Cuomo Enters Survival Mode After Public Apology, Show of Remorse
(Bloomberg) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’s weathered political storms before and the two scandals buffeting him now won’t chase him away. But with multiple probes underway, he may just be buying himself more time.
Cuomo defied calls for his resignation in a televised appearance on Wednesday, in which he offered a choked-up apology for making women feel “uncomfortable” but assured critics that allegations he sexually harassed staffers and covered up nursing home coronavirus deaths wouldn’t derail his determination to continue governing the state.
Cuomo’s apology broke nine days of silence and harkened back to a carefully-crafted survival playbook he has honed over three decades in government: Browbeat when in a position of authority, lay low in the wake of trouble, but above all, don’t let go of power.
“I’m not going to resign,” he said. “I’m going to do the job the people of the state elected me to do.” He has also said he plans to seek a fourth term as governor, a feat even his father, Mario Cuomo, couldn’t pull off.
“A tiger doesn’t change his stripes,” said Assemblyman Mike Lawler, a Republican who represents Rockland County. “He’s going to do everything he can to hold on to power and claw his way back because he thinks if he can just hold on long enough people will move on.”
Cuomo’s show of contrition appeared to placate at least some Democrats, but that could quickly change should additional allegations of misconduct surface or if an investigation overseen by New York Attorney General Letitia James uncovers new evidence.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, said on CNN that if the investigation turns up “something inappropriate” then the governor would have to resign.
“How can New Yorkers trust you @NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?” Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo economic aide who accused him of sexual harassment, said on Twitter. She is now running for Manhattan borough president.
Debra Katz, a lawyer representing Charlotte Bennett, another former aide who has also accused the governor of harassment, said “we fully expect that the attorney general’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms. Bennett’s serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements.”
Inquiries Arise, He Survives
Cuomo has survived other inquiries. He successfully fought off a 20-month investigation in 2016 by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara into his administration’s handling of an anti-corruption commission he convened and later disbanded as he sought to close a deal with legislative leaders over state ethics rules.
He was not damaged politically when a former top aide was convicted of bribery in 2018.
This time around, the outcome could be different.
For one, overseeing the harassment investigation is James. A former Cuomo ally, she has distanced herself from the governor as she takes on high-profile cases against the National Rifle Association, Facebook Inc., and Donald Trump.
James has been floated as a potential Cuomo challenger and will have to show that she will be as tough on Albany as she has on her other powerful targets. In the current Cuomo case, James fought for subpoena power and the right to oversee the investigation, which he had initially suggested should be a voluntary probe by a lawyer with close ties to the administration.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly,” she said in a Feb. 28 statement.
Another change in Albany is the makeup of the state Capitol. In recent years, a number of progressives have entered the Senate and Assmbly, including Senators Alessandra Biaggi and Jessica Ramos, who were both backed by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ramos and Biaggi are among those calling for Cuomo’s resignation.
The controversies are all hitting around budget time in Albany, when Cuomo will have to work with lawmakers to get some of his latest signature issues passed, including nursing-home reform and legalization of marijuana. He has been effective at pushing through high-profile changes including a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, legalizing same-sex marriage, and codifying the Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling into New York State law.
Cuomo’s Wednesday news conference, held at the tail end of a coronavirus briefing, laid bare his knack for getting what he wants even when it appears all odds are stacked against him.
For example, legislative leaders said Tuesday they’d agreed to curb his emergency powers granted in the early days of the pandemic. But Cuomo revealed during the briefing that he had actually negotiated with lawmakers to just curb new directives. He said that means his current emergency directives can stand and be modified.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, later refuted his claims that he had cut a deal. He said the bill repeals the governor’s expanded emergency powers going forward and that he must justify to the legislature every 30 days if he wants to extend or modify existing directives.
Cuomo urged voters and lawmakers to wait for the results of the investigations. But that might be when the time he gained with Wednesday’s news conference could run out.
Monica Klein, a Democratic strategist and longtime Cuomo critic, said that his apologetic remarks were canceled out by his defense that he did nothing inappropriate. “I’d say he came out even,” she said.
Other powerful New York politicians, including Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have said they are going to wait for the investigation’s results before passing judgment. U.S. Representatives Kathleen Rice of Long Island and Elise Stefanik, who represents a district in northern New York, have called for Cuomo to resign.
Lawler said the outcry from lawmakers in the governor’s own party highlights the widening divide between Cuomo and Democrats as well as a Legislature emboldened to take him on if necessary. He added, however, that some in Albany still fear the governor, and at the same time worry about governing without him.
Even if Cuomo survives this latest crisis, it marks a striking turn of events from earlier in the pandemic when he was given the moniker “America’s Governor” and won an Emmy award for his televised virus briefings.
“So are we really even curbing his authority, or are we extending it?” Lawler said. “For the first time I think he earned his Emmy.
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