Andrew Cuomo isn’t Going Anywhere *Edit: Well, Guess I Was Wrong on this One lmao*
New York’s insulated patronage system is designed to protect Cuomo from all repercussions. It’s worked before and it’ll work in the future.
- UPDATE: On August 10th, Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation, effective August 24th, when Lt. Gov. Kathy Hocul will be sworn in as the 57th Governor of New York. Lmao.
- I guess the impeachment inquiry was really coming together but still going to keep this up to leave a picture of New York’s insulated political system.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom is, possibly, on the verge of losing his job to a radio show host because of an absurd fluke in the state’s recall system that allowed a small minority of California Republicans to force a recall vote on the Governor for, more or less, acting like a normal hypocritical Democratic governor during COVID-19 lockdowns. A dinner in Napa Valley may have very well cost the executive of a state of nearly 40 million people his job and political career.
There is no such system of accountability in New York, where three term Governor Andrew Cuomo is in the midst of a year long blitz of statewide and national scrutiny, a reckoning for the past decade of Cuomo’s megalomaniacal abuse of his office and, arguably, criminal negligence regarding the state’s handling of nursing homes during the early months of the pandemic.
In March of last year, the media circus surrounding Cuomo and his steady-handed handling of the coronavirus pandemic propelled the New York Governor into the national spotlight, to the point where Democratic voters wanted to replace newly minted presidential nominee Joe Biden with the competent, no-nonsense (except when on air with his brother) Cuomo.
The halo evaporated quickly; Lindsay Boylan, a former aide for Cuomo and 2021 candidate for Manhattan Borough President, was the first to publicly confirm what was an open secret in New York politics for years: Andrew Cuomo did not know how to handle himself around young women. Allegations began to pop up around the state, and as of August 3rd, when Attorney General Letitia James presented her extensive report of Governor Cuomo’s patterns of sexual harassment, 11 women have made substantiated claims against Andrew Cuomo.
Why are we hearing about this again, in August? Didn’t Cuomo go through the ringer just a few months ago? Vertically and horizontally, the Democratic machine in New York made it clear that Cuomo, under investigation for nearly a dozen cases of sexual harassment and harsh scrutiny for putting elderly COVID patients back into insular nursing homes (then fudging the numbers when this careless operation led to several hundred deaths), had to go. Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, several members of the state assembly, and even President Joe Biden, all told Cuomo it was time to resign.
And then he didn’t. And everyone shrugged their shoulders, said “Well, we tried!” and went back to business. Those who didn’t explicitly call for Cuomo’s resignation suggested the public wait for AG James’ report so that Cuomo could be granted due process before facing legitimate consequences. The report is out now, and the same chorus of calls for resignation are ringing out across the state. Is it going to be any different this time? Why should we think it would?
The question of whether or not Cuomo will resign, not run again in 2022 for a fourth term, or abdicate power in any way of his own volition comes down to a simple playground bully retort: Who’s going to make me? What are you gonna do about it? Though Cuomo would like you to think otherwise, he is not an outsider in national or state politics. The son of a three term governor, himself a former HUD Secretary, NY Attorney General, three term governor and former husband of a Kennedy, Andrew Cuomo is the most insulated man in American politics. Tammany Hall may have dropped off the face of the Earth in the 1960’s, but the patronage system that defined New York politics and kept its leaders safe from any measures of accountability are still deeply embedded into the state political structure. Andrew Cuomo is the ultimate benefactor of this intractable moat that engulfs New York state politics.
What are the avenues through which the state could pressure Cuomo to resign? The Judiciary Committee of the State Assembly has been moving through an impeachment investigation against Cuomo at, to put it generously, a snail’s pace. On August 3rd, Carl Heastie, Speaker of the Assembly, realistically the only legislator with actual power to expel Cuomo from office, said in a statement that the Governor “had lost the support of the Democratic majority”, and that Heastie would expedite the assembly’s impeachment inquiry. State legislators are already in the process of drawing up articles of impeachment against the Governor.
That seems to indicate a sea change in New York’s power center; the State Assembly has confirmed that they have the votes (a simple majority) to impeach Cuomo, and the State Senate has previously made it clear that they have the votes (a two thirds majority) to convict Cuomo. The Assembly is “expediting” the impeachment process. So, then, is Cuomo on his way out?
Well, a source from within the State Assembly told the New York Times that the “expedited” impeachment inquiry could take up to a month and a half to conclude, meaning that the Senate trial, at its earliest, would take place sometime in early autumn. It’s natural for impeachment investigations to take a few months, even though the Assembly Judiciary’s investigation has already gone on for two months with little progress.
By contrast, House Democrats in Washington took around two months to wrap up an impeachment investigation into President Trump in 2019 before holding a committee vote in early December. Earlier this year, House Democrats took only one week, following the January 6th attack on the Capitol, to impeach Trump a second time.
Though Assembly Democrats now have an official state document detailing Cuomo’s violation of state and federal law, and therefore may bear onus to act upon Cuomo’s criminal acts, it’s pretty clear that the speed (or lack thereof) of the Assembly in their investigation is connected to some political maneuvering with the Executive Branch. For a few months, it seemed that the whole “Cuomo is a habitual predator and unfit for office” thing had blown over, and that the Assembly could take their time while waiting for the official AG report.
Heastie, a Cuomo ally who was one of several Democrats who urged the public to wait for the AG report before calling on Cuomo to resign, now has to choose whether to act on what seems to be a serious, detailed layout of Cuomo’s unlawful behavior. The expedition of an investigation that could lead into October leaves room for speculation that leaders in the legislature are still trying to work behind the scenes to see that the impeachment hearing in the Senate doesn’t take place.
Given the Assembly’s feet dragging prior to the AG’s report and the extended timeline for impeachment, a few things seem clear: Cuomo will not resign. Who’s going to make him? Likewise, Cuomo will probably not leave Albany kicking and screaming. If articles of impeachment are drawn up against Cuomo and an actual vote to impeach in the Assembly looks like it’s coming together, I would venture to guess that this is the most likely outcome: the Assembly or Senate agree to either toss or intentionally botch the impeachment hearings and Cuomo agrees not to run again in 2022. Whatever happens in the next few months, while Cuomo is, politically, weaker than he’s ever been, the course of events will likely still occur on his terms.
How could someone as damaged and isolated as Cuomo, whose own Assembly Speaker has (seemingly) turned against him, still hold the reins on the terms of his own removal?
Across the state, the centers of power are constructed around the executives who hand down favors from on high to create a political system built on fealty and intimidation. Centuries of backroom negotiations, nepotism and Democrats’ intransigent grip on the notions of power and prestige, even in a nominal or impalpable sense, have fostered a Hapsburgian sovreign so guarded off from any systems of liability that it betrays the very notion of the constitutional construction of a separation of powers within the government.
For Andrew Cuomo to leave office would require the deeply entrenched foundation of New York politics to- forgive the mixed metaphors- flip on its head, bite the hand that feeds, and, essentially, decapitate itself. Even though the members of the legislature who control Cuomo’s fate seem to have, publicly, begun the process- a shock unto itself- history and the reality our entrenched political present suggest that the actual, final act of mutiny may never manifest, and may, by nature of this structure, be impossible.
Any of Cuomo’s accusers could, ostensibly, bring Cuomo to court for any number of violations of common or statutory law. The New York Times reported that the Albany District Attorney has opened a criminal investigation into Cuomo, as AG James’ report finds that the Governor “violated state and federal law by sexually harassing his employees.” But in New York, how do you get appointed to the judiciary? It’s the same route that leads you to the legislature. All roads, in every branch of New York’s government, leads back to Andrew Cuomo. Accounts of New York legislators like Ron Kim have made it clear that Cuomo is not one to be disobeyed without serious consequences, and that he has every political string necessary to erase one’s political career when he sees fit.
Andrew Cuomo will continue having to look into the camera, exasperated, and shamefully make inane excuses for his behavior. He won’t enjoy it. He’ll hate it, and it’ll bring him to a moral low he’s probably never felt. He probably won’t ever get to be President, something that’s probably been in the works for decades. But that’s as far as it’ll go. Culturally, Cuomo will receive his 39 lashes. But substantively and politically, there is nothing stopping him from cruising to a fourth term in 2022 and going gently into the night in 2027, perhaps to even serve on the cabinet of a future Democratic administration.
There is, of course, another way to dethrone Cuomo: he could lose the 2022 Democratic primary. But the fact that, despite New York Democrats’ deep bench of potential gubernatorial contenders, not a single Democrat has even begun to scrap together money to face Cuomo next year is yet another symptom of Cuomo’s grasp on the state’s political system. Any primary opponent who loses to Cuomo would, effectively, leave the race without a career and a future in politics. It is not a secret that the Cuomo’s are very, very harsh campaigners and sore winners.
There are, realistically, two Democrats who could put up a legitimate primary campaign against Cuomo. They would need to capture the progressive and liberal anger against Cuomo, which isn’t difficult to tap into, but would also need to energize the more moderate voting base of New York, which includes the majority of New York’s Black electorate. Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, if they started today (preferably yesterday), could probably put up such a campaign.
But James, paradoxically, having set off another round of scrutiny against Cuomo through her investigation as the AG, would have a serious problem running against Cuomo given that the necessity for a primary challenger to the Governor arose from her own office’s findings. The AG should be a neutral arbiter in political affairs, and though James has, rightfully, brought forth a damning indictment against Cuomo, it would be difficult to disentangle her responsibility as an unbiased Attorney General and a political opponent of the target of her investigation.
Williams, a progressive superstar in New York City, is still a bit green, and if he wanted to become Governor of New York, probably wishes he had another four years in office to consolidate a base of support that extends beyond progressives and Brooklyn voters in New York City. Regardless, neither he nor James seems to be willing to take the risk to unseat Cuomo in a primary, which is probably the only way to get Cuomo out of office that wouldn’t require his own appointees, beneficiaries and scions to make an about face and vanquish the Governor King.
After the last media firing squad on Cuomo, his approval numbers dropped, though not enough to put him in serious political trouble, and voters suggested that while they did not want him to run again in 2022, they also didn’t want him to resign. After all- what are they going to do? Who else is there to vote for? Lee Zeldin? Andrew Giuliani? Cuomo gave us legal weed so that we would turn our heads the other way while he brought in millions for a 2022 run.
The lethargic ambience of “What are you gonna do about it?” that hangs over New York’s political machine is not a glitch in the system. It’s a feature. New York City mayoral primaries have abysmal turnout for a reason. It’s the same reason that grumbling to ourselves about our awful Governor is our only recourse from the horrific display that Cuomo puts on daily in Albany. There is no other option, there is no substantive recourse.
Andrew Cuomo will only do what he wants to do, because no one else can make him do it, because everyone who could ostensibly check the balances on Cuomo were put there by Cuomo and the Cuomo’s (figuratively and literally) before him. The electorate is not as tolerant of the rampant abuse of power and sexual harassment as they once were, and so they’ll get the troubled visage of Andrew Cuomo spattered across the New York Times and the Post. They’ll hear the gut wrenching testimonies, and see the statements calling for his resignation. And then it’ll all go away.
But why? Well, what are you gonna do about it?