Analysis: Is Andrew Cuomo in Serious Political Peril?

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Posted: Mar 01, 2021 10:25 AM
Analysis: Is Andrew Cuomo in Serious Political Peril?

Source: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is part of a familial, political dynasty, has powerful survival instincts, and is known for his ruthlessness in the face of opposition. "We operate on two speeds here: Get along, and kill," one of Cuomo's top aides was quoted as saying about his team's bare-knuckles approach to politics. Cuomo is currently under siege. His nursing home deaths scandal has finally broken through in a serious way, replete with damning findings from a state investigation, a shocking admission from a senior staffer, and a furious effort to bully and silence critics. At long last, the press has started treating the story the way it deserves to be treated – or at least coming closer to doing so. The White House has begun to ham-handedly hedge and back away from the president's previous fulsome praise of Cuomo. We also noted late last week that Cuomo's support among New York voters is eroding in a significant way.

And then there are the sexual harassment allegations. The first round passed by largely uncovered by the media in December, as a progressive former staffer made public but vague accusations against Cuomo. At the time, she didn't elaborate much but asserted that there were other women who've experienced the same thing. Lindsey Boylan doubled down on her claims with far greater specificity (lewd comments, inappropriately sexual banter, and an unsolicited kiss) last week, and then another shoe dropped. A second woman's story was reported in The New York Times over the weekend. In case you missed it, here are some of the details:

A second former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is accusing him of sexual harassment, saying that he asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men. The aide, Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until she left in November, told The New York Times that the governor had harassed her late last spring, during the height of the state’s fight against the coronavirus. Ms. Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo in his State Capitol office. In a series of interviews this week, she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship. Mr. Cuomo said in a statement to The Times on Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”

The governor initially tapped a former judge to spearhead an inquiry into the women's accusations but then retreated amid a torrent of complaints from critics who pointed to potential conflicts of interest. Cuomo reversed course and announced that "he would ask Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, and Janet DiFiore, the chief judge on New York State’s highest court, to jointly pick someone to investigate sexual harassment accusations," per The Times. He basically has no choice, considering this pressure from his own Attorney General – the same woman who released the aforementioned, devastating findings on the administration's hugely under-reported nursing home COVID fatalities:


Democrats are now lining up behind a full investigation into the matter, from leading New York City mayoral candidates to AOC to the president. I'm unconvinced that even if the inquiry affirms both women's stories or even uncovers more accusers (with similar alleged fact patterns – inappropriate conduct with subordinates), I'm not sure that would be enough to fatally wound Cuomo's career. But a #MeToo problem coupled with the nursing homes fiasco and cover-up is a pretty brutal one-two punch, with opponents on the Left and Right smelling political blood. He's made a lot of enemies and mistreated a lot of people, and many of them are deciding that now is their moment to strike back:

“He is the most damaged he has ever been,” said one senior capitol aide. The Legislature is threatening to claw back the emergency powers Cuomo was granted to deal with the pandemic, something that the governor has likened to extortion. Progressives and Republicans have teamed up to call for his impeachment. One Democratic senator told me that their conference is divided between those who hate the governor and those who are willing to tolerate him. None, though, supports him. They have a supermajority in both chambers now, one Cuomo did little to help them achieve. It is time, many feel, to bring the Big Dog back on the porch to, at least, restore normal checks and balances, if not reengineer the way Albany works so that the governor responds to their initiatives, not the other way around. At minimum, lawmakers are ready to unload a decade’s worth of resentments.

Govern with an iron fist and rule by fear, and we're seeing stories pop up all over the place now – more on the nursing homes issue, blasts from progressive feminists, and flashbacks to previous cover-ups. Here's one example from 2014 of Team Cuomo repeatedly undermining an anti-corruption probe:

The pulled-back subpoena was the most flagrant example of how the commission, established with great ceremony by Mr. Cuomo in July 2013, was hobbled almost from the outset by demands from the governor’s office. While the governor now maintains he had every right to monitor and direct the work of a commission he had created, many commissioners and investigators saw the demands as politically motivated interference that hamstrung an undertaking that the governor had publicly vowed would be independent. The commission developed a list of promising targets, including a lawmaker suspected of using campaign funds to support a girlfriend in another state and pay tanning-salon bills. The panel also highlighted activities that it saw as politically odious but perfectly legal, like exploiting a loophole to bundle enormous campaign contributions. But a three-month examination by The New York Times found that the governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.

This is fresh reporting about a 2012 episode in which Cuomo's aides issued venomous threats against New York's EPA, demanding that a politically-unhelpful document be withdrawn:

"This was not your garden-variety threatening someone: He was asking me to withdraw a public document that we had submitted," said Enck, who took detailed notes of the call and shared them with the Times Union. "I know the Cuomo crew is rough-and-tumble, but to say unless you withdraw this document I’m going to destroy you — that entered a whole new zone. The call was very abusive."...Now, as the administration is facing allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo and an FBI probe of the alleged mishandling the state's COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes, the governor’s political Teflon shows signs of corrosion, with lawmakers, journalists and former staffers coming forward to describe a culture of bullying and intimidation involving Cuomo and his inner circle. Enck's account also reveals the muscle that Cuomo's administration is known for flexing secretly — including alleged threats to destroy someone's career or reputation — if they stand in his way on an issue or dare criticize his policy-making.

The floodgates are open. The question is whether this will all take Cuomo down. I'd still be quite surprised to see him resign or get removed. Cuomo's shamelessness and arrogance are extremely powerful. But could he end up announcing that, on second thought, he won't seek another term in office in 2022? Maybe. But Cuomo is almost certainly planning to weather the storm, charge into a re-election fight, and start exacting revenge if he wins again. A lot of people are politically gunning for the king. They'd better hope they take him out. I'll leave you with the obvious problem with Cuomo's "apology:"