New York Gov. Cuomo’s Job Approval Dips Over Nursing-Home Deaths

Polls show Cuomo scores well in his handling of pandemic but gets negative reviews over release of data for coronavirus-related deaths

Per The Wall Street Journal:

ALBANY, N.Y.—New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s job approval rating has dropped 10 points since January, a poll released Tuesday showed, amid bipartisan criticism of his administration’s reporting of the number of nursing-home residents who died from Covid-19.

A Siena College Research Institute poll of 804 New York voters found the Democratic governor’s overall job approval fell to 51-47, down from 56-42 in January. When asked if they approved of how Mr. Cuomo had made public information about nursing-home deaths, 39% said they approved compared with 55% who didn’t.

State officials now say more than 15,000 residents of nursing homes and assisted-living and adult-care facilities were confirmed or presumed to have succumbed to the coronavirus since March of last year—a tally that is around 50% higher than earlier figures released by the state. For months, the state didn’t answer requests from lawmakers and journalists asking for the number of facility residents who died in hospitals.

Democratic and Republican state lawmakers criticized the delay as well as a statement last week by the governor’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, that the state held off releasing the fuller count in August because of fear that former President Trump’s administration would politicize the information.

Democrats who control both the state Assembly and Senate said they held private discussions over the weekend about rolling back a state law, enacted in March, that gave Mr. Cuomo unprecedented power to unilaterally issue directives needed to manage the pandemic. The governor has used his authority to close schools and set rules for the operation of businesses.

Mr. Cuomo said during a news conference on Monday that the powers enacted in March allowed for rapid decision making across municipal boundaries. He said legislators were able to modify any of his orders—something they haven’t done. The expanded powers had nothing to do with the situation in nursing homes, he added.

The governor rebuffed calls by lawmakers for an independent investigation into the state’s handling of nursing homes, but acknowledged that the delay in reporting the figures created a void that he said fueled disinformation. Much of the debate over the death counts has centered on a controversial Health Department directive on March 25 of last year that said nursing homes couldn’t refuse to admit Covid-19-positive patients.

“In retrospect, should we have given more priority to fulfilling information requests? In my opinion, yes. And that’s what created the void,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I just want to make sure people know these are the facts: Everything that could have been done was done.”

The poll of 804 New York voters—which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points—concluded on Thursday, before Ms. DeRosa’s statement was first reported by the New York Post.

Sixty-one percent of poll respondents said they approved of Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, compared with 34% who disapproved, a rating that is essentially unchanged from January. And 56% of voters viewed Mr. Cuomo favorably compared with 57% in January, the poll said.

Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said the governor’s favorability rating was “rock solid.”

“New Yorkers saw with their own two eyes how Governor Cuomo worked day and night to get us on the other side of this pandemic,” Mr. Azzopardi said.

In contrast to Siena surveys taken last year, this poll showed a significant divide between views of the governor from Democrats and Republicans, poll spokesman Steven Greenberg said.

“Republicans, who had shown Cuomo some love early in the pandemic last spring, are now overwhelmingly negative in their views on Cuomo,” Mr. Greenberg said.

One such person is Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who ran against Mr. Cuomo in 2018 and said he is considering another challenge in 2022. Last March, Mr. Molinaro said that Mr. Cuomo had provided steady leadership, but criticized Mr. Cuomo’s handling of nursing-home data during an interview last week.

“They didn’t want to admit failure, they didn’t want to acknowledge what occurred, they didn’t want to show remorse and didn’t want to expose themselves and others to incalculable political risk and legal risk,” said Mr. Molinaro.

At the Capitol, 14 Democrats in the state Senate issued a statement calling for changes to Mr. Cuomo’s pandemic powers before they expire in April.

“While Covid-19 has tested the limits of our people and state—and, early during the pandemic, required the government to restructure decision making to render rapid, necessary public health judgments—it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the governor are no longer appropriate,” said the senators.

A Senate official said Democratic senators talked about the matter on Friday and Sunday, and that the chamber is moving toward removing Mr. Cuomo’s powers in a bill that could come up as soon as next week.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, said members of the chamber would “continue to discuss the issue and will act responsibly with the best interests of the people of the State of New York in mind.”

Republicans in both houses of the Legislature have for months called for Mr. Cuomo’s powers to be pared back, and urged majority Democrats to act this week, when the chambers are scheduled to be in recess.

Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University, said Mr. Cuomo’s handling of the nursing-home situation would be a serious issue in an expected re-election bid.

“Transparency is really important, especially in a time of crisis,” she said. “And we haven’t had it at the highest level of government for four years with the former president, and it’s left people feeling unmoored, with a sense of trauma, a sense of helplessness.”

Mr. Greenberg said he was loath to predict the future, but the poll offered a clear lesson for Mr. Cuomo about nursing homes: “It is clearly where he, at the moment, is most vulnerable.”

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