New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent Monday and Tuesday of this week touting mass vaccination sites at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan and the New York State Fair in Syracuse.
At Jacob Javits, he made sure to discuss his “strong” support from the African American community. At the State Fair, he announced that all New Yorkers 60 years of age and older are eligible to receive the vaccine and, starting March 17, “public facing essential workers from governmental and nonprofit entities” would be eligible as well.
But the news is being overshadowed, by several controversies. Messes of his own doing.
First came the nursing homes.
Last spring, Cuomo faced criticism for making nursing homes take back residents who were infected with the coronavirus. Last month, it was alleged that state officials covered up the number of COVID-19 deaths or lied to the public about them.
An investigation by New York State Attorney General Letitia James said that the Cuomo administration undercounted deaths. The actions met the ire of activist groups and politicians.
“It was Cuomo’s policies that forced COVID-19 patients into nursing homes that were ill-equipped to stop the spread of the virus,” said Jess Wisneski and Rosemary Rivera, co-executive directors of Citizen Action of New York, in a statement. “Then, instead of accepting responsibility, he undercounted the actual number of deaths by up to 50% because he knew his policies contributed to the deaths of thousands.”
“Although nothing can bring back the loved ones of so many grieving families, this is a necessary first step to establishing accountability,” stated New York State Assembly Member Ron Kim, who recently pushed through a bill that eliminates a Cuomo mandate that gave for-profit nursing homes, shareholders and hospital executives legal immunity. “As chair of the Aging Committee, I am glad to see that my colleagues agree that these facilities, including some of the worst nursing homes operators, will no longer be protected from the legal consequences of their actions.
“But we did not need to lose 15,000 lives—and counting—or cover up their deaths to reach this point of reckoning.”
Kim claimed that Cuomo threatened him with retribution for helping to uncover the nursing home controversies. He said that Cuomo threatened to “destroy” him politically. Cuomo denied the allegations.
Then came the harassment/misconduct allegations.
On Tuesday, a sixth woman came forward with claims of misconduct against Cuomo. According to the Times Union of Albany, who first had the story, a former Cuomo aide accused him of inappropriately touching her while at the governor’s mansion. The previous five investigations included another former aide, Ana Liss, who said Cuomo kissed her and flirted with her at an event (she said she didn’t see it as misconduct until later), former economic director Lindsey Boylan who said Cuomo commented on her looks, kissed her on the lips and joked about playing strip poker with her, and yet another aide, Charlotte Bennett, who claims that Cuomo asked about her sex like and asked if she would consider open relationships with older men.
Cuomo told reporters on Wednesday, “I never touched anyone inappropriately. As I said last week, I never made any inappropriate advances. As I said last week, no one ever told me at the time that I made them feel uncomfortable.”
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that it was time for Cuomo to stop being a distraction and leave his perch.
“New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it,” stated Stewart-Cousins. “We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign.”
“There is no way I resign,” said Cuomo on Sunday.
While he didn’t respond to AmNews’ request for comment, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie echoed what Stewart-Cousins said, that the governor should consider stepping down.
“The allegations pertaining to the governor that have been reported in recent weeks have been deeply disturbing, and have no place whatsoever in government, the workplace or anywhere else,” stated Heastie. “We have many challenges to address, and I think it is time for the governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York.”
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has picked her duo to oversee investigations into Cuomo.
James picked employment discrimination attorney Anne Clark and Joon Kim, a former acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“We are committed to an independent and thorough investigation of the facts,” said James. “Joon H. Kim and Anne L. Clark are independent, legal experts who have decades of experience conducting investigations and fighting to uphold the rule of law. There is no question that they both have the knowledge and background necessary to lead this investigation and provide New Yorkers with the answers they deserve.”
Some believe that New Yorkers need to let the investigation run its course before casting judgement. When the AmNews spoke to Manhattan Democrat Leader Keith Wright, he said that people have gone too far with the trial by the public.
“I think he’s been a great governor especially in times of crisis,” said Wright. “He’s been a visionary. When you compare him to other governors he’s ten times better. Texas, Florida, Mississippi? They have total disregard for the health of their citizens.”
That didn’t matter to VOCAL-NY’s Political Director Paulette Soltani, who said that the governor’s actions towards women show a lack of understanding of proper behavior.
“Anger overwhelms us reading the stories of Lindsay Boylan, Charlotte Bennett and Anna Ruch, and hearing of the governor’s coverup of mass deaths in nursing homes,” stated Soltani. “And we can’t help but connect these harms to years of injustice against our communities. We’re pained to see that his disregard for consent, respect, dignity and human life is not limited to policy-making, but also shows up in the personal space of the women he encounters.”
The fallout from Cuomo’s problems made its way to the publishing industry. Crown Publishing Group, who released Cuomo’s book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic,” said it would not reprint or reissue the book, according to the New York Times.
New York State Assembly Republicans have called for Cuomo to be impeached, but can a governor be impeached? Yes, but it’s happened only once.
On Oct. 17, 1913, state legislators impeached William Sulzer over failing to report campaign contributions and meshing his campaign funds with his personal funds. Sulzer claimed that his impeachment was part of a conspiracy by the infamous Tammany Hall political group. The same group whose influence he promised to remove from Albany when elected.
New York State Sen. Brian Benjamin said that James’ work should be the decision everyone accepts and to let the investigation play out. But he also empathized with the accusers.
“These allegations are very disturbing, and I have every faith that Attorney General Tish James will conduct a swift and comprehensive investigation to ensure that the rights of the women are fully protected,” said Benjamin. “The accounts from these women are credible and deserve to be heard, and once we hear all of the evidence we will be able to determine the best course of action to address the governor.”
The past month of the governor’s tenure saw top administration officials jumping ship.
Interim policy adviser Erin Hammond, COVID-19 Response Task Force member Gareth Rhodes and Caitlin Girouard have left recently.
Counsel to the Governor Kumiki Gibson also announced her departure from Cuomo after taking up a job at a not-for-profit organization.
“I informed the Executive Chamber a month ago that I planned to leave State service and have accepted a position at a nationally prominent not-for-profit organization,” said Gibson in a statement. “It has been an honor and privilege to work for the governor and the people of the State of New York. I remain deeply impressed with the talent and dedication of my legal team and will forever be grateful for having the opportunity to serve New Yorkers.”
The AmNews went back and forth with Cuomo’s people for a comment, but didn’t receive anything as of press time.
The bad news for Andrew also made its way to his late father, Mario. Assembly Member Mike Lawler, of Rockland County, recently reintroduced a bill to change the name of Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge back to the Tappan Zee Bridge.
“Last week, I introduced legislation to change the name of the Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge back to its rightful name—the Tappan Zee Bridge,” said Lawler in a released statement first obtained by News 12 The Bronx. “Especially now, in light of the allegations of sexual harassment and appalling conduct of the governor who bears the same last name, it’s clear that we must restore the bridge’s original, historical name.”
This comes after claims of the Cuomo administration covering up the bridge’s “structural safety” issues such as snapping bolts after an investigation by the Albany Times Union. However, the New York Thruway Authority had a team of experts, who were paid $1 million, to investigate the bridge and found no structural issues of any kind.
The bill didn’t pass when first introduced in 2018.
“New York is marching forward expanding access to the COVID-19 vaccine, addressing underserved communities and getting shots in arms as we turn the tide in the fight against this virus,” said Cuomo at the New York State Fair on Tuesday. Many hope that Cuomo marches right out of the state capitol and out of Albany.