Andrew Cuomo teeters on the edge of a spectacular fall from grace
Months ago Cuomo was depicted by the media as ‘America’s governor’ – now another side to him that was an open secret in Albany has been officially recognized
In 2018, as Andrew Cuomo was in the thick of a re-election battle against the Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon, he vowed that he would complete a third term as governor of New York state unless “God strikes me dead”.
It may take less than the creator to put an end to the political career of the pugnacious Democrat. With the sexual harassment accusations of 11 women corroborated by an official inquiry from New York’s top prosecutor, and with potential impeachment proceedings looming, Cuomo is teetering on the edge of a spectacular fall from grace.
Only months ago, Cuomo, 63, was being depicted by sections of the media as “America’s governor”. Through a combination of aggressive tactics and political savvy he had turned himself into an unquestionable powerhouse within the Democratic party, to the extent that Joe Biden reportedly considered him as possible leader of the US justice department.
Cuomo entered politics with the advantage of having come from Democratic nobility. He cut his political teeth as campaign manager for his father, Mario Cuomo, in his successful 1982 run to become New York governor. Then, after stints working in the federal government and as attorney general for New York, the younger Cuomo followed in his father’s footsteps and became New York governor in 2011. Today he is the longest-serving chief executive of any state in the country.
In more than a decade as governor, he has overseen notable legislative reforms that earned him liberal support. They included bringing same-sex marriage to New York in his first year in office, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and introducing a $15 minimum wage.
But there was always another side to Cuomo – an open secret in Albany and widely acknowledged beyond. This was the side that was officially recognized in Tuesday’s sexual harassment report, which found that he had created a workplace culture “rife with bullying, fear and intimidation”.
This Cuomo was known to browbeat political opponents and threaten them with retaliation when they resisted. It was the Cuomo that told a New York city assembly member who was critical of him: “You will be destroyed. You will be finished.”
For a brief moment towards the start of the pandemic the governor was able – to the bemusement of liberals – to present himself as an empathic, caring contrast to Donald Trump in the White House. He was supported in that mission by his brother Chris Cuomo, in saccharine CNN interviews and behind-the-scenes advice, and his performance even won him a $5m book deal for a memoir with the hubristic title Leadership Lessons.
The glory was short lived, as the governor quickly became mired in scandal relating to his handling of the pandemic in New York nursing homes. One of his top aides disclosed that the administration had withheld from state lawmakers the true scale of nursing home deaths.
Sexual harassment accusations began to emerge in December and rapidly snowballed from there. Cuomo now finds himself in a position which to some extent he has always welcomed – the strong guy standing firm against a misguided world.
But that public persona, epitomized in his pandemic slogan “New York tough”, is now being tested to the extreme. Cuomo is in effect pitching himself as a one-man merchant of the truth against the combined might of his 11 female accusers backed by virtually the entire Democratic establishment, all telling him in unison that he is deluded, beyond the pale, and has to go.