Under Fire and Alone, Cuomo Fights for His Political Life
For years he was the savvy political operator, rising through his party’s ranks on the strength of shrewd instincts, careful calculations and a …
For years he was the savvy political operator, rising through his party’s ranks on the strength of shrewd instincts, careful calculations and a famous last name. Then he was the domineering chief executive with a flourishing national brand and an iron grip on power in New York.
Now, he is alone.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose meticulously managed public appearances during the pandemic turned him into one of his party’s most celebrated national figures, is confronting an existential threat to his political career following a searing report released Tuesday that said he had sexually harassed 11 women and violated federal and state law.
Over the span of just a few hours, an already-diminished governor lost the support of a cascade of allies and state and national party leaders who had been withholding judgment, throwing his ability to remain in office — much less win a fourth term — into doubt.
It is not yet clear how the public will react to the investigation released by the New York State attorney general’s office. Unless Mr. Cuomo resigns, the most immediate consequences of that report will be determined in large part by the State Assembly, which has opened an impeachment inquiry and where, Speaker Carl E. Heastie said, “It is abundantly clear to me that the governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office.”
Events could move swiftly: A person familiar with the process said it could take just a month to complete the inquiry and draw up the articles of impeachment. A trial in the State Senate could begin as soon as late September or early October.
In the meantime, it is plain that Mr. Cuomo, stripped of his usual abilities to cajole, browbeat or intimidate fellow politicians, and abandoned by supporters in New York and Washington, has reached the most vulnerable moment of his decades in public life — a moment that is poised to reshape the landscape of political power in New York.
Lawmakers who had previously been fearful of publicly criticizing Mr. Cuomo, aware of his capacity for retribution, are now calling for his resignation. Elected officials who represent core Cuomo constituencies — including Black voters and white suburban voters — have increasingly urged him to step aside. Eric Adams, the Democratic mayoral nominee whom Mr. Cuomo was eager to embrace earlier this summer, encouraged the Assembly to “move forward with impeachment proceedings if the governor will not resign,” and top labor leaders are increasingly breaking with the governor.
Most significantly, President Biden — a longtime friend of Mr. Cuomo’s — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has long been close with the Cuomo family, for the first time on Tuesday urged him to step aside.
Still, Mr. Cuomo appeared determined to construct a counternarrative that elided key discoveries in the attorney general’s investigation and played down or outright dismissed other allegations. In an extraordinary on-camera appearance on Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo sought to connect with those voters — especially older voters — who might be sympathetic to his suggestion that many of the allegations of misconduct can be traced to “generational or cultural” differences or misunderstandings.
“I do kiss people on the hand,” Mr. Cuomo said on Tuesday. “I do embrace people. I do hug people, men and women. I do on occasion say ‘Ciao, bella.’ On occasion, I do slip and say ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ or ‘honey.’”
The allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct made by 11 women went far beyond concerns around Mr. Cuomo’s language or the occasional hug. The report from the attorney general, Letitia James, included numerous allegations of unwanted and sexualized touching, a portrait of an abusive workplace and at least one instance in which Mr. Cuomo and his aides retaliated against a woman who made her allegations public.
Mr. Cuomo is also under investigation by Albany prosecutors, who said that they would request the investigative materials that the attorney general’s office had collected and urged other victims to come forward.
Mr. Cuomo said he “never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate advances.”
In a video address that included images of his hugging or otherwise caressing a list of people, including former President Bill Clinton and former Representative Charles B. Rangel, Mr. Cuomo sought to remind voters of what they had loved about him and skipped over some new allegations of wrongdoing.
He said he learned gestures intended to “convey warmth” from his “mother and from my father,” pausing before invoking his father, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. He lingered over his record on combating Covid, seeking to conjure the early days of his briefings as the virus swept the state and he was widely regarded as a steadying force (a reputation that later came under scrutiny.).
And his team released its own lengthy report that showed images of other prominent politicians and even presidents hugging people, in an apparent effort to show that such behavior was routine for elected officials. The featured images often occurred under vastly different circumstances than those outlined in the report, but they seemed of a piece with the Cuomo team’s effort to cast the investigation as biased rather than rooted in substantiated claims of sexual harassment.
“My job is not about me, my job is about you,” Mr. Cuomo said. “What matters to me at the end of the day is getting the most done I can for you. And that is what I do every day, and I will not be distracted from that job.”
Mr. Cuomo has prevailed under difficult circumstances before, and it was unclear how his overtures would resonate with voters.
But he will not be returning to business as usual.
The quiet conversations that have been unfolding about who could challenge him for the governorship next year — or whether the seat might become unexpectedly open — are likely to reach a fever pitch.
Many Democrats hope Ms. James runs, though she has not said she will. The New York City public advocate, Jumaane D. Williams, has indicated that he is considering a run for governor, according to people who have spoken with him, and the floodgates could open to many other names. As recently as Monday, a number of Democrats thinking about that race had been skittish about Mr. Cuomo’s huge war chest and reputation as a ruthless campaigner.
Understand the Scandals Challenging Gov. Cuomo’s Leadership
Multiple claims of sexual harassment. Several women, including current and former members of his administration, have accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. He has refused to resign.
Results of an independent investigation. An independent inquiry, overseen by Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, found that Mr. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, including current and former government workers, breaking state and federal laws. The report also found that he retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public.
Nursing home death controversy. The Cuomo administration is also under fire for undercounting the number of nursing-home deaths caused by Covid-19 in the first half of 2020, a scandal that deepened after a Times investigation found that aides rewrote a health department report to hide the real number.
Efforts to obscure the death toll. Interviews and unearthed documents revealed in April that aides repeatedly overruled state health officials in releasing the true nursing home death toll over a span of at least five months. Several senior health officials have resigned in response to the governor’s overall handling of the virus crisis, including the vaccine rollout.
Will Cuomo be impeached? On March 11, the State Assembly announced it would open an impeachment investigation. Democrats in both the State Legislature and in New York’s congressional delegation called on Mr. Cuomo to resign, with some saying he has lost the capacity to govern.
The political landscape may change in other ways, too: Progressive lawmakers with whom Mr. Cuomo has long tangled will have a new platform. And basic governing, some Democrats said, will be difficult if he remains in office.
“The governor deserved a fair hearing, and he got one, and the results of the hearing are devastating,” said the former New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who had once been close to Mr. Cuomo. “You can’t be the chief executive of the state, the chief lawmaker, when you have flagrantly broken the law and treated women so badly.”
“If the governor doesn’t resign,” she added, “the governor’s office is in effect rendered null and void. What woman elected official, or what male elected official who supports women, is going to go in and negotiate with him? Nobody.”
A long list of New York lawmakers appeared to share parts of that assessment, with Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand reiterating their calls for Mr. Cuomo to resign. Much of the House delegation issued their own joint statement.
And in one of the most consequential developments of the day, Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Gregory Meeks and Thomas Suozzi for the first time also called for Mr. Cuomo to resign.
Mr. Jeffries is New York’s highest-ranking House Democrat, and Mr. Meeks is the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party. Both represent many Black voters who have previously been strongly supportive of Mr. Cuomo. Mr. Suozzi, who is thought to be mulling a run for governor himself, represents a slice of Queens and parts of Long Island, territory that has also been favorable to Mr. Cuomo and his more moderate politics.
If Mr. Cuomo were to resign or be removed from office, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would become the first woman in history to serve as governor of New York. Before Tuesday, she had told associates that she was preparing for the role of chief executive should Mr. Cuomo be forced to step aside, according to people familiar with the conversations — and if she were to assume the governorship, she would be likely to run for a full term next year.
“The attorney general’s investigation has documented repulsive and unlawful behavior by the governor towards multiple women,” she said in a statement. “I believe these brave women and admire their courage coming forward. No one is above the law. Under the New York Constitution, the Assembly will now determine the next steps.”
Mr. Rangel, whose photo had appeared in Mr. Cuomo’s video, said on Tuesday that he had a “broken heart.” He said he believed voters would have forgiven Mr. Cuomo if he had apologized for his behavior and promised not to run for a fourth term.
“But unfortunately, his response left no room for that type of thinking,” Mr. Rangel said, “and denial is not going to prevail.”
Nicholas Fandos, Jonah E. Bromwich and J. David Goodman contributed reporting.