mask during a news conference at Laguardia Airport's Terminal B, in New York on June 10, 2020. Cuomo recently released a controversial political poster that is drawing criticism. Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan

In March and April, we saw the best of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

He was decisive when many leaders appeared unsteady.

He was imaginative and practical, hiring New York prisoners at an average of 65 cents an hour to manufacture hand sanitizer when bottles of the stuff couldn't be found.

His daily news briefings were substantive and sober, so much so that they became must-watch news for millions of Americans (kudos to the exemplary staff work.) Republicans and progressives who had long opposed him — I’ve helped try to unseat Cuomo twice — had positive things to say about his performance, much as those traditionally opposing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did in the days following 9/11.

Mistakes had been made. Big ones. And everyone knew it. The state, particularly New York City, had been slow to shut down. There were embarrassing power conflicts between the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio that cost the state precious days. But people were scared, a steady hand on the tiller was needed, and Cuomo, to his credit, took hold of it. News of the nursing home fiasco was still weeks off.

On Tuesday, we saw the worst of Andrew Cuomo. His release of a bizarre, self-aggrandizing victory-lap poster in the middle of a pandemic — $14.95 plus tax — was downright jaw-dropping, and the short-lived media darling is paying dearly for it.

CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper excoriated Cuomo on Tuesday for effectively declaring victory over COVID-19 and claiming credit for himself, reminding viewers of the 32,000-and-counting New York deaths and the errors made by Cuomo that probably cost lives because of an ill-conceived state order to place COVID-19 patients in nursing homes. Even CNN’s apolitical Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta appeared incredulous in discussing the poster, gently prodding Cuomo to pursue “humility” in the face of the growing health catastrophe.

Gotta love Sanjay.

In 2002, I got a call from a New York Observer reporter whom I greatly respected. The call still haunts me. He was looking for a pithy comment on another famously tin-eared Cuomo political blunder. This was during Cuomo’s first run for governor — a disastrous one — and candidate Cuomo had just viciously lashed out at then-New York Gov. George Pataki, saying the governor had served as Giuliani’s “coat holder” on the morning of 9/11. Suffering from the worst hangover in human history (I don’t miss them), I babbled some unusable inanity.

For the life of me, I couldn’t articulate to the reporter in a sentence why that was so offensive, but it’s as clear to me now as it was to millions of others the moment Cuomo uttered the words: in a life-or-death crisis, only egomaniacs think of personal gain. The fact that Cuomo thought it OK to share his thought aloud demonstrated a major disconnect between the way he thinks and the way the average person does. His true self slipped out.

He’s done it again with this poster. Cuomo got caught thinking about himself instead of the 32,000 New Yorkers who have died of COVID-19, and the many more who will. And unlike his coat-holder remark, which may have been off-the-cuff, the poster took time and consideration to produce. Releasing it and not expecting blowback shows how deep inside his own bubble Cuomo has crawled.

Young politicos should drop the $14.95 and prominently hang the poster on a wall. Cautionary reminders don’t come cheaper.

William F.B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.