Andrew Cuomo’s Emmy-winning performance was the frequent televised coronavirus updates, in which the New York governor projected integrity and compassion, calming an anxious population.
Many Americans who had good memories of Cuomo during the pandemic are now having a close look at a very different governor, one accused of underreporting COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, sexually assaulting female staffers, and intimidating coworkers.
The claims, however, are consistent with how Cuomo retains his tight hold on influence, according to New Yorkers who have followed the Democrat for years. They claim that the same forceful, micromanaging, even adversarial style that served him well during the pandemic may be his undoing.
“The national audience that has looked to him for support and comfort in the last year does not want to see anyone they love fall from grace,” said Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University. “However, many New Yorkers who are familiar with Cuomo and his actions believe it is past time for him to pay the price.”
The three-term governor, 63, said he would not resign on Wednesday, urging those calling for his resignation to wait for the findings of an impartial investigation into the abuse claims, which will be led by Democratic state Attorney General Letitia James.
Cuomo apologised for making women uncomfortable, but denied sexually touching anyone. He said he welcomes people with hugs and kisses on a regular basis, a practice he picked up from his late father, former Governor Mario Cuomo.
“I recognize that people’s sensitivities have changed. Cuomo said, “Behavior has changed.” “I understand, and I want to learn from it.”
Cuomo’s former aide Lindsey Boylan, 36, accused him of harassing her for years, including kissing her without her permission and proposing a game of strip poker on his state-owned plane. Charlotte Bennett, a former aide, said Cuomo asked if she had ever had sex with older men and that he was cool dating “anyone over the age of 22.”
Cuomo placed his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her only moments after they met at a 2019 wedding, according to a third woman who is not employed by the state.
Cuomo’s administration is now being investigated by the federal government for underreporting deaths in nursing homes after he decided to open them to recovering COVID-19 patients.
For months, the state refused to say how many nursing home patients died after being moved to hospitals, allegedly editing the number out of a July survey. The number was withheld due to concerns regarding its accuracy, according to state health officials.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat who chastised Cuomo over the deaths, claims Cuomo called him and threatened to “kill” him if he didn’t back down.
Cuomo has said that he did not utter those terms. He’s also defended the state’s record on nursing home deaths, though he believes the data should have been released sooner. However, Republican Rob Astorino, who ran against Cuomo in 2014, recognized the threatening language.
During a 2014 debate, New York State Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, left, listens to Cuomo’s response.
A family picture of Astorino and his 11-year-old son at a Miami Dolphins football game was obtained, digitally changed, and used in an attack ad by Cuomo’s campaign to challenge Astorino’s loyalty to New York.
“He’s yelled at me, cursed at me, insulted me: It’s his pattern of conduct, and it’s New York’s worst-kept secret,” Astorino said. “He’s a bully on a good day. He’s what we’re doing now on a bad day.”
When Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s 2014 primary challenger, confronted him at a parade, he declined to even say hello, later joking that he didn’t see her. After Cuomo’s campaign regularly insulted his opponent’s height, a national group for dwarfs filed a lawsuit in 2018.
Cuomo’s abrasive style has been embraced by senior aides, who have chastised journalists and lawmakers who challenge the administration.
When three female legislators chastised Cuomo for throwing a $25,000-per-couple fundraiser during state budget talks in 2019, Cuomo’s spokesman called them “idiots” and used profanity.
“The irony of it all is that if he’s so tough, how come his skin is so thin?” Alessandra Biaggi, a Democratic state senator, was one of those legislators who posed the question. Several lawmakers from both parties have called for Cuomo’s resignation, including Biaggi.
The younger Cuomo’s career is strongly influenced by Mario Cuomo’s legacy. Andrew Cuomo began his political career as his father’s aide and campaign manager, then went on to serve as US Housing Secretary under Bill Clinton and as New York’s attorney general. If he wins a fourth term in 2022, he will have served longer than his father.
Cuomo began as a moderate but has since switched to the left, though many progressive lawmakers still mistrust him. The governor, a muscle car enthusiast who boasts of being a Queens native, has maintained that his work demands toughness.
And his tough demeanor has helped him win a long list of wins, including same-sex marriage, the minimum wage, tax reform, gun control, and a slew of other economic development programs.
Infrastructure, especially large, concrete, and tangible infrastructure, is of particular interest. Cuomo has overseen airport and train station renovations, subway and rail extensions, and a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, which bears his father’s name.
In the early days of the pandemic, when his briefings showcased both his practicality and a more emotional side, as a father and son concerned for his family — followed by viral appearances on his brother’s primetime CNN show as New York bore the deadly brunt of U.S. cases — his hands-on approach earned him plaudits — and a book contract.
“He is a tyrant, and he is what they say he is,” said Barbara Bartoletti, the legislative director for the League of Women Voters in Albany for four decades, a government watchdog sometimes at odds with Cuomo. “As a New Yorker, though, I’m glad we had him at the peak of the pandemic.”
Cuomo was never going to resign without a contest, according to Greer, because of his pugilistic personality. As the investigation continues, pressure will also ease.
The fates of two Democratic colleagues may be instructive: Although Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam survived his 2019 controversy over old blackface pictures — even campaigning for the same lawmakers who demanded his resignation a year later — U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s hasty exit in the wake of his own abuse charges has been questioned.
“Northam was able to weather the storm, while many Democrats believe Franken left too soon,” Greer said. “I don’t believe Cuomo sleeps soundly at night. I believe he simply waits for the storm to pass.”