Can Andrew Cuomo continue to lead?
By The NYT Editorial Board
Few political families have had more of an impact on New York politics than the Cuomos. Father and firstborn son both had public service woven deep in their DNA, and both developed a reputation for toughness in service of the common good and their own political ambitions.
When The New York Times editorial board endorsed Andrew Cuomo for another term as governor in 2018, we noted that he was “strategic and at times bullying in his use of power, driven and maddeningly evasive.” Supporters and critics, we wrote, agree that Cuomo is “a formidable political animal.”
There is a lot Cuomo can be proud of. The governor used his considerable political talents to great effect. He persuaded the State Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage, pass strong gun-control legislation and raise the minimum wage, and he saw New York through several crises, from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 to the coronavirus pandemic. Few people understand how to make government work as Cuomo does.
But those same traits translated into a ruthlessness and power that Cuomo failed to control. Several female staffers have come forward with accounts of sexual misconduct and harassment. These allegations are under investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James and by the state Assembly. Cuomo says he is confident that investigations will clear his name.
Undergirding these specific accusations is the widespread description of his administration by many former aides as a toxic workplace in which Cuomo and others ruled by fear and emotional abuse — and drew women Cuomo saw as attractive closer into his orbit, actively encouraging them to wear heels and dress in tight-fitting clothing whenever he was around. In New York politics, Cuomo’s bullying style was an open secret. But the public caught only a glimpse of the dangers of Cuomo’s behavior recently.
It is always preferable to let official investigations run their course, to establish evidence from accusation. If crimes were committed, they should be fairly adjudicated. But the question of the governor’s continued fitness for office is about more than a criminal matter, with different standards.
The reality is that Cuomo has now lost the support of his party and his governing partners. The Democrats who control the State Legislature appear willing to impeach him, to say nothing of the Republicans. New York’s congressional delegation and city leaders, key to his base, have called on him to resign.
Voters, who returned him easily to office, will not have their say until the next election, should he decide to run for reelection.
The governor has jeopardized the public’s trust at the worst possible moment. The state is facing the hard and urgent task of vaccinating millions of people and recovering from a pandemic that has killed nearly 50,000 of its residents, sickened hundreds of thousands more and devastated the economy.
Cuomo, unsurprisingly to anyone who knows him, brushed off calls to step down and railed against what he called “cancel culture.” Asked whether he had a consensual relationship with any of the women who have come forward, Cuomo dodged: “I have not had a sexual relationship that was inappropriate. Period.”
What the governor failed to grasp during his Friday news conference was that he owes the public a far more robust explanation for the slew of credible harassment complaints against him, as well as an articulation of why the public should give him their trust.
At this point, it is hard to see how Cuomo can continue to do the public’s important business without political allies or public confidence.