The New York governor has had a remarkable fall from grace.
Andrew Cuomo is in the fight of his life for his political existence. One of the most powerful Democrats is besieged by claims of sexual assault. An independent inquiry into the allegations from 11 women found that the governor had harassed multiple women.
Following this revelation, Democrats have been calling on Cuomo to resign. Among those figures is President Joe Biden who has publicly called for Cuomo to resign:
“I think he should resign. I understand that the state legislature may decide to impeach. I don't know that for a fact. I have not read all that data,”
The prospect of impeachment marks an incredible turn of fortunes for Cuomo. On Friday, August 6, things worsened considerably for Cuomo. One of the women alleging misconduct against Cuomo filed a criminal complaint against him. As a result of this, it is possible that Cuomo could be arrested.
In 18 months, the governor has gone from a hero of the pandemic to a reviled figure on the precipice of political demise. But how did it come to all this?
Cuomo used to be a respected figure in American politics. The son of Mario Cuomo, the 52nd governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo began his career as a lawyer. During his father’s time as governor, the younger Cuomo worked on his father’s campaigns and as campaign manager.
After working at a non-profit that he had founded, Cuomo became a member of the Clinton administration. He served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from 1997 to 2001. His performance at HUD was “dubious”. It was a shadow that hung over Cuomo and one that he could not shake. In 2002, he had a failed run for governor, withdrawing from the race a week before the primary.
Cuomo rebounded from the 2002 election by becoming the attorney general of New York State in 2006. He defeated Republican nominee and now-Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. After only 4 years as attorney general, Cuomo won the 2010 gubernatorial elections to become the 56th governor of New York. Cuomo won reelection in both 2014 and 2018.
It was not until 2020 that Cuomo became a household name across America. When the Covid-19 pandemic began, New York state was among those worst affected. On March 2, 2021, New York had its first confirmed case. At its peak in April, New York had a 7-day average for new Covid-19 cases of over 8,000.
In this time of crisis, Cuomo thrived. Unlike then-president Donald Trump, Cuomo listened to the warnings from epidemiologists over the severity of the threat facing New Yorkers, acting quickly and decisively. On March 16, 2020, just two days after the first Covid-19 deaths, Cuomo ordered all public schools in New York City to close. By March 22, Cuomo had signed the "New York State on PAUSE" executive order, ordering all non-essential workers to stay at home.
Phase 1 reopening in New York City began on June 8, 2020. It was not until July 19, 2020, that the city was fully reopened. When a fresh spike in cases came, Cuomo again introduced measures, including switching schools to remote learning. By April 16, 2021, all New Yorkers over the age of 16 were eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine.
New York felt the full brunt of Covid-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. It was the early epicentre of the pandemic with staggering death tolls and high rates of hospitalisations. Despite this, Cuomo garnered praise for his handling of the crisis. He became a hero of the pandemic and ‘America’s governor’. As Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime, New York-based political consultant, put it:
“He's becoming America's daddy and America's son at a time when people's communities and relationships are falling apart. He's become the protector of the people from a bullet they can't see. He is embodying America's sense of who it really wants to be at moments of crisis,”
Cuomo had some struggles during the pandemic. Where the governor particularly became unstuck was over his handling of Covid-19 in nursing homes. More than 6,600 patients living in nursing homes died from Covid-19.
Cuomo compounded the problem by refusing requests for an independent investigation into the nursing home debacle. Cuomo labelled these calls as overly partisan. Instead, he believed an investigation conducted by his own administration’s Health Department would suffice.
An independent investigation was eventually conducted by Letitia James, the state attorney general. When it was released in January 2021, the investigation found that the Cuomo administration had undercounted the number of Covid-related deaths in nursing homes by more than 3,800. Some estimates had the total number of deaths off by as much as 50%.
The days are numbered?
The nursing home problem, however, was quickly overshadowed by the bigger crisis in Cuomo’s life. On December 13, 2020, Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo staffer, alleged that Cuomo had sexually harassed her for years. Boylan’s revelation led to more women coming forward and accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment. In total, 11 women have alleged that Cuomo sexually harassed them.
One victim went into detail about Cuomo’s actions. She alleges that Cuomo reached under her blouse and groped her breast at the governor’s mansion. The harassment began in 2019, with Cuomo grabbing her buttocks, kissing her and hugged her in an inappropriate fashion.
After the third woman came forward in March 2021, the New York Assembly approved an investigation into Cuomo’s behaviour. When the report was released, it corroborated the accounts of at least 11 women.
Yet, Cuomo has been defiant. He continues to deny the allegations and has so far refused to resign. He remains in power and is showing no sign of relinquishing this power. It appears now that only impeachment will prise him from office. A once beloved and popular politician is now a reviled figure on the brink of an ignominious exit from politics.
Written by James Hingley
James Hingley is a columnist at DecipherGrey.