Clearing the cobwebs

I haven’t paid much attention to this blog during the winter wave of the pandemic. It’s hard for me to write anything meaningful about people running around doing the same old stupid things while being invaded by an alien force. Even in Onondaga County, where the response has been plucky, there wasn’t too much authorities could do except hold on and pray the hospitals weren’t overwhelmed.

As vaccines became available (seems like a million years since October’s entry when there were no vaccines approved), the county and state had various strategies for defining eligible populations and getting them their shots, a process which is still ongoing, especially with underserved communities. (One of those bright ideas here was something called OnList, which was irrelevant almost the moment it went live — seniors were supposed to sign up and wait to be chosen randomly for a vaccination slot, which was a great idea when vaccines were scarce; but the more available they became, the more seniors gave up waiting and went to the state or pharmacy sites. This meant that county personnel had to waste a lot of time contacting people who never responded.)

Oh, and there was a violent failed coup, too.

A lot has changed. Biden is president. John Katko is a somebody. My mom got her first vaccine shot. My year of working from home (four out of five days a week) is swiftly coming to an end. And Andrew Cuomo is a political dead man walking. Spring has sprung!

I’m actually incredibly disappointed that #metoo has contributed so much to Cuomo’s demise. After all, there is so much else that is wrong with the guy – don’t get me started on his terrible aesthetic sense. And because after a decade I’d dejectedly tuned Cuomo out, I just assumed that the badness of the state’s COVID response — the decrees from on high, the contempt for local governments, the opacity, the air of feudalism — was a New York State thing. I was amazed at how badly the local governments were treated, but I didn’t really question it. Now that outsiders are learning more about the sick way that Cuomo’s Albany works, we’re also learning more about the nature of personal political power and how quickly it can just vanish.

Back in late May, during the Phase 2 Crisis, some of the county executives showed that they perfectly understood what loss of political credibility means — as small fry, they aren’t immune. They intimated that Cuomo was beginning to lose his, at least in the hinterlands. Nationally, some observers from outside the state are puzzled. Surely, the fall of Andrew Cuomo must be some sort of twisted Trumpist plot! We can forgive these bizarre takes on Cuomo’s current situation by remembering that most of America is deeply entrenched in total political war, where everything can and must be reduced to an apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil. This total war will continue to steadily sap all sense of reason from the American people who are trapped in battlefield states. But here in New York, politics are still just operating normally.

But why didn’t we notice how weak Cuomo’s position had actually become? Why are we surprised that as of this week, we’re simply arguing about the best way to dispose of his political corpse? Who knew that the sequel to Patton would be Weekend at Andy’s?

Because, in hindsight, it seems clear that once the drama of the failed Trump coup was overcome, once the winter wave had been survived, that day follows night: nobody is afraid of him any more.

It’s hard to even think of anything constructive Cuomo has actually accomplished over the last year. The Empire State Trail, I guess. That’s something — an ambitious project of the sort that often gets bogged down in red tape and delays. It really has been completed and, like the draining of the Pontine Marshes, may live on after Il Duce is gone, for better or worse. Generations of future recreational bike riders will thank Cuomo for the elimination of the notorious Syracuse Gap.

I once feared, back in pre-pandemic times, that Cuomo planned to blast high-speed rail through the state, perhaps obliterating the Thruway or Erie Canal (or worse, bypass the corridor altogether). But apparently I credited him with too much ambition or capital. I feared it also because Cuomo has a pattern of seizing on New York’s heritage glories or genuine future opportunities, but somehow only grasping them in a harsh, unpoetical, permanently destructive way, always missing the point. Imagine New York’s future rendered like his awful paper mache mountain at 1:1 scale.

And really, that’s why Cuomo sucked so bad: he thought so small. (I feel the need to invent a special new tense conveying a political figure’s continued existence and future elimination at the same time. I’m sure they have a word for it in one of the Haudenosaunee languages…)

There was little sense or structure in how he operated. Over a decade or more, Cuomo wove a tight but ultimately fragile net made out of threats and toxic interpersonal behavior, which conveyed menace efficiently to far corners of the state through unsettling vibrations. But this structure perhaps was not made up of truly meaningful political relationships, as he’s now finding out. (During the pandemic last year, the county leaders didn’t have much, but they at least had each other as colleagues.) Cuomo just sits in the middle of it all, with no evident desire to navigate toward bigger and better things, perhaps because he sensed he’d have to re-spin the web at a national level.

As for the sexual allegations, it has been unfortunate that the Attorney General has been swiftly crowded out of the picture over the past week — it’s blatantly disrespectful to her. But Cuomo’s alleged behavior lends an especially creepy new meaning to “One Man in a Room.” The idea that any of this alleged behavior should get some sort of nod-and-wink pass — when these women say they were subjected to it by the most powerful man in one of the most powerful states in the most powerful country in the only world we know?

At least Spitzer paid for his dates.