The Gendered Politics of Andrew Cuomo, Emasculator in Chief
If you follow Andrew Cuomo on Twitter, then you know that during the past week he has been active to the point of presidential in his self-congratulatory social-media output.
Over the course of two days he announced how proud he was to enact a law that would prevent domestic abusers from owning guns; how grateful others were that he had forced hospitals to keep rape kits for 20 years and not 30 days; how schools in the state would now be required to provide free menstrual products in bathrooms for girls in sixth through 12th grades; how the building code was being amended to mandate diaper-changing tables in men’s rooms.
He was also behind a new initiative, If You Can See It You Can Be It — “a day of mentoring and career learning activities for girls from lower-income communities.” And he was reminding everyone that exactly two years ago he signed “America’s strongest Paid Family Leave program into law.”
Inserted into Google Translate, any of these communications could be spit out to read: “Who needs Cynthia Nixon? I’m practically female!” Last month Ms. Nixon, the actress and longtime public-education activist mounted a bid to challenge the governor in a Democratic primary, and he has been affirming his feminist credentials ever since, seemingly ready to come up with cures for the more disagreeable symptoms of hormonal imbalance if provoked.
Mr. Cuomo’s persona is built on one of the more whipsawed adaptations of gendered politics in American government — as eager as he seems to be to assume the role of the guy who has made his way through the women’s studies canon, he is more committed still to proving that he is the emasculator in chief. For several years now, his preferred target for that exercise has been New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio. Despite the aura of insincerity that some feel surrounds the governor generally, his distaste for the mayor seems entirely genuine.Continue reading the main story
The embattled relationship is now playing out most dramatically over the issues surrounding the New York City Housing Authority, the largest public housing system in the country. In recent weeks, Mr. Cuomo has been touring some of the city’s developments — where he has hardly been a regular presence — like a father coming home from a very long business trip to complain that the house is a mess and the children are unruly and to wonder what Mother has been doing all this time. The governor was showing up, as he put it at one moment on his tour, “to expose the problems’’ of the city’s public housing complexes, as if no one had previously taken notice.
He called the system a disgrace; blamed decrepit conditions for fostering criminal behaviors; called out the mold, the roaches, the failing boilers and resulting heating problems; and blaming the mayor, essentially, for failing to adequately tend to things even though Mr. de Blasio has spent hundreds of millions of dollars repairing cracked roofs and working to reduce crime in the most violent complexes. Still, the city’s housing authority faces close to $25 billion in capital costs at a moment when the federal government has proposed eliminating public housing’s capital fund entirely and cutting the operating fund nearly by half.
The housing authority faces a moral crisis as well in a lead-paint scandal involving falsified inspection reports and the failure on the mayor’s part to fire the authority’s chairwoman, Shola Olatoye. Beyond that, just this week a report from the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, found that 70 percent of the playgrounds managed by the housing authority were rundown or actually dangerous.
The governor has positioned himself as a savior, declaring a state of emergency in the public housing system a few days ago, committing an additional $250 million in state resources to remediating some of the most urgent mechanical problems and public-health threats, and demanding an independent monitor to oversee the repairs. He is happy to assert his dominance and pick up the check.
On Wednesday afternoon, I paid a visit to Rose Fernandez, who grew up in the Amsterdam Houses on the West Side of Manhattan and has spent 33 years in the Carver Houses in East Harlem, to gauge how the governor’s move was playing out. Ms. Fernandez is a tenants’ rights activist for the group Community Voices Heard. “The main thing I want to tell you about is my health,” she began. “I’m depressed. I don’t know if you’ve seen those A.S.P.C.A. commercials, but I feel like one of those animals, suffering in a cage.”
She has sued the housing authority twice, once over a broken sink that left her doing dishes in the tub for three months and a second time over a busted ceiling that revealed black mold. She has been dealing with the mold for three years despite her protestations, she told me, and it leaves her with headaches, nausea, vision issues and constant agitation. Her 30-year-old son, who lives with her, is similarly afflicted, she maintains.
“Aside from being depressed, I’m just angry,” Ms. Fernandez said. Like many residents of public housing, she complained that elevators are always shutting down and garbage chutes are taped up and the city’s maintenance people never come when they say they are going to come.
She is thankful for the governor’s attention and said that like many other residents she knows, she lays far more blame at the mayor’s door than the governor’s. She and other advocates are fighting for the mayor to include $2 billion for repairs in the next budget and $1 billion a year after that. It is not clear where that money would come from. But they will rally and wait and see.Continue reading the main story