By Rebecca Traitsers, NY Mag
Joel Wertheimer took a job in Andrew Cuomo’s administration in February 2017, straight from his position in Barack Obama’s White House. He came on alongside almost 30 other new hires, many of whom had also worked for the outgoing president or on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and were seeking a progressive professional path through the Trump years. Some saw New York State government as a bulwark against what they feared Trumpism would bring. Others hoped it could be a laboratory for ideas that might become a model for federal policy.
Early in their employment, a few of these staffers were invited to a party at the governor’s mansion in Albany. Partway through the bash, there was a roast of Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, then the chief of staff but soon to be promoted to secretary to the governor. The roast, said Wertheimer, entailed projecting photos of prominent state officials, “then asking Melissa if she knew their names, and her not knowing.” The newcomers whispered and huddled together while everyone else laughed. “We were saying to each other, ‘This is fucking weird,’ ” said one former staffer. “This was not ha-ha funny,” Wertheimer explained. “This was, ‘You guys are bad at your job!’ And, ‘You’re mean!’ ”