The iconic and pivotal scene from the movie "The Wizard of Oz" depicting the Wizard behind the green curtain shows Dorothy and her travel-worn buddies finally returning to Emerald City, having completed their assignment to deliver the broomstick of the now-deceased Wicked Witch of the West to the "great and powerful Oz." The scene shows the shaky, intimidated foursome cowering in front of a projected hologram of Oz, flanked by flames and a booming voice telling them, "not so fast—go away and come back tomorrow" so he can give his promise to help her return home "a little thought." However, Toto's curiosity gets the best of him, and he runs toward the green satin curtain, and unbeknownst to the Wizard, pulls it aside, revealing a disheveled, stunned old man who then chides them, shouting, "Do you presume to criticize the great and powerful Oz, you ungrateful creatures."
The Wizard proceeds to frantically and ineffectively pull on the multiple levers that control the projected image of his power. Realizing he has been caught, he awkwardly attempts to pull the curtain back over himself, telling Dorothy and friends to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...the great and powerful Oz has spoken." As it dawns on Dorothy that this pathetic man is the much feared Wizard, she tells him that he is, in fact, "a very bad man," to which he replies, "oh no, I am a very good man, I am just a very bad wizard."
As a child, I remember feeling extremely confused by this scene, never really fully grasping its meaning until I was well into my adult years. I felt so betrayed and confused about his sudden shift in demeanor as he realized he had been exposed. None of it jived with my innocent worldview.
Fast forward to 2020, the year of the pandemic and one of its modern-day men behind the curtain, Governor Andrew Cuomo. Serving the state of New York since 2011 as its 56th governor, Cuomo comes from a powerful American political family with figures both in politics and the media. His father, Mario, was governor for three terms, and his brother, Chris, has been a news anchor for years. Some say Andrew and his younger brother Chris made America swoon during the pandemic as they capitalized on their popularity in their multiple primetime television spots. When it comes to the political protected class, Andrew Cuomo could well be its mascot—at least in the state of New York. Pull those levers, boys.
In Cuomo's case, there seem to be many reasons for the curtain, but the latest one centers around why, in the midst of a substantial scandal surrounding his policy decisions about the elderly and nursing homes, there is now a sudden, coincidental influx of sexual harassment claims against him and cries by even those in his own party to resign. In politics, there is more often than not no such thing as a coincidence. The ironies and political maneuverings here are just too many to ignore.
Javits Center/K.C. Wilsey, FEMA
Originally seen as a pandemic leader, Cuomo's hero status slowly unraveled because of a now memory-holed New York State Department of Health order issued by Cuomo on Mar. 25, 2020. At the time, President Trump was persistently scrambling all hands on deck to provide New York with Covid facilities on land (Javits Center pop-up) and sea due to Cuomo's claim of severe shortages in hospital beds at the time. Ironically, the pop-up facilities went largely unused. Amid mounting criticism, Cuomo modified the March 25 order in May to "state that hospitals can send COVID-positive patients to nursing homes only if they test negative for the virus."
Cuomo March 25 Order New York Department of Health/WaybackMachine Archive
Despite those newly minted temporary facilities, Cuomo ordered directives to "clarify expectations for nursing homes (NHs) receiving residents returning from hospitalization and for NHs accepting new admissions." Importantly, he also stipulated that "no resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission."
Enter Cuomo's Dorothy, Senior Meteorologist on the Fox News Channel, Janice Dean, who lost both of her in-laws due to Cuomo's nursing home policy. In her Op-Ed piece on Feb. 23, she says without public knowledge, Cuomo "effectively issued a death warrant that helped kill thousands of elderly, including my husband's parents...when he signed an executive order to admit over 9,000 COVID-positive patients into nursing homes. It was in place for 46 days until it was reversed, then scrubbed from the health department website." New York ranks number two behind California in Coronavirus deaths at 48,573 deaths—more than on 9/11. In February, The Associated Press reported that more than 9,000 Covid-positive patients were transferred from hospitals during a 7-week period early in the pandemic in 2020—40 percent higher than previously known.
Ironically, Cuomo's achievements are memorialized and touted in a poster, ordered by over 35,000 people, published in August and later, in an autobiography, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic" published in the fall—you know, the "very good man, very bad wizard" versions of Cuomo.
New York Tough: Smart United Disciplined Loving Cuomo
On Jan. 28, Attorney General Letitia James released a report on her office's investigation into the Nursing Homes' response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her press release states an undercount "by as much as 50 percent" of nursing home residents who died from Covid-19. The 76-page document brings to light numerous egregious actions on the part of nursing homes who were essentially complying with Cuomo's orders, including things like failure to isolate Covid positive patients and staff who continued to work despite being sick themselves—all while families like Janice Dean's were not allowed to visit their loved ones or even attend their funerals. An excerpt from James' press release can be found below:
"Since March, Attorney General James has been investigating nursing homes throughout New York state based on allegations of patient neglect and other concerning conduct that may have jeopardized the health and safety of residents and employees.
Among those findings were that a larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the New York State Department of Health’s (DOH) published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent. The investigations also revealed that nursing homes’ lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm, and facilities that had lower pre-pandemic staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates. Based on these findings and subsequent investigation, Attorney General James is conducting ongoing investigations into more than 20 nursing homes whose reported conduct during the first wave of the pandemic presented particular concern."
And, in a stunning admission in early February, Cuomo aide Melissa de Rosa apologized privately to Democratic lawmakers that New York hid nursing home data so that the feds wouldn't find out. She said that they "basically froze" when she saw President Trump's tweets "going after" various governors like Phil Murphy of New Jersey, California's Gavin Newsom, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, what we start saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation...That played a very large role into this.”
So, why, one might ask, would there be such an emphasis on sexual harassment charges against Cuomo in a year plagued with political smoke and mirrors and, more importantly, arguably, many unnecessary deaths of loved ones? The answer could lie in the fact that the Department of Justice has opened investigations into four Democrat-led states, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, who may have violated the law by ordering public nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients from the hospital, "potentially fueling the spread of the virus" and putting the elderly at grave risk.
AP reported in August that "Long-term care facilities represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, but they account for 42% of the COVID-19 deaths, with more than 70,000 fatalities reported by the COVID Tracking Project." In Pennsylvania, the then state Health Secretary, Rachel Levine, took her own mother out of a personal care home amid the statewide coronavirus outbreak that was raging at the time. Levine is now Biden's Assistant Secretary of Health. Notably, Cuomo also authorized a 2020-2021 budget in April granting immunity to healthcare providers (The Disaster Treatment Protection Act) during the Covid-19 pandemic. Legislation was signed in August, limiting that immunity.
American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic
What better way to avoid penalties over egregious policies in your fellow Democrat-run states than to start throwing politically-charged sexual harassment charges at the New York poster boy for Covid nursing home deaths? After all, if his Covid policies can get him impeached, what happens to the Democrat Governors in the other three states who pushed similar policies? Enter Anna Ruch, 33; Lindsey Boylan, 36; and Charlotte Bennett, 25, who have come forward over the past week to accuse the governor of unwanted advances over a time period from December 2016 to June 2020. Today another woman came forward in Albany.
Ironically, Cuomo afforded himself few favors when he "unveiled the 18th proposal of the 2018 State of the State: a multi-pronged agenda that targets sexual harassment in the workplace," making it much easier for women to win cases against perpetrators. He addressed the recent allegations in a press conference on March 3rd, saying he "never touched anyone inappropriately" and said he is embarrassed. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and about 60 members of the New York state legislature have written a letter calling for Cuomo's resignation.
I am willing to bet there will be no modern-day Toto to pull back the curtain on Cuomo or the Democrat strategy to use sexual harassment as the reason he should be impeached or resign. There is simply no incentive to make unnecessary Covid deaths the epicenter of controversy—especially since the three other states whose policies may also have unnecessarily killed people in nursing homes may then have to pony up and take responsibility for those pesky deaths. After all, in these times, the man behind the curtain gets to pull levers of his choosing, and Dorothy and her friends don't get to choose what gets projected on the wall. "Not so fast," Dorothy, the great and powerful Oz has spoken.