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Democrat Andrew Cuomo has been the governor of New York, one of the most populous states in the United States, since 2011. The recent outbreak of COVID-19, which has hit New York especially hard, has thrust Cuomo into the national spotlight like no other time in his career.
Cuomo, who comes from a family steeped in politics, has had a long political career and at times has earned unfavorable press. But now, his handling of the current pandemic is earning him positive comparisons to President Donald Trump’s own handling of the situation.
It has even sparked rumors of a presidential run, despite the primary season having started months ago.
The early career of Andrew Cuomo
When the Queens-born Cuomo assumed the office of Governor of New York on January 1, 2011, he was already a highly visible public figure with a famous family, at least across New York.
His father, Mario Cuomo, served three terms as New York’s Governor from 1983 to 1994. Like his son, Mario Cuomo was a Democrat, known particularly for being a liberal reformer.
Andrew Cuomo studied at Fordham University before completing a law degree at Albany Law School in 1982. He then served as an advisor for his father when the elder Cuomo was governor.
In 1986, after practicing law with a private firm, Cuomo founded the “Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged” (HELP). He was 28. The foundation was set up to tackle the problem of homelessness in New York City.
His work combating homelessness led to Cuomo being appointed the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in President Bill Clinton’s administration. In his time in that role, from 1997 to 2000, Andrew Cuomo focused on increasing home ownership in the country.
Following an unsuccessful bid for New York Governor in 2002, Cuomo ran a successful campaign in 2006 to become New York’s Attorney General, beating out Republican candidate Jeanine Pirro (who currently works as a Fox News host). He served as attorney general until the end of 2010, then transitioned to the governorship.
Cuomo was married to human rights activist Kerry Kennedy for 13 years. The couple have three daughters.
Most recently, Cuomo was in a 14-year relationship with well-known television chef Sandra Lee, though that relationship is said to have ended in 2019.
As New York has become the state with the most coronavirus cases in the country — approximately 6% of the total number of cases worldwide — Cuomo’s role as governor has thrust him into the national spotlight.
Cuomo gives regular press conferences that air nationally in which he updates the state and the country on the rapidly evolving situation in New York. This has turned him into one of the most visible figures of the crisis.
Observers have made pointed contrasts between Cuomo and President Trump, who also holds regular coronavirus press conferences to address the nation.
Cuomo’s matter-of-fact speaking style and willingness to contradict Trump has gained him fans, especially among liberals who say that Trump has misled or lied about the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
Cuomo’s star has risen so quickly, there has even been speculation that he could be an outside spoiler for the Democratic nomination for president.
On betting sites, former Vice President Joe Biden remains the favorite to win the nomination, but Cuomo is given greater odds of winning than even Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the only other candidate officially in the race besides Biden.
While Secretary of HUD, Cuomo’s push to get more US citizens in homes involved the government investing in the mortgages of low and middle-income homeowners. This was done through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-created, publicly-traded companies that facilitated financing for housing.
Those two companies were at the center of the 2008 housing crisis, also known as the “subprime mortgage crisis,” because they purchased risky (“subprime”) mortgages. Though Cuomo’s actions were deemed well-intentioned, critics feel that they were at least partly responsible for the crisis.
Though Cuomo has recently been praised for the way he speaks in his press conferences, his words have gotten him into trouble in the past.
During the 2008 Democratic primary for president, then-Attorney General Cuomo disparaged Barack Obama’s campaigning, saying, “You can’t shuck and jive at a press conference.” This statement was roundly criticized as racist as “shucking and jiving” is a historically offensive way to suggest black people are dishonest.
In 2018, after signing a bill related to penalties for sex trafficking, the governor was quoted in a news conference as saying, “We’re not going to make America great again – it was never that great. We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.”
The comment was meant to contrast with Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” However, Trump and Republicans from New York singled in on the assertion that America “was never that great” to attack Cuomo. The governor ended up backtracking on his comments, saying his phrasing was “inartful.”
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