- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing scandals on multiple fronts.
- Sexual harassment allegations have led to calls for his resignation.
- Other scandals involve COVID-19 nursing home deaths and a $US3.9 ($5) billion bridge.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
First came the nursing home scandal, then the sexual harassment allegations, then the bridge safety issues, and then more sexual harassment allegations.
As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo approaches the one-year anniversary of his star turn propelled by his internationally acclaimed COVID-19 daily briefings, the third-term Democrat is under siege.
Three main scandals have engulfed the Cuomo administration at one of the most consequential junctures in his governorship.
Cuomo is set to run for a fourth term in 2022, with the mounting crises potentially imperiling his prospects of surpassing his father’s three terms in Albany’s corner office.
A looming state budget deadline on April 1 also makes things complicated. Cuomo finds himself in a weakened position amid negotiations for the most consequential spending package in recent New York history, particularly with the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, where subway fares and other sources of tax revenue plummeted.
Here’s a breakdown of the scandals currently engulfing Cuomo, as well as what a potential resignation or impeachment trial would entail.
Cuomo faces sexual harassment allegations from six women
In the past month, six women have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, inappropriate workplace behavior, and touching them without their consent both while he was governor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
The first accuser, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special advisor Lindsey Boylan, first raised her allegations of harassment in a December 2020 Twitter thread.
“Yes, [Cuomo] sexually harassed me for years,” she wrote. “Many saw it, and watched. I could never anticipate what to expect: would I be grilled on my work (which was very good) or harassed about my looks. Or would it be both in the same conversation? This was the way for years.”
Boylan expanded on her experiences in a February Medium post, writing that after years of the governor making romantic advances in the workplace and inappropriate comments, she finally resigned in late 2018 after Cuomo kissed her on the lips without consent. (At the time, the Cuomo administration denied Boylan’s claims to Insider).
Bennett, 25, told The New York Times that Cuomo quizzed her on her sex and dating life, including asking if she had dated older men before, while Liss told the Wall Street Journal that Cuomo similarly inquired into her dating life, called her “sweetheart,” and kissed her hand at one point.
Karen Hinton, a former HUD staffer, told the Washington Post that, while on a work trip to California in 2000, Cuomo invited her to his hotel room and held her into a too-long “intimate embrace” when she was leaving. In response to her claim, a Cuomo spokesman called Hinton a “known antagonist of the Governor’s who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made up allegations from 21 years ago.”
And on March 9, the Albany Times Union reported that another unnamed female staffer in the executive chamber of the governor’s office had filed an internal complaint against Cuomo over an incident that occurred at the governor’s mansion, saying that Cuomo touched her inappropriately. The complaint has been referred to the attorney general’s office, with Cuomo telling reporters on Monday that he had not heard of it.
The Albany Times Union published new details about the sixth allegation on March 10, reporting the unnamed female aide said the governor “aggressively groped her in a sexually charged manner” after she had been summoned to the Executive mansion last year under the pretext of helping Cuomo solve a technology issue. Alone in his private residence, Cuomo allegedly closed the door then reached under her shirt and began to fondle her, a person with direct knowledge of the woman’s claims told the newspaper.
That person said the unnamed accuser also alleged the governor was frequently flirtatious and said the incident in the mansion was not the only time he touched her, the Times Union reported.
In addition to the five current and former Cuomo staffers, a woman named Anna Ruch told The New York Times that Cuomo touched her lower back and face and asked to kiss her at a September 2019 wedding, an encounter that a fellow wedding guest captured on camera.
Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately, but apologized for any comments that made women feel uncomfortable in the workplace in a February 28 statement and in a subsequent news conference. He has formally directed the attorney general’s office to oversee an official investigation into the claims.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable, and I truly and deeply apologize for it,” Cuomo said in a March 3 press conference. “And frankly, I am embarrassed by it. And that’s not easy to say, but that’s the truth.”
The governor also said kissing people was his “customary way of greeting” and one that he extended to both men and women.
Attorney General Letitia James has selected two powerhouse attorneys, former federal prosecutor Joon Kim and civil rights lawyer Anne Clark, who specializes in employment discrimination, to conduct a fully independent investigation of the sexual harassment allegations with subpoena power.
The Cuomo administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes led to the first calls for his resignation
While reporters in Albany’s Legislative Correspondents Association tried to get answers from Cuomo on a peculiar executive order on COVID-positive nursing home patients for months, the floodgates on this scandal did not open until early 2021.
The March 25, 2020 executive order – which the Cuomo administration has long insisted was simply the result of them following federal guidance – mandated that nursing home patients who were hospitalized with the coronavirus should be discharged back to nursing homes, as long as the providers could take adequate care of them.
Hospital capacity was a primary concern at the time, but the order left nursing home staff in a bind, particularly with the potential for the recently hospitalized residents to spread the virus if they were still within the window of contagiousness.
In late January, James accused the Cuomo administration of undercounting nursing home deaths by omitting those who died in a hospital, leaving the overall death total unchanged but undercounting nursing home-related ones by thousands.
Then came leaked comments from Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, who told lawmakers that the administration was sitting on the more accurate tally to avoid political issues with the Trump administration.
Several Republican lawmakers called for Cuomo’s resignation, citing a lack of transparency.
Cuomo has dismissed lawmakers’ criticism on his handling of the situation, accusing Donald Trump, Fox News, and the New York Post of conspiring against him.
Democrats began to join in calls for resignation when Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat who had been critical of Cuomo on the nursing homes front, when he went on ABC’s “The View” to talk about a threatening phone call he says he received from Cuomo while trying to give his child a bath.
And The New York Times reported on March 4 that top Cuomo aides altered a report on nursing home deaths to provide lower numbers.
In that first week of March, at least eight Cuomo aides announced their plans to leave the administration or take jobs elsewhere in the executive branch.
‘Structural safety’ issues on a bridge named after Cuomo’s father added to his 2021 woes
The Mario Cuomo Bridge, which replaced the rickety and heavily-trafficked Tappan Zee Bridge in 2017, has “structural safety” issues that could lead to its collapse, according to an Albany Times Union investigation published March 9.
Cuomo named the bridge after his father, who served as New York’s governor from 1983 to 1994.
Snapping bolts that are supposed to pin down the bridge’s suspension cables were the primary issue, the Times Union reported.
The eight-month investigation also found that Tappan Zee Constructors, the private corporation building the bridge for the state authority, may have committed fraud by concealing the fact that large numbers of bolts had been breaking due to either improper installation techniques, manufacturing defects, or both.”
Cuomo touted the project as “four years ahead of schedule and on budget,” but the bolt issues raised alarm bells among the crew assembling the bridge at a port just south of Albany along the Hudson River.
Investigations into the issue wound up downplaying the severity of the issues, according to the Times Union, though the New York State Thruway Authority and the project’s director disputed that reporting.
When asked if the Thruway Authority would be in favor of unsealing court documents pertaining to the structural issues, a spokesman said, “As much as we would like to share more information, we are unable to discuss it further at this time.”
What happens now?
Cuomo now faces three paths: stay in office and run again in 2022, resign from office, or be impeached by the state legislature. Democrats now hold supermajorities in both legislative chambers.
The governor has so far remained defiant and shown no sign of resigning despite calls from dozens of legislators to do so. He told reporters recently: “I’m not going to resign because of allegations. The premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti-democratic.”
Cuomo is known for the hard-charging and confrontational approach to politics that powered his rise to power, but it’s left him with few allies in Albany when he needs them most.
In a significant development on Sunday, New York’s state Senate President Andrea Stewart-Cousins called on Cuomo to resign from office, saying, “we need to govern without daily distraction.”
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie followed up with a statement that stopped short of saying that Cuomo should resign but called the allegations of the harassment “deeply disturbing” and said that Cuomo should “seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York.”
If he doesn’t resign and more comes to light, Cuomo could face impeachment.
The impeachment process in New York is similar to how the impeachment of federal officials works in Congress.
A simple majority in the state Assembly is required to impeach a governor. If the governor is impeached, a special impeachment court consisting of the members of the state Senate and the associate justices of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, would hold a trial. A two-thirds majority of the impeachment court is needed to convict and remove the governor.
A New York governor was last impeached over a century ago in 1913, when the legislature impeached and removed former Gov. William Sulzer after he got into a nasty political battle with the Tammany Hall machine.
If Cuomo either resigned or was removed through impeachment, the state’s Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would take office and serve out the rest of Cuomo’s term until 2023. If either occurred, Hochul would be New York’s first female governor.