Just last April, I snapped a photo of myself proudly wearing a “Cuomosexual” shirt and uploaded it to my Instagram story. Cut to this week, when I typed the word “FINALLY!” in a text thread with friends as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation. After state Attorney General Letitia James found he had sexually harassed 11 women, it was undeniably clear that Cuomo was never worthy of the worship or power that he’d been handed.
Now that Cuomo’s transgressions, which include allegedly groping a female employee in his office and kissing another former staffer without her consent, have come to light, I am deeply embarrassed by the way I crushed on this fake savior of New York City. But I certainly wasn’t alone in having deemed his press conferences a daily COVID church sermon or purchasing pro-Cuomo merch, as so many other brilliant women in my circle and beyond were falling under the exact same spell.
Early on, the state’s COVID-19 quarantine quickly became all Andrew, all the time. My apartment was situated on Brooklyn Hospital’s ambulance route, so the constant scream of sirens never let me forget the threat just outside my doors. On the days that my young daughter was with her father, I’d wake up, remember that we were living in a hellscape, and stagger over to the television for Cuomo’s morning briefing. While anxiously assembling my kittens and ice cream puzzle, I found comfort in the tough-talking Queens accent that promised “just the facts” in the form of a foam mountain and PowerPoint slides.
After all, Cuomo provided a seductive alternative to our president at the time, who routinely denied science and spewed racist vitriol on social media every chance he got. It suddenly became Lord of the Flies and we were all just searching for a leader, so it was easy to think, “Look at this New Yorker! He’s shooting straight, calling out the bad man at the top, and advocating for our well-being! And apparently a giant Navy ship is coming?!”
As I recently poured over testimony from the numerous women this man is accused of harming, I began to ask myself why so many of us sought solace in such a fundamentally flawed person. It was no secret that he used intimidation tactics to get his way, with a well-known proclivity for yelling at and berating those around him. So, why was I shocked that this egotistical politician wielded his power over women in less influential positions? Even more importantly, why is it that our critical thinking skills so quickly fly out the window when a dominant, white man with an ego enters the arena?
I have loved, worked for, and championed more toxic men in my life than I can even begin to count. From the press releases that I wrote for a non-profit CEO—before he was eventually arrested for stealing from his own social services charity—to the abusive boyfriend that I defended tirelessly for years, I have laid down at the feet of these types of men far too many times.
I thought my tolerance for toxic masculinity had been tossed out with my love of credit loans and fad diets. After having my dignity shredded, I had learned the hard way and knew all of the manipulation tactics and narcissistic character traits. I’m in a romantic relationship built on mutual respect and work with women who champion me. I am constantly reminding my own daughter of her inherent worth and have analyzed the complicated relationship with my father for years in my therapist’s office. And yet, as a 36-year-old woman, I learned the name of the showboat governor’s dog (it’s Captain) and lauded him for saving our city.
As the virus raged on, I was only further taken in by the now-former governor’s star power. Hot off the trail of a Cuomo-themed Zoom happy hour with friends, I slid into his DMs to send a message of gratitude (he never responded), while still wearing an Andrew-esque yellow neck tie. I still cringe at the thought that I once referred to him as “Zaddy” in a conversation and read more than one salacious article dissecting his romantic-turned-platonic relationship with Sandra Lee.
Cuomo’s downfall was a wakeup call that I had spent more time Googling the rumors surrounding this elected official’s alleged nipple piercing than his professional track record. Up until a few months ago, I knew very little about his sudden dismantling of the Moreland Commision in 2014 or his controversial Buffalo Billion project and ties to the man convicted of steering hundreds of millions in state funding to favored companies or his reported role in creating the Independent Democratic Caucus, a group of Democratic state senators who broke away from the party to form a coalition with Republicans, effectively handing control of the chamber to the GOP. It took his administration’s horrifying COVID nursing home scandal to finally shake me out of my Cuomo Stockholm Syndrome, as the writer Rebecca Fishbein coined the phenomenon.
With the veneer around Cuomo beginning to crack, I stopped letting him into my morning routine. When accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him, I understood just how disillusioned I had become. As a sexual assault survivor, I know all too well the devastating effects of this type of violation and the bravery it requires to speak out. And so, my fanclub was immediately dismantled.
The idea that an elected official with a sordid past could rescue us from our own health care crisis became absurd, and I ceremoniously ripped up the t-shirt I’d proudly shared with the world and used it to stuff my lumpy floor cushion. It seemed that over the course of this past year, some of us stopped looking for a real-life superhero to end the pandemic and started acknowledging reality.
The privilege I hold, and the way it has influenced my actions, is undeniable. As a white woman, born in the United States to a middle-class family, oppressive policies, systems, and leaders have not affected me in the ways that they have BIPOC communities. In retrospect, it was always the women of color in my inner circle calling out the Cuomo worship from the very beginning. They knew better because they’ve most likely always had to, and I’m ashamed that I failed to know better too.
I am in awe of the courage it took for these women to come forward against such a powerful force as the former governor. We owe it to them, and all those that have fallen victim to corrupt, oppressive systems led by men intoxicated by power, to think more critically before hailing our next national hero. Cuomo was never the one saving us; he merely served as a distraction, redirecting our rage away from himself and the state government’s slow response to the pandemic. Perhaps next time, we won’t be so easily fooled.
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