By Lucy O’Donoghue – Contributor
The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has resigned following the release of a damning report by the state’s Attorney General’s office detailing allegations of sexual harassment. There had been mounting scandals involving the Governor over the past few months but a year earlier, he was lauded for his handling of the Coronavirus outbreak and spoken of as a future President.
Andrew Cuomo won three terms in office as Governor of New York, matching the number of terms his father, Mario, had in the same position. (Between them, they held the post for more than 22 years.) And there had been speculation of Cuomo’s campaign for a fourth term.
He had been involved in politics since his teenage years. At the age of 24, he managed his father’s campaign for Governor. Cuomo also served as part of the Clinton administration before becoming New York’s Attorney General. He even married into the most powerful political dynasty in America, with a lavish wedding to Kerry Kennedy, which led to the press talking about the creation of “Cuomolot”. The marriage ended after fifteen years, but even when “Cuomolot” was no more, Andrew Cuomo was established as a strong political figure.
In March 2020, the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in New York and the city became the centre of the pandemic within the United States. At one point, New York City counted for 5% of all the world’s recorded cases. Cuomo started daily Coronavirus briefings which were widely praised, the New York Times calling them “must-see television” which were “articulate (and) consistent”. While his state was suffering the worst from Covid in the country, Cuomo was seen as a voice of reason, in opposition to many Covid-sceptical politicians. In early 2020, 87% of New Yorkers approved of Cuomo’s way of dealing with the pandemic while only 41% approved of President Donald Trump’s handling of Covid.
However, in early 2021, allegations emerged that Cuomo’s advisers may have been withholding data relating to the numbers of deaths from nursing homes in the state. A report that had been released only included residents who actually died in long-term-care facilities, leaving out those who died in hospitals after being infected in their nursing homes. An investigation by the Attorney General found that there was lack of compliance by many nursing homes which put more residents at risk of infection.
Another report conducted by the New York Attorney General’s office, released on the 3rd of August, detailed allegations of sexual harassment by eleven women. These included women who had publicly spoken about their harassment previously and there were also new allegations brought in the report including from a State trooper meant to protect the Governor. The trooper said that said the Governor made comments about her and touched her inappropriately, but she that didn’t feel she could “safely report or rebuff the conduct”. The report also details how the response of senior staff in Cuomo’s office to some of the allegations constituted unlawful retaliation, including by leaking confidential records about an unrelated issue. It also found that “many, especially more junior employees, felt the environment was toxic and abusive”.
This led to a haemorrhaging of support from leaders of the Governor’s own Democratic party. President Biden called on Cuomo to resign on the day the report was released. The Democratic Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Carl Heastie, released a statement in which he said it was clear that “the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office”.
An impeachment investigation was already being conducted by the State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee when Cuomo resigned. The investigation was looking into the many scandals that have added up for Cuomo including the nursing home deaths, using state resources to promote his memoir, and the allegations of sexual harassment.
The initial response by Cuomo’s Attorney, Rita Glavin, was that findings of the sexual harassment report were “unfair and inaccurate” and that it “omits key evidence”. The statement also included pictures of Cuomo hugging and kissing others at various events, and says that “Democratic and Republican politicians, male and female alike, use handshakes, hugs, and kisses to connect with others”. The Cuomo team also released a video in which the Governor says that he does hug and kiss people, but he now understands “that there are generational or cultural perspectives that frankly, (he) hadn’t appreciated”.
It is true that “Me Too” has changed many people’s attitudes, but some of these allegations relate to events as recently as last year, after Governor Cuomo had signed legislation strengthening the rights of victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Andrew Cuomo resigned a week after the report on sexual harassment was released. He has been replaced by his Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, the first woman Governor of the state. While Hochul, who has been elected alongside Cuomo twice, has not been particularly vocal on the scandals surrounding the Governor, she described his actions detailed in the report as “repulsive and unlawful”.
In his resignation speech, Cuomo said that, while he takes “full responsibility” for the actions, he believes that he did not act inappropriately, and the investigation had been politically motivated. Towards the end of his speech, Cuomo emotionally addressed his daughters, telling them “Your dad made mistakes, and he apologized, and he learned from it. And that’s what life is all about”.
It had been reported that the Governor’s friends were advising him to resign, rather than letting the impeachment inquiry take its course. By leaping before he was pushed, Andrew Cuomo may have hoped to preserve part of his legacy.
With many scandals and his resignation, questions now arise as to what is left of the Cuomo dynasty. While his father’s legacy remains, Andrew Cuomo now faces a choice over whether he tries to rebuild his political career, though many will regard it as an impossible position to come back from. It also brings into question what the consequences will be for his brother Chris, a CNN anchor. Only a few months ago Chris Cuomo had to apologise after news that he gave advice to his brother on how to deal with the sexual harassment allegations. On the 16th of August, Chris Cuomo addressed the controversy at the end of his evening show, he said “it’s never easy being in this business and coming from a political family” but did explain his conflict of interest when discussing his brother. He said that he was not an advisor to his brother but that he had urged his brother to resign. The banter between the two brothers on CNN, seen frequently during the height of the pandemic, is now long gone. And the Governor whose poll ratings soared during the early stages of Covid, and who was talked of as a future President, seems instead to have reached the end of the road.
Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Enacting Sweeping New Workplace Harassment Protections – Office of Governor CuomoCNN’s Chris Cuomo says he urged his brother to resign as New York governor – Myah Ward