Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rapid fall from grace appears to be accelerating, as new accusers emerge with increasingly lurid stories of being groped, prodded, or otherwise harassed by the one-time national hero. An unnamed female aide now reports that the governor reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast while she was helping him with a computer problem; this allegation of assault—as opposed to the largely awkward, albeit creepy, claims about his behavior toward women that had emerged previously—escalated the intensity of the demands that Cuomo resign or face impeachment.
As recently as Monday, it appeared likely that the governor would weather this storm. Calls for an independent investigation were answered by the appointment of Joon H. Kim—a former acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York—by state Attorney General Letitia James, a longtime Cuomo ally. Most Democratic leaders in the state appeared relieved and willing to go along with the narrative that we must wait for an investigation led by Kim—the man who dropped the federal investigation into Bill de Blasio’s myriad corruption scandals. Was it all, as Cuomo explained, just confusion and miscommunication?
Many New Yorkers—even those who are no fans of the governor—seemed willing to give Cuomo the benefit of the doubt. “An investigation,” said one insider, “favors the governor.” One of the allegations dated back 20 years and involved a hug that went on fractionally too long. The tabloid press made hay of a comment Cuomo made to a medical staffer while she rammed a swab up his nose for a Covid test last May. “You make the gown look good,” he told her.
These kinds of accusations created the appearance of a pile-on, perhaps orchestrated by enemies of the famously fractious and immensely powerful governor as he gets closer to the end of his third term in office. Politicians drop compliments all the time, to anyone they encounter. It cannot be overstated how similar successful politicking is to compulsive flirting; politicians flirt constantly, with men and women. It is a way to demonstrate charm and dominance and is largely harmless.
Until mid-week, calls for Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment came almost exclusively from his political enemies. These include Republicans, but the GOP is just a rump party in New York State, where the Democrats hold a super-majority in both the state senate and the assembly. A sizeable and growing number of Democrats allied with the hard-left Democratic Socialist wing of the party consider Cuomo a sworn enemy. His long-standing support for the so-called Independent Democrats—a group of eight party moderates who voted strategically with the Republicans until 2018, when six of them lost their seats—rankled and embittered the Left against the crafty and transactional governor, whose power was magnified by a divided legislature.
After the latest allegation, however, the worm has apparently turned. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, one of Cuomo’s closest allies, permitted the judiciary committee to move ahead with plans to conduct its own investigation into misconduct claims, possibly preparatory to impeachment. A letter signed by 59 Democratic state legislators calling for the governor’s immediate resignation was released Wednesday, crucially including the names of 19 state senators (not including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who has called separately for Cuomo to resign). This number, if joined by all 20 senate Republicans, comes perilously close to the 42 votes that the state constitution requires for removal of a sitting governor, should the assembly impeach him.
All this represents a stunning reversal for the man who only a few short months ago was lauded as a national savior for his bold leadership during the height of the Covid panic. Celebrities and politicians across the country praised Cuomo for his warmth and apparent command of “the science” during daily briefings, even as 15,000 vulnerable residents of New York State nursing homes—few of which were equipped to contain outbreaks of highly contagious disease—died as a result of a state directive forcing them to accept Covid-positive residents.
The unraveling of the myth of Cuomo has occurred with dizzying speed. The nursing home deaths were more or less evident throughout the summer and fall of 2020, though no one seemed to care; then it emerged in early January 2021 that the real death toll was much higher than the state had acknowledged, and the governor had engaged in a massive cover-up of the data. His chief aide, Melissa DeRosa, told Democratic legislators that the administration had hidden the real numbers because they didn’t want the Trump Justice Department to investigate them, as if that were a sympathetic excuse.
Even after this scandal, Cuomo’s general political position seemed strong—until a trickle of reports of harassing behavior grew into what seems like an almost calculated flow of increasing intensity. The 2020 election increased the Democrats’ strength in Albany by giving them a veto-proof majority; they literally don’t need Andrew Cuomo to enact their agenda, which—on the left—includes huge tax hikes on well-off New Yorkers. Certain elements among Cuomo’s own party may be pursuing their own version of a coup to replace a strong, popular figure with a nonentity for the remaining two years of his term.
Andrew Cuomo has damaged New York with his misguided economic-development schemes, his support of radical criminal-justice reform, and his disastrous energy policies. But if the left wing of the Democratic Party has actually hatched a plot to unseat him and succeeds, then New York’s suffering has just begun.
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