Cuomo’s Rise Inspired T-Shirts. Now, Sellers Are Pulling Them.
As the governor’s approval ratings soared, superfans scooped up merchandise proclaiming their devotion. Now, all of that ephemera is being reconsidered.,
What to Do With All Those ‘Cuomosexual’ Tees?
As the governor’s approval ratings soared, superfans scooped up merchandise proclaiming their devotion. Now, all of that ephemera is being reconsidered.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York in July 2020, at one of the daily coronavirus briefings that made him a star.Credit…Byron Smith/Getty Images
In 2020, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was at the height of his career.
While President Donald J. Trump was downplaying the threat and toll of the coronavirus pandemic, the New York governor calmly conveyed facts about Covid-19 — and offered up the occasional dad joke. His daily briefings became appointment viewing for people all over the country at a time when fear, anxiety, isolation and grief were mounting.
As the governor leaned into his new role as a comforting foil to the president, his public profile and approval ratings soared. People professed crushes — many of them — and pro-Cuomo merchandise proliferated. There were baseball hats, bobbleheads, pillows, candles, greeting cards and mugs with his name and face on them.
Finally, after an impeachment inquiry and calls from political leaders across the country to step down in the wake of a report from the New York attorney general concluding that Mr. Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women, the governor resigned on Tuesday.
Now, the commercial relics of his career’s peak are beginning to look a bit like ancient artifacts. Namely, the T-shirts, $400 sweaters and other items people bought in 2020 to identify themselves as “Cuomosexuals.”
The term, popularized by the YouTube comedian Randy Rainbow and adopted by celebrities including Trevor Noah and Jimmy Fallon to express something more than admiration for the governor, became part of the lexicon during the pandemic’s first wave, when Mr. Cuomo’s popularity was peaking.
Lingua Franca, a fashion brand known for activist slogans, sold cashmere sweaters with “Cuomosexual” and “Cuomo for President” hand-embroidered on them. Betches, a media company geared toward millennial women, sold a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase. Most of that merchandise has been scrubbed from the internet, preserved only in old social media posts.
But on Etsy, Redbubble, Zazzle and Teepublic, where people can upload original designs to be printed on mugs, totes and other items, there is still plenty for sale.
Several sellers removed their Cuomo designs from their shops after being contacted by The New York Times. One Redbubble seller said the site had deleted some of his listings, citing a violation of guidelines. Those who spoke with The Times said that they were simply making money from a trending topic.
The Redbubble seller who made this T-shirt design was notified last week that it had been removed from the site for violating guidelines.Credit…via Giftyshirt
James Melzer, a 43-year-old Etsy seller from Pennsylvania, started selling topical stickers last April after he was furloughed from his job in retail management. One of his designs featured Mr. Cuomo’s face, encircled by the phrase “I am a Cuomosexual,” which he’d learned about on social media.
“Honestly, I’m not big into politics,” Mr. Melzer said, noting that he wasn’t aware of the sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Cuomo or the findings of the attorney general’s report until The Times contacted him. He was shocked, he said, having sent out an order for three stickers the day after the release of the report.
He has since removed the sticker designs from his shop, he said. “I have family members that were sexually assaulted, friends that were. So I take that very seriously,” he said. “I have no interest in promoting or being associated with that type of behavior.”
Other designers expressed regret. “When I created and decided to sell these items, it was meant to be lighthearted and I never thought he would be accused of such outrageous behavior,” Jennifer Powell, 43, an Etsy seller from Flower Mound, Texas, wrote in an email. She noted that she took down her “Cuomosexual” T-shirt designs last week; for emphasis, she attached a photo of a friend holding a flame to one of them.
Kely Nascimento-DeLuca, 54, a documentary filmmaker from New York City, bought a “Cuomosexual” T-shirt from Betches in April. Though she had disagreed with Mr. Cuomo’s politics in the past, she believed he had stepped up during a time when many New Yorkers felt lost.
“He really made us think that we were going to be OK,” Ms. Nascimento-DeLuca said. “In spite of having very mixed feelings about him and his family, I definitely was a ‘Cuomosexual’ in that moment.”
“I wouldn’t change that,” she said. “I wouldn’t do that today, obviously. But I feel like it represented a moment in time.”
The Path to Governor Cuomo’s Resignation
Multiple claims of sexual harassment. Eleven women, including current and former members of his administration, have accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. An independent inquiry, overseen by the New York State attorney general, corroborated their accounts. The report also found that he and aides retaliated against at least one woman who made her complaints public.
Nursing home Covid-19 controversy. The Cuomo administration is also under fire for undercounting the number of nursing-home deaths caused by Covid-19 in the first half of 2020, a scandal that deepened after a Times investigation found that aides rewrote a health department report to hide the real number.
Efforts to obscure the death toll. Interviews and unearthed documents revealed in April that aides repeatedly overruled state health officials in releasing the true nursing home death toll for months. Several senior health officials have resigned in response to the governor’s overall handling of the pandemic, including the vaccine rollout.
Will Cuomo still be impeached? The State Assembly opened an impeachment investigation in March. Leaders said the Assembly would finish its inquiry and issue a report with its findings. But the Assembly’s speaker has argued that lawmakers do not have the constitutional authority to impeach Mr. Cuomo once he leaves office.
Looking to the future. Mr. Cuomo said on Tuesday that his resignation would take effect in 14 days, and that Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, would be sworn in to replace him. She will be the first woman in New York history to occupy the state’s top office.
For some buyers, the allegations have changed nothing. Luisa, 42, a New Yorker who asked to be identified by her first name, said when her sister and niece caught Covid-19 last year, Mr. Cuomo’s briefings helped calm her down. She was given a “Cuomosexual” glass and bought three mugs from Etsy in January this year that read, “Shhh, I’m watching Cuomo.”
Her esteem for the governor is still high even after reading the attorney general’s report, she said.
“It doesn’t change what he did for me in 2020,” she said. “If people are going to say, ‘Impeach him,’ read the report and form your own conclusion. I think this was handled poorly.”
In light of the governor’s scandals, and now his resignation, others are reassessing not just merchandise but also their inadvertent roles in the wave of pro-Cuomo commentary. Mr. Rainbow said in a statement that his song, “Andy,” which featured the term “Cuomosexual,” simply “reflected the mood” of the country last year and that it “in no way is an endorsement of sexual harassment.”
Rebecca Fishbein, who wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay last year for Jezebel about the governor’s sudden magnetism, then received a phone call from him about it, said she meant to reflect the ways quarantine had warped people’s brains rather than an actual love for the governor. She has since regretted the essay, she said, after several out-of-state readers wrote to her believing she sincerely admired Mr. Cuomo.
“The same hubris that leads you to allegedly cover up nursing home deaths and openly sexually harass employees is what will convince you to put on a daily Cuomo Show and make yourself a pandemic celebrity,” Ms. Fishbein wrote in an email, “but for those first few scary weeks, it was nice to have that direction.”