So many shoes have dropped in the Andrew Cuomo sexual-harassment saga that the governor could open up a Florsheim outlet out on I-90. And each time, as each allegation piled up and each Democratic official called on him to resign — dozens of members of the State Legislature, State Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, most of the state’s congressional delegation, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Bill de Blasio — it surely seemed like the end of Cuomo’s long reign.
And yet it wasn’t. He pushed back and punted, asking Attorney General Letitia James to look into the allegations, standing with whatever remaining elected officials would stand next to him and trying to turn the public’s attention to the state’s recovery from the pandemic and how New York City had turned into a swamp of crime and despair under de Blasio.
On Tuesday, James issued the findings that Cuomo had asked her to look into at last. It wasn’t a bombshell; it was a nuclear blast, wiping out any doubt for miles around. The investigation found credible allegations by 11 separate accusers. The most damning perhaps came from a state trooper assigned — at his request — to Cuomo’s protective detail and who, she alleges, was touched and kissed without her consent by the governor, who also asked about her clothes and her sex life.
Other allegations included in the 168-page report had been aired before in the press but were contextualized by James, who said that the findings by independent investigators hired by her office “reveal a deeply disturbing, yet clear picture” of a governor who “sexually harassed a number of current and former New York State employees.” They took on the cumulative weight of a coroner’s report, as James found that the governor was guilty of “engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching, as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.”
Not an hour and a half after James’s press conference ended with her repeating her admiration for the bravery of the women who came forward, Cuomo was out with his own video, in which, in soothing tones and with soft lighting, he told his haters that they could go to Hell.
“We are living in a superheated, if not toxic political environment — that shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Politics and bias are interwoven throughout every aspect of this situation,” he said. “We get good things done for people. And that is what really matters. And for those who are using this moment to score political points or seek publicity or personal gain, I say they actually discredit the legitimate sexual-harassment victims that the law was designed to protect.”
A former employee, Charlotte Bennett, who accused the governor of making sexually inappropriate comments and who said he made her retell the story of her sexual assault in college, was, in the governor’s telling, just someone he was trying to help work through her trauma. Cuomo all but dared a current employee, who accused him of groping her in his office, to take him to court so that the allegations could be fully vetted. If he was a little too touchy with people, no harm was meant by it, and as proof the video included a photo montage of the governor touching and kissing people of all ages and genders, from powerful men like Al Gore to old women on the street.
And still, even as the governor spoke, more shoes (it is hard to believe there are any left at this point) fell. Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Gregory Meeks, and Tom Suozzi, powerful lawmakers from the moderate Cuomo wing of the party and three of the remaining holdouts in the congressional delegation, called on Cuomo to quit. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul called Cuomo’s behavior “repulsive and unlawful” before noting it would be inappropriate to comment further because she would be governor if Cuomo resigned or was removed from office. Before the day was out, even Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden had joined in the chorus, with the president of the United States answering a simple “yes” to a reporter’s question if Cuomo’s time was up.
Cuomo’s fate ultimately will be decided by the State Legislature. In the Assembly, which is mounting its own investigation into the governor’s conduct, Speaker Carl Heastie has been one of the few Democrats standing between Cuomo and the unemployment line, refusing to go as far as his counterpart in the State Senate in calling on Cuomo to resign. On Tuesday, Heastie released his sharpest statement yet, calling the allegations “gut-wrenching” and saying that the attorney general’s report “would indicate someone who is not fit for office.” After Biden spoke, he tightened the screws further, saying in a new statement that “the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office.”
People close to Heastie say that he is feeling pressure from his members to act at last, while people close to the governor believe that he can fight it out in the Assembly chamber, convince enough Democrats and maybe even a few Republicans that he is better than whatever option could come behind him. The longer the Assembly waits — its own investigation is now entering its fifth month — the longer Cuomo can argue that his fate is something that the voters of New York should decide next June in the Democratic primary and then in a November general election.
Cuomo thinks that if he can make it that far, that if he can get out of another tough spot, he can prevail before the voters next year. His staff have monitored poll numbers closely, and until this latest round of news, they showed that he remained popular, especially among older voters. It would be hard for James, after commissioning a report that the governor’s team has derided as political, to use that report as the basis to run against him. The remaining options, de Blasio and possibly State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, don’t have either his name recognition or his fundraising prowess. The governor is unlikely to resign unless he absolutely has to, people close to him say, in part because as a government employee, he could be entitled to have his legal fees covered by the state.
And so once again, we remain in the place we ever have been, a chorus of voices calling on the governor to resign, a set of facts that it looks impossible for him to get out of, a legislature sounding more and more like it is ready to move.
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