I couldn’t hold back the tears last Friday as Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his 111th — and final — daily press briefing during the COVID-19 crisis. He promised that he was not going away (I needed to hear that!) and then thanked us New Yorkers for “taming the beast.” At 68, I’m too old for a schoolgirl crush. So are my women friends, all in their 60s and 70s — and yet, in the last three months, we have exchanged countless emails pointing out endearing and remarkable things our governor has uttered in his must-watch briefings. With his informative data points, easy-to-read charts and projections, we discovered that, in a time of crisis, competence can be a very sexy thing. Guiding us to a common purpose allayed our fears and allowed us to trust in government — and specifically, in him.
Most surprisingly, though, this tough guy from Queens revealed a very tender and loving side — chick bait for women of all ages. For instance, we discovered that spending all this quarantine time with his three daughters, Cara, Michaela and Mariah, allowed him to have “deep, long conversations” where he has gotten to know them as “complex” young women. He admitted that “being too busy is no excuse” and that “people don’t open up in a four-minute conversation.” He came to regret all the times he canceled visits to his 88-year-old mother, Matilda, and vowed “never again.” When he told his infected younger brother, Chris, “I love you,” you didn’t doubt it. Before COVID, his ruthless and rough-around-the-edges reputation made him easy to dismiss as just another ambitious pol. He was so unlikeable! But these traits — the blunt talk, the toughness, the street smarts — made him the man we turned to in this crisis for facts, direction and, most important, hope. That he talked so openly and honestly about his family and his emotions only added to his stature and showed us what real leadership looks like.
I knew the fangirl crush was real when my 74-year-old friend called asking about Andrew’s height (a respectable 5-foot-11) as if we were still in high school and these kinds of details were important. I found myself emailing another devotee a Sandra Lee (his ex-girlfriend) video tour of their house in Westchester, including a dining room with a Founding Fathers decorating theme. Conveniently for us groupies, she moved to the West Coast post-breakup last fall!
Alas, we are far from alone. There is an Instagram account, Cuomosexual, devoted to all things Cuomo and celebrities from Ellen DeGeneres to Chelsea Handler have announced their admiration and love. His sister-in-law revealed that she has been fielding calls and keeping a list of women who want to date him. We older gals had to be satisfied with getting our dose of Cuomo time with the briefings, which occurred seven days a week, without break. We were part of a group of 59 million viewers who came to rely on the briefings as a reliable roadmap to safety and sanity.
Back in the thick of the crisis, when the New York infection rate was skyrocketing, he started the conferences by announcing what day it is: “Today is Sunday.” Remarkably helpful when each day melted into the next and weekends as we knew them no longer existed. Also helpful was telling us that he “gets it” that this is hard, that we all have “cabin fever.” He revealed his daughters have gotten sick of his jokes and they keep watching dud movies at night. Mariah’s boyfriend moved in and he advised us to “always like the boyfriend or risk NDS, natural defiance syndrome,” which suspiciously sounds like a Cuomo-only condition. He seemed to take an inordinate amount of satisfaction in announcing that his mutt, Captain (even his dog’s name commands respect), “doesn’t like the boyfriend.” He talked about their family dinners on Sunday, always spaghetti and meatballs, a tradition that goes back to his own childhood. He didn’t care if the girls ate it or “just move it around the plate.” What a wonderfully typical dad!
The daily briefings were a window into how good government functions. Flanking the governor were state public health and finance officials, who all spoke (without notes) detailing how the latest data informed their decisions, whether it was the growing need for ventilators or more beds in the ICU. Always seated to the governor’s left was the secretary to the governor, 37-year-old Melissa DeRosa. I initially wondered about her title “secretary,” which seemed straight out of the “Mad Men” era, even as I watched her and the governor pass notes back and forth during the briefings. Her job, however, makes her the most powerful unelected person in our state. She’s the first woman to hold the position — and the youngest. Mr. Cuomo deferred to her regularly and she, too, had facts and figures at her fingertips or promised to get back to the reporter with the requested information. I don’t doubt for a minute that she did just that. Is it a coincidence that a guy with three impressive outspoken daughters placed a woman in a position of real power?
He always ended the briefings by telling us “New Yorkers are tough, smart, united and loving” and often added “tough does not preclude loving” and “love is strength, not a weakness.” Wrapping up the final briefing, with his voice cracking, the governor said this: “We showed that in the end, love does win — that no matter how dark the day, love brings the light. That is what I will take from the past 111 days.”
His Twitter bio tells us he is a “father, fisherman, motorcycle enthusiast, 56th Governor of New York.” Please add “luv guv” to that.
The author, of Southold, is retired from a career in magazine publishing. She was creative director at Women’s Wear Daily and a longtime art director for the New York Observer.