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Scores Soon To Be Settled

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eye on the news

Scores Soon To Be Settled

The full weight of New York’s political establishment bears down on Andrew Cuomo. August 9, 2021
New York
Politics and law

Andrew Cuomo’s fall from national grace has been abrupt, profound—and well-earned. Non-New Yorkers surprised by this don’t understand just how he brought it upon himself, or how many people have been waiting decades to settle scores with him.

Their time arrived with a report from state Attorney General Letitia James, accusing Cuomo of sexually harassing current and former staff members, including a state trooper assigned at his specific request to his security detail, and others—11 women in all.

And so it seems that the governor’s time has arrived as well. If he lasts another week, it’ll be a surprise to many. Longtime allies are peeling off, and the state assembly has set August 13 as the delivery date for a report on an array of allegations arising out of an impeachment probe.

Cuomo has been an imposing figure in New York politics since he arrived in the capital city with his newly elected father, Governor Mario Cuomo, in 1983. He was 25, liked what he saw, and has pretty much never left town. Having been elected governor in his own right in 2010, he was widely expected to seek a fourth term next year.

But most of the rest of America knows Cuomo from his pandemic presentations—more than 100 days of daily Covid-19 briefings, beginning in March 2020. They were informative, occasionally somber, but often funny—and hugely optimistic. For a brief moment, he was the nation’s pandemic prince. There was even talk of his supplanting Joe Biden at the top of the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket.

But this was a sugar high, fading quickly when the state’s true Covid casualty numbers—still among the nation’s highest—began rolling in. And soon it was reported that the governor’s staff had cooked those statistics to understate vastly the number of elderly New Yorkers killed by Covid after infected patients were forced from hospitals back into nursing homes.

It was a coverup, pure and simple, and while this may have startled outsiders, it came as no surprise to New Yorkers familiar with Cuomo’s career. In the beginning, he was chief enforcer for his dad, quickly learning that the executive chamber is power central in New York’s strong-governor system.

The public contrast between the two Cuomos was vivid, and this was not by accident. Mario could hold a grudge, but he presented as a principled intellectual—and he got away with it because he had Andrew at hand for the dirty work. The son embraced that task with disconcerting enthusiasm—doing sometimes-necessary chores for his father, but regularly giving the knife an unnecessary twist or two and smiling as he did so. Andrew Cuomo’s methods haven’t changed, though he’s been his own knee-capper for 11 years now, still smiling as he goes about it. It would be impossible to overstate the seething resentments he has generated along the way.

His undisguised arrogance, moreover, went hand-in-glove with a casual contempt for rules. Those surprised by the appalling litany of abuses detailed in James’s report simply don’t appreciate Cuomo’s invincible sense of entitlement.

He has gotten away with it until now, for one simple (if well-camouflaged) reason: virtually every dollar spent by state government in New York is constitutionally subject to gubernatorial approval and distribution. All administrations have taken advantage of this, and voters don’t seem to care; governance in New York has become an amalgam of purchased loyalties and special-interest servicing, well lubricated by subtly coerced campaign contributions. Except that there has been nothing subtle about Cuomo’s runaway-train approach to his office, or to its often-seamy operational traditions. Crude use of state resources to obvious political advantage has been a hallmark of his tenure.

It’s no accident, for example, that his administration has been targeted by serial federal investigations into state purchasing and contracting pay-to-play—or that Cuomo’s once-closest aide, Joseph Percoco, now sits in federal prison for bribe solicitation. But none of this touched the governor himself.

As recently as June 30, labor leaders, real estate moguls, big-ticket contractors, and scores of others with business before the state supinely bought $10,000 tickets to a Rockefeller Center event that raised more than $1 million for Cuomo’s still-formidable campaign accounts. The donors clearly were paying no heed to those long-simmering sexual-harassment investigations, or to a federal nursing-home deaths probe, or to Cuomo’s in-the-bunker-like approach to those scandals: it remained that the governor could either hurt or help the ticket buyers, at his choice, and they were opting for help. It’s the New York way.

But then came Cuomo’s #MeToo moment: times had changed, and with them the rules. Suddenly that New York way no longer worked. Suddenly, Cuomo could neither hurt nor help anyone, least of all himself, as the full weight of New York’s political establishment bore down on him.

He never had many real political friends; his vindictive personal style saw to that. He once thunderously attacked mainstream conservatives as “extremists” with “no place” in New York. Progressives, and New York’s Working Families Party in particular, were alternately courted, then humiliated.

It was always all about Andrew, and that kind of behavior adds up. Now his onetime allies are recalibrating in anticipation of a new governor, Kathy Hochul of Buffalo, and a general election in 2022. Cuomo seems destined for the shadows; it’s a fate he has courted for years.

Consider all scores about to be settled.

Photo by Mary Altaffer-Pool/Getty Images

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