Andrew Cuomo is to Coronavirus what Rudy Giuliani was to 9/11. In a crisis, his authoritarian tendencies get retconned as leadership and their destructive impacts on people forgotten. When it comes time for the next phase of his ambition, there’ll be bewilderment re his behavior. https://t.co/Np6yiAdAoY— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) April 10, 2020
It was spring and summer of 2020 and Andrew Cuomo, presenting near-daily coronavirus news conferences and deftly showing compassion mixed with a high degree of deference for facts and the scientific method, was praised for his handling of the novel coronavirus. He even wrote a book entitled "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic."
Once thought by the media to be America's governor, he's now embroiled in twin controversies. His administration allegedly lied to state legislators about the number of elderly individuals who had died from Covid-19. Many of those had been returned, at his urging, from hospitals to nursing homes after testing positive for he coronavirus. Additionally, two women in his administration have accused the governor of sexual harassment. If the latter seems far less serious than the former, you haven't recently noticed the American media and contemporary political messaging.
Rudy Giuliani, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, was commonly labeled "America's mayor," with frequent and glowing tributes. Seven years after the two planes hit the World Trade Center, the New York Times (which should have known better) printed a story by Michael Powell (who, remarkably, is still at the paper), who wrote that the Mayor
was two blocks from the south tower, in an office on Barclay Street, trying to get the vice president on the phone, when his world went dark with smoke. Back at City Hall, Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington waited and wondered and dialed the governor.
“We really didn’t know what had become of the mayor,” he said. “I spoke to Governor Pataki, and we closed the schools and canceled the election.”
Then Mr. Giuliani was led through a basement and out onto Church Street, his head and shoulders dusted white with ash. He walked north into the surreal brightness of that day, comforting a police officer and dragooning reporters.
He would walk north two miles, pausing in the bay of a deserted fire station in Greenwich Village to call a television station and urge calm. Three hours later he stepped into a press conference with Gov. George E. Pataki.
“Today is obviously one of the most difficult days in the history of the city,” he said softly. “The tragedy that we are undergoing right now is something that we’ve had nightmares about. My heart goes out to all the innocent victims of this horrible and vicious act of terrorism. And our focus now has to be to save as many lives as possible.”
Inevitably the question arose: How many lost? The mayor looked up through his glasses, aware that among the viewers of this live broadcast were the mothers, fathers, spouses, lovers and children of those who labored in the smashed towers.
“The number of casualties,” he said, “will be more than any of us can bear ultimately.”
That walk north, the spareness of his words and his passion became the founding stones in the reconstruction of the mayor’s reputation, transforming him from a grouchy pol slip-sliding into irrelevancy to the Republican presidential candidate introduced as America’s mayor. The former mayor has made this day the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, aware that millions of Americans hold that heroic view in their collective mind’s eye.
He was "comforting a police officer and dragooning reporters" so he could "urge calm" with "the spareness of his words and his passion."
Worse, he would "walk two miles," which someone should have noticed was a centerpiece of the public relations spectacle being promoted, especially because the major criterion for placement of the center was that it be within walking distance of city hall. Four months later, a different NYT reporter would explain
The New York Police Department produced a detailed analysis in 1998 opposing plans by the city to locate its emergency command center at the World Trade Center, but the Giuliani administration overrode those objections. The command center later collapsed from damage in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
“Seven World Trade Center is a poor choice for the site of a crucial command center for the top leadership of the City of New York,” a panel of police experts, which was aided by the Secret Service, concluded in a confidential Police Department memorandum.
Well, no, it was an excellent choice for a mayor whose image was invaluably enhanced by the enduring image of him walking around the city, seemingly sensitive yet strong, portrayed as having a love for his city second only to his love for these United States of America. Giuliani was catapulted into a leading candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
If the decision to place the emergency command center at arguably the most vulnerable site in New York City didn't directly cost lives, another Giuliani policy did.
The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 prompted New York city officials, spurred by first responders, to replace inadequate analog radios with new, digital radios. They were developed after a no-bid deal with Motorola in which the city (according to its comptroller) "willfully violated" contracting rules.
They had not been properly tested and failed in an emergency situation in early 2001. The city returned to its insufficient analog radios, when
at 9:32 am. on Sept. 11, an FDNY Chief ordered all members in the North Tower to the lobby. Even though he repeated the order, not a single company responded.
At 9:59 the WTC South Tower collapsed; and at 10 am the order to abandon the North Tower was repeated. Inside the North Tower were 121 firefighters who never heard that order. They perished when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 am.
“On 9/11 firefighters went into the North Tower and started ascending the tower, yet they were being called back and they kept going,” said Richard Salem, an attorney who has been representing several of the firefighters’ families who lost loved ones when the North Tower collapsed. “Not one other uniform[ed] officer from any other department [who had functioning radios], perished in that tower other than the FDNY.”
So when various figures in cable news speculate as to where it all went wrong for Giuliani, when America's Mayor was magically transformed into a reactionary, lying hot mess for Donald Trump, recall that the man was in fact a bad mayor.
Opinions differ as to whether Giuliani functioned well or poorly aside from the 9/11/01 catastrophe, but his sterling reputation was founded on the grossly faulty perception of his handling of that crisis. Similarly, Andrew Cuomo was exalted because of the grossly faulty perception of his response to SARS-CoV-2.
Governor Cuomo, if as likely he still harbors a desire for higher office, would do well strategically to take a page from Giuliani's response to questions about 9/11/01. The ex-mayor has never taken any responsibility nor conceded any failure, even denying that a different site for the command center was recommended to him.
Consequently, Andrew Cuomo would be wise- albeit unethical- to deny, deny, deny. It took nineteen years, abominable behavior followed by an effort to overturn a democratic election, to understand clearly that Rudolph Giuliani is indeed a sub-human creature.