ALBANY — While New Yorkers cope with mask and social distancing mandates, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using symbols on a poster to call attention to what he sees as his own accomplishments during the pandemic while jabbing the leadership of President Donald Trump.
What's more, the 28-inch by 22-inch posters, dubbed "New York Tough," are being sold on a state web site for $14.50 each, not including shipping charges.
The most prominent feature illustrated in the poster is a mountain intended to illustrate the adversity New York faced when coronavirus infections surged for 111 days beginning in early March.
Randomly mingled into the work are depictions of Cuomo's prized muscle car, a 1968 GTO, his dog, Captain, his three daughters, including a solo boyfriend, and even inmate-produced hand sanitizer the governor showcased at a press event in March.
Then, depicted on a crescent moon looking down at the mountain of devastation, is Trump,with a nearby quote from the President: "It's only the flu."
While no one is hailing the poster as a masterpiece of art, if the goal was to keep Cuomo in the national conversation in the dog days of July, the rendering was a success by that yardstick.
Much of it, though, is far from favorable.
Several Democratic elected officials joined Republicans in questioning the appropriateness of the wry treatment of topics connected to a global pandemic that has claimed an estimated 32,000 lives in New York alone.
"This is an artful monument to death and tragedy being sold by the state," state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn, commented on Twitter. "I'm legit perplexed."
Assembly GOP Leader Will Barclay, R-Oswego County, also scolded the governor for using a tragedy to hawk a commemorative poster.
"We have experienced more death and devastation than any state in the nation," Barclay told CNHI. "There is absolutely no victory here."
Cuomo said New York's response to the pandemic was "historic," predicting it will be remembered by Americans "for decades."
But while the record shows he did lead the state's response and at times "took some pretty dramatic moves," there were also situations where his response was late in coming, said Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University.
"I just don't know that what he did rises to the level of the pedestal he was put on politically," Reeher said. "The credit going to Cuomo and other leaders in New York doesn't quite match the raw numbers."
Cuomo, describing the graphic at a press briefing Monday, explained he uses poster art as a "relief valve" to express ideas and themes through art.
"I love history," he said. "I love poster art. Poster art is something they did in the early 1900s, late 1800s when they had to communicate their whole platform candidacy on one piece of paper, right? You wanted to run a campaign, they didn’t have the TV commercials, they didn’t have mail..., so they got their whole message on one piece of paper. And it always fascinated me."
But on the cable television network CNN, anchorman Jake Tapper took strong issue with Cuomo's poster, suggesting it was deficient and amounted to "revisionism."
"No painting there on the poster of his since-rescinded order that nursing homes take all infected patients in,” Tapper said.
Meanwhile, CNN's health news reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta, also questioned Cuomo's message, saying, "What we have learned from this virus is victory laps are not what we should be doing."
But the criticisms are unlikely to dent the high public approval ratings Cuomo has scored in recent months, said George Arzt, a veteran political strategist.
"This puts him at the epicenter of all the talk and gossip and so he probably loves it," Arzt said. "Elections are a couple of years away and by next week no one will remember this. Some will find it amusing and some will not. The last thing Andrew Cuomo wants is to be anonymous."
Cuomo also portrayed New York's coronavirus effort as a successful one in a Monday night appearance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Assemblyman John Salka, R-Madison County, urged Cuomo to spend less time generating publicity for himself.
"The governor is allowing his ego to take over any perception of reality," said Salka, a former health care worker. "What he is doing amounts to a kick in the face to the people who have really suffered."
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org