Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined a swiftly growing group of Democratic New York lawmakers calling on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign on Friday over allegations of sexual misconduct and distortion of Covid-19 mortality data.
The rapidly escalating pressure on Cuomo by politicians from his own party has raised questions over whether he’ll be able to govern effectively at a time when he has been tasked with overseeing the state’s management of a complex public health crisis, including the deployment of Covid-19 vaccines and safely reopening businesses.
It has also shown that Democrats are willing to unite in opposition against a prominent member of their own party facing accusations of sexual harassment, holding their own members to account in a manner akin to how they have treated Republicans accused of misconduct.
“We commend the brave actions of the individuals who have come forward with serious allegations of abuse and misconduct,” Schumer and Gillibrand said in a joint statement. “Due to the multiple, credible sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York. Governor Cuomo should resign.”
Also on Friday, 16 other members of New York’s 19-person Democratic House delegation — including House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler and progressive leader Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — called on him to resign.
Those representatives who didn’t explicitly demand his resignation offered Cuomo little consolation. Reps. Tom Suozzi and Gregory Meeks said that if Cuomo couldn’t govern effectively, he should step down. Meanwhile, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries called the allegations “deeply disturbing” and backed investigations into his conduct — but ultimately called for Cuomo himself to reflect on “whether he can continue to effectively lead the state.”
On the very same day, New York magazine and the New York Times published investigations which indicated that Cuomo has fostered a poorly managed and abusive work environment at the governor’s mansion. “In interviews over the past week, more than 35 people who have worked in Mr. Cuomo’s executive chamber described the office as deeply chaotic, unprofessional and toxic, especially for young women,” the Times reported.
Currently, New York Attorney General Letitia James is overseeing an independent investigation into the sexual harassment claims against Cuomo, which kicked off when former aide Lindsey Boylan claimed in February that he kissed her on the lips against her will in 2018. Her statement was then followed by a number of other allegations of misconduct from women, including a former aide who has accused him of groping her at his private residence and another aide who said he effectively propositioned her in the manner in which he inquired about her sex life.
This week the New York State Assembly also opened an impeachment inquiry into Cuomo’s behavior over the sexual misconduct claims and evidence that he appeared to hide the true death toll of nursing home residents in the state caused by Covid-19. On Thursday over 50 Democrats of the New York state Senate and Assembly said that Cuomo has “lost the confidence of the public” and called for him to step down.
But Cuomo resisted the growing calls for his resignation on Friday, and described efforts to force him from office as “cancel culture.” He denied harassment and abuse and remained resolute about his intention to stay in office. “I did not do what has been alleged, period,” he said during a press conference.
“I am confident that when New Yorkers know the facts from the review, I am confident in the decision based on the facts,” he said. “But wait for the facts. An opinion without facts is irresponsible.”
Cuomo’s political fortunes have changed dramatically since the earlier stages of the pandemic, when he projected calm confidence to the public in press conferences that won him praise among Democrats and even an Emmy. Now buzz about a 2024 presidential run has been replaced by questions of whether he’ll survive his current term in office.
The Cuomo allegations have tested Democrats’ commitment to addressing sexual harassment
As Vox’s Anna North has noted, Democrats have, at times, appeared more hesitant to act on allegations of misconduct against members of their own party than they were against Republicans accused of sexual abuse like former President Donald Trump or Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh:
When multiple women came forward in 2017 to report unwanted touching or kissing by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), several Democratic senators, including Gillibrand and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), called on him to resign. But Gillibrand, in particular, later faced political blowback for the decision, with donors pulling back from her.
In 2020, when Tara Reade came forward to report that Joe Biden had sexually assaulted her in 1993, Democrats — including Gillibrand — largely defended him (a task made easier, perhaps, by the fact that Reade faced questions about her changing accounts of Biden’s actions as well as her previous writings on Russia).
Now Biden is president, Democrats control Congress, and Trump is no longer in the White House or on Twitter to remind Americans of the allegations against him. And what Democrats do about Cuomo will be, to some degree, a test of how seriously they take sexual harassment allegations in an era when they’re in power.
Increasingly, New York Democrats are signaling that they will not tolerate the kinds of allegations Cuomo faces.
There are also other factors contributing to Democrats’ decision to push for Cuomo’s resignation. Before multiple claims of sexual misconduct surfaced, the scandal over Cuomo’s suppression of Covid-19 death data seriously undermined his reputation as an effective and trustworthy policymaker on his signature issue of the last year.
And crucially, Cuomo’s slide has been accelerated by his acrimonious relationships with New York Democrats well before any scandal emerged. For example, New York Assembly member Ron Kim said that after he criticized Cuomo’s handling of the nursing home fatality data, he received a phone call from Cuomo during which the governor spent “ten minutes threatening my career and ordering me to issue a statement that would be used to cover for the state secretary.”
As the New Republic’s Clio Chang and Alex Shephard explain, many Democrats have long been fed up with Cuomo’s adversarial relationship with his own party:
While the State Assembly has largely remained more loyal than the Senate, which is more or less in open rebellion, Cuomo has spent a decade in office bullying, cajoling, and humiliating politicians sitting in these bodies. Part of what we’re seeing now is payback. Thanks in part to Cuomo’s decision to single-handedly prevent a Democratic majority from taking hold in the Senate for several years, there is an extraordinary amount of bad blood.
Whether Cuomo will resign is an open question. But it’s clear that his reputation and political capital were more fragile than commonly believed, and they’ve taken an enormous and irreversible hit.