Both the Cuomos and the Trumps have their origins in Queens. That, however is where any resemblance stops.
Over the last few weeks, the name Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, has become embedded in the American conscience as the quintessence of competent and honest leadership in a time of the most severe crisis, as distinguished from the incompetent and mendacious leadership of Donald Trump.
Andrew saw it as his duty from Day One to give the unvarnished truth to the citizenry of New York regarding the Coronavirus crisis. By contrast, Donald Trump initially disregarded the advice of the Center for Disease Control to prepare for the worst and dishonestly grossly understated the danger, fearing that public revelation would impact Trump’s beloved stock market.
Andrew emphasized the imperative of avoiding partisan politics in the management of the crisis and communication with the citizenry. By contrast, Trump obscenely played politics with the catastrophe, referring to Democratic Congressional calls for action as a “Democratic hoax” and embarking on a failed mission to destroy and defame Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Donald Trump’s leadership models have been Joe McCarthy and the lawyer he and Tail Gunner Joe shared, Roy Cohn. Andrew’s leadership model was one of the great governors of American history, his father, the late former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo.
And while Andrew Cuomo’s leadership will forevermore be defined by a virus known as Corona, Mario Cuomo’s political career began in 1972 in a then Italian-American neighborhood in Queens known as CORONA!
Donald Trump’s political ascent to the White House was defined by anti-African-American racism (e.g. his discrimination against Blacks in his Brooklyn housing projects, his defamation of the Central Park Five, and his support for the Birther movement), which made him the hero of White Nationalist America. By direct contrast, Mario Cuomo has a hallowed page in American history as a force for racial reconciliation.
And Mario Cuomo’s magnificent role in the history of racial tolerance, understanding, and love began in 1972 in the Queens neighborhood of CORONA.
In that year, poor African-Americans were moving into the then Italian-American Queens neighborhood of Corona and the Jewish-American Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills. Tensions were rising, and violence was feared.
Mario Cuomo, then a low-key unknown Queens lawyer was called upon to mediate the situation. He did so successfully and gained the absolute trust of the African-American, Italian-American, and Jewish communities.
At the time of Mario Cuomo’s death in 2015, Sam Roberts wrote a magnificent column for the New York Times describing Mario’s role and actions in the Corona/Forest Hills story (link follows). This story is absolute MUST READING for anybody who wants to understand the leadership style and substance of Mario and Andrew Cuomo and the Queens from which they emerged.
At a time when millions of Americans are gripped by fear, the leadership of Andrew Cuomo offers hope. And the leadership of his father, Mario, should serve as a model of personal goodness and political greatness for generations to come.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.