Andrew Cuomo’s political career was pushed closer to the edge on Sunday after the state Senate leader called on the three-term New York Governor to step down amid mounting complaints about sexual harassment and criticism of his handling of nursing homes in the pandemic.
In a statement, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a fellow Democrat and the Senate majority leader, argued that the governor — just months ago hailed as a political star, perhaps destined for the White House — had become a distraction as additional women came forward to accuse him of inappropriate behaviour.
“Every day there is another account that is drawing away from the business of government,” Stewart-Cousins said. “New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it. We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign.”
In a separate statement, Carl Heastie, the leader of the state Assembly, stopped short of calling for Cuomo’s resignation but said it was “time for the governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York”.
Earlier in the day, a defiant Cuomo dismissed calls for his exit, telling reporters that to do so based on unproven allegations would be undemocratic. “There’s no way I resign,” he said, adding: “I was elected by the people of New York state. I wasn’t elected by politicians.”
As the pressure has mounted, the governor and a tight circle of aides have dug in, intent on riding out the political storm. The opposition of Stewart-Cousins, one of the most powerful women in New York politics, makes that challenge more difficult.
In a sign of his diminished authority, the legislature she heads last week stripped the governor of the emergency powers he has wielded to deal with the pandemic.
The question now is whether it will move toward impeachment to try to formally remove Cuomo — or is more intent on weakening a man who has dominated the state’s politics for a decade?
Further clues about Cuomo’s future could emerge in the days ahead, say political analysts, from the leanings of the White House, the New York business community, labour unions and fellow New York Democratic politicians. Others believe that the outcome of a formal investigation by the state attorney-general will be pivotal. Recent opinion polls suggest the governor’s support has held up among voters even as legislators have turned against him.
Cuomo, the son of a popular three-term governor, gained national acclaim with a series of daily press briefings in the early days of the pandemic that showcased a reassuring, paternal leader in a time of crisis.
But his standing has rapidly deteriorated since the state’s attorney-general released a report in late January claiming his administration had undercounted Covid-19 deaths for nursing home residents by as much as 50 per cent — a move that critics say was intended to protect his political reputation. The governor has also been accused of stonewalling state legislators seeking information about nursing home fatalities.
In the interim, several women have stepped forward to accuse the governor of sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour over the years. Their complaints range from allegations that Cuomo invited them to play strip poker and asked if they slept with older men to unwanted kisses and hugs in the workplace.
Cuomo has denied inappropriately touching anyone. After a series of lame apologies stoked angry reactions, he last week offered an emotional plea, saying: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone.”
At the outset of the scandals, analysts and political hands began to debate whether Cuomo would next year seek a fourth term. There is now debate about whether the governor will manage to finish his current term.
Cuomo, an avowed centrist, is beset by enemies and rivals within his own party. A new generation of progressive Democrats, embodied by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, regard him as an opponent of their plans to increase social spending and raise taxes on the wealthy.
Some political analysts viewed the statements issued by Stewart-Cousins and Heastie as tactical moves to pressure him in pending negotiations over the state budget.