Meet the New Cuomo. Same as the Old Cuomo.

He has often made the dichotomy between social and economic policy plain. In a 2017 State of the State address that he started by bragging about advancing “progressive values in society” like gay marriage, he changed his tone to focus on the need for “fiscal discipline.” Mere moments later, he said, “When you cut spending all sorts of good things happen.” He likened it to going on a diet: “When you intake fewer calories good things happen.”

Politics has never been a realm where people are particularly nice, and some of the lawmakers we remember as the most effective have also been the most ruthless. As one of those, President Lyndon B. Johnson, once said of himself, “I do understand power, whatever else may be said about me. I know where to look for it and how to use it.”

Mr. Cuomo understands power, too. But he doesn’t understand how to use it. Mr. Johnson, whatever can be said of his tactics, secured an increase in the minimum wage; an expansion of Social Security; landmark civil rights, voting rights and housing legislation; and, perhaps most extraordinarily, the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid. Mr. Cuomo has wielded his power to doggedly pursue austerity that has hurt the lowest-income residents; he even wasted time berating New York City’s mayor during the worst of New York City’s Covid crisis.

His focus on his own image over and above improving life for New Yorkers has bordered on the absurd. Beginning in 2014, Mr. Cuomo installed more than 500 “I Love NY” signs along our highways as a PR move, despite being told that the Federal Highway Administration wouldn’t allow them, costing the state a $14 million fine. (The signs themselves had already cost $8.1 million.)

But the consequences of Mr. Cuomo’s governing style have also been deadly serious, costing lives. Although both the governor and New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, initially dithered, Mr. de Blasio was finally ready for a lockdown to respond to Covid by March 17, 2020. But Mr. Cuomo dismissed him and delayed the lockdown for another five days, in part to assert his power over Mr. de Blasio. Had the lockdown measures been imposed a week earlier, thousands of lives might have been saved. We have now lost more than 30,000 city residents to the virus, and Mr. Cuomo’s mano-a-mano contest with Mr. de Blasio has continued, with the governor often appearing to be more concerned with proving that he holds the most power than he is with anything else.

Even now, he is still following the same playbook. Over Mr. de Blasio’s objections, he’s opening up New York’s economy at an alarmingly fast pace, allowing some indoor dining and even in-person fitness classes as the coronavirus infection rates in both the state and the city are rising.

You can’t call yourself a progressive champion while cutting school funding and Medicaid. You can’t call yourself a progressive champion while fondling young women and making them feel as if they are only valued for their high heels and short skirts. You can’t call yourself a progressive champion when your quest to assert your dominance leads to needless death. But Mr. Cuomo has tried to pull it off by using his political might to divert our attention.

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