Why Cuomo Won’t Resign

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S1: OK, so, Jimmy, it hasn’t even been a month, and I feel like this story’s changed.

S2: Yeah, it seems like the situation here is changing not just day by day, but hour by hour.

S1: The last time I spoke with the Wall Street Journal’s Jimmy Vehle kind, we were talking about a nursing home scandal that was threatening to upend New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, his third term in office.

S3: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is denying that the number of coronavirus deaths connected to nursing homes has been vastly underreported.

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S4: The governor denies that he or his staff did anything wrong here, but some who had lost loved ones, they disagree.

S1: And behind this scandal were allegations of a toxic culture in New York state capitol.

S3: Critics say years of bullying by the governor and his staff coming home to roost. This is federal prosecutors and the FBI now looking to see if the Cuomo administration’s apparent refusal for months to release accurate nursing home death data amounts to a crime.

S1: But in the last few weeks, the scandal has kept growing and now the focus is on accusations of sexual harassment knew at six o’clock, a former aide to Governor Cuomo accuses him of years of sexual harassment.

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S3: Lindsay Boylan worked for the Cuomo administration. A third woman now accuses New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of harassment, adding to the new allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. A seventh woman now coming forward, accusing him of inappropriate behavior. The governor continuing to say he will not step down.

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S1: What is March usually like in Albany, my I mean, as a New Yorker, it’s usually pretty busy in March, right?

S2: It’s sort of the high season of lobbying and debate around the New York state budget, which is due on March 31. And to an extent, that’s that’s still happening. But I imagine it looks pretty different this year. It’s just kind of basically a subplot or a side plot to the much larger questions about what’s going to happen to Governor Andrew Cuomo, what is going to happen to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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S1: Many of his colleagues seem to hope he’ll just go away.

S5: This morning, almost all of the state’s Democratic Congress people are calling on Cuomo to go along with its two U.S. senators, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

S6: Unfortunately, because of the numerous credible allegations, the governor has lost the ability to work with his other governing partners and has lost the support of the state, which is why I thought he should resign.

S5: Now, of course, it’s not up to them whether Governor Cuomo resigns or not. It’s up to Governor Cuomo.

S1: He may choose not to, but you’ve known Governor Cuomo a long time. Do you think there’s any chance he would resign?

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S2: You know, I’ve talked to people who are close to the governor and who are familiar with his thinking. And this weekend, one of them told me, no, he’s not resigning. He’s not stepping down. Not this week, not today, not tomorrow, not next week. People who have worked with him say he will be defiant. Sort of the reverse. You know, Churchill, why he will fight on the beaches. You will fight in the cities. You will never give up. He’ll never surrender. He’s not rolling over.

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S1: Today on the show, if Governor Cuomo doesn’t roll over well, his Democratic colleagues give him a push, an update on the scandal in Albany. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us. I got to say, I personally never seen so many scandals of such a wide variety fall on one politician at one time, like the last time we spoke, it was, you know, Cuomo is being accused of juking the covid nursing home death statistics. And then that scandal was already kind of beginning to evolve into a scandal over workplace bullying. And then a week or two later became a crisis about sexual harassment. How many women have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment at this point?

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S2: Well, it’s three former members of his staff and one woman whose name The Wall Street Journal is withholding, who’s a current member of his staff who have have claimed that the governor either behaved inappropriately toward them or sexually harassed them. And there are other women who have come forward and described interactions with the governor that were inappropriate or that made them uncomfortable in social settings in some ways. But they are not necessarily employees or were not employed by Governor Cuomo at the time of those interactions. So depending on how you account, I think that there are many as seven people who have come forward with specific complaints and more who have just sort of acknowledged this pattern of behavior.

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S1: Yeah, I want to linger a bit on the accusations, because what stands out to me, looking at all the different accusations and there there’s just a wide variety of them, is that they’re consistent in the kinds of things they’re alleging most of the time. Like the governor touched me on the small of my back, the governor made me feel small as a woman. And it’s all kinds of people from journalists who worked around the governor to people who worked more in his inner circle. And so I think what stands out when you see the number is just the way they make sense together in a certain way. I wonder if that stood out to you as well.

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S2: Well, clearly, there is a pattern here. And clearly, in some instances, the governor and his aides are not denying what people like analysts, a 35 year old woman who who worked on the governor’s executive chamber from 2013 to 2015 described to me in an interview earlier this month as she described sitting at her desk and having the governor ask questions about her personal life, including whether she had a boyfriend. She said that at one point when she rose from her desk, he he kissed her hand. She described an encounter at a function at the state executive mansion in which the governor walked up, said, hi, sweetheart, or something like that, kissed both of her cheeks, turned and put his hand around her waist and posed for a picture with her, something that an older generation might, I don’t know, come off as gentlemanly.

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S1: But in the current. Environment, not so much.

S2: Well, one analyst told me was that taken together, all of these behaviors made her feel reduced from a working professional to, in her words, quote, just a skirt. And and Albany is now having a debate that I think many workplaces and many people have had, particularly since the revelations about Harvey Weinstein in 2017, about what acceptable workplace behavior is and where there are instances of smaller acts that that make people uncomfortable. What response and what mechanisms and how much of a big deal are they? And that’s a debate that is playing out publicly in the New York state legislature as state lawmakers consider whether or not to take any kind of further action or sanction against Governor Cuomo.

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S1: And you can sort of see how this debate is churning forward and different folks are weighing in with how they feel about it. Just just looking at the way the accusations have played out. Like the first accusation was from a woman named Lindsay Boylan, who’s running for a Manhattan borough president. And I remember reading it, she she wrote an essay in medium and thinking, wow, this is so specific. Her allegations begin with the governor allegedly saying to her, let’s play strip poker. And I thought, whoa, this is just a bomb. But at the same time, it took a while for people to pay attention. And I think they really only started clicking into these allegations when more and more of them came out.

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S2: What analysts told me was that that she was sort of moved to speak up and tell her story when she saw other women doing so. She was, I think, the third former aide to the governor to describe an experience about her work in the executive chamber since since the the the sort of metaphorical dam has been breached. It’s been easier as a reporter to hear about these kinds of things from people who have worked with and around the governor. I will note that that Governor Cuomo has said that Lindsay Boylan’s statement about strip poker is untrue, but the governor has apologized if any of his workplace behavior made people uncomfortable.

S1: Yeah, the governor’s kind of had this evolution in his response because when that first accusation came out, it was really just deny, deny, deny. There was a press release that went out with staffers signing on to it, saying, listen, we were on flights with the governor and with Lindsay Boylan where she’s alleging something occurred and we didn’t see anything. And here the flight manifests so aggressive pushback. And then as more and more allegations surfaced, you saw in early March the governor had a press conference where he apologized.

S7: I now understand. That I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional. And I truly and deeply apologize for. I feel awful about it.

S1: And frankly, I am embarrassed by it, but then he seemed to take a turn were more recently he’s been saying, you know, I think the voters know the difference between a real allegation and cancel culture.

S8: Let the review proceed. I’m not going to resign. I was not elected by the politicians.

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S1: I was elected by the people and even went so far as to say, you know, I’m not part of the political club, which is a weird thing to say. When your father was governor of New York and you are now governor of New York, can you talk a little bit about the governor’s evolution here?

S2: Well, his response has shifted as the world around him has shifted. It became clear that on the one hand, he’s responding to accusations that were made and are floating in the public sphere. But then it became a question of those accusations, prompting a political response that he needed to address and the political response being this impeachment investigation and calls for his resignation from elected officials. And with respect to those latter two things, he has been defiant. He has pushed hard. He has said that lawmakers calling for his resignation are motivated by politics. He has said that he will not resign because of accusations, mere allegations. And and as you pointed out, Mary, he did reference cancel culture. And, you know, he he said he’s he’s not part of the political club. Andrew Cuomo has been working on political campaigns since before I was born.

S1: He is the political club in New York or has been it was a statement that struck many people.

S2: I will say he’s doing all of this at the same time that he is also expressing some level of contrition over how he behaved toward his accusers and how he, in his office culture and demeanor comported himself. And it’s it is a dissimilar approach and it’s an approach that I know from my reporting has moved people to come forward and react. There is a fourth woman who’s not been named publicly who said that the governor touched her inappropriately during an encounter at the state executive mansion in 2020. In my reporting reveals that this woman, who currently works on the governor’s staff, watched his apology press conference on March 3rd and became upset by it and that her story came to light to her colleagues when they saw her get upset in her office watching the governor speak about this. So at this point, Governor Cuomo has responses to the accusations against him are in some instances prompting more people to come forward.

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S1: The reporting is that the governor put his hand under her blouse. Right.

S2: That’s what the Albany Times Union has reported. Yes.

S1: And that to me, that allegation, it’s a step beyond some of the allegations that came out beforehand about, you know, language in the workplace and feelings that that women had that they were being demeaned.

S2: Yes, many lawmakers have have said exactly that and that they said that they did consider it to be a step beyond. And I don’t think it’s any accident that that fourth allegation when it was first publicized by the Albany Times Union, that’s when you heard Democrats who control the state assembly say they were launching an impeachment investigation. And it’s after that false allegation that you heard top leaders in Washington, including Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and members of the state’s congressional delegation. Democratic members say that Governor Cuomo needed to step aside.

S1: You know, I have to ask, you’ve had your own run ins with Governor Cuomo where he’s sort of knocked you around publicly at press conferences, not physically, but verbally and. It just made me wonder. Is the kind of behavior you’re hearing about now? Behavior that you and other reporters have known about for a long time.

S2: I think it’s been clear that Governor Cuomo drove his staff to work very, very long hours, it’s been known and clear and reported that he raises his voice at times, I will say diplomatically.

S1: But is the sexual harassment new? Because I know that, you know, at least one reporter who was a reporter for Politico talked about a similar instance at a Christmas party where the governor touched her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and she even joked with other reporters about it afterwards. So it seems like even that was known earlier. And it just made me wonder, like, why wasn’t it reported on until now?

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S2: What’s in my reporting, what’s happening now is people are willing to speak with detail and depth about the effects on them of this behavior, and while there were there was some knowledge, be it specific knowledge or general knowledge about some of these behaviors, I think what’s happening now is that people are describing the effects in a way that is recontextualize in these behaviors for the public and sort of fueling the moment that we’re now in.

S1: When we come back, the reasons the governor is staying in office for now. So Governor Cuomo, he seems to be in the fight for his political life, but he’s making this point that I think is really relevant, which is that there’s a difference between losing the confidence of politicians around you and losing the confidence of your constituents. There was this poll that came out on Monday finding that the governor’s favorability rating had gone down, but only 35 percent of New York voters said he should resign. So I wonder, looking at that. Whether you think. Folks who want to see movement here, who want to move forward with impeachment, who want to we’re asking the governor to resign, whether that kind of information is really going to prevent those efforts from moving forward.

S2: That poll was seen by the governor’s allies as not terrible news, and in particular it showed that think 69 percent of black voters surveyed did not feel that the governor should resign. And he keeps appearing with black and Latino clergy at events, usually to talk about the coronavirus and to talk about coronavirus vaccinations. But the subtext political observers and state lawmakers say, is quite clear. He’s showing that he has support in this community, which is, of course, a critical constituency in the state, but also in Democratic politics in the state. So I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to give Andrew Cuomo fuel to continue his fight and to keep pushing. And we have to wait and see exactly where that’s going to lead.

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S1: Yeah, and there are multiple layers to what’s going on right now, like the attorney general is investigating the harassment allegations and the state legislature could act. But I think there’s been some back and forth about whether there’s foot dragging here, whether some members, especially the Democratic caucus, want to surge ahead and move forward quickly with impeachment and others don’t. Can you explain what’s going on?

S2: Yeah, the Democrats who control the state assembly are divided about this issue. First, just to go into math, there are 150 members of the assembly there. One hundred and seven members of the Democratic Conference. And of them, we know that 40 signed a letter calling for Governor Cuomo to resign. Twenty one members signed a letter saying Attorney General Jameses investigation should be allowed to continue. Eight of them are on record saying that Governor Cuomo should be impeached and saying that they support his impeachment. And so Assembly Speaker Carl Hastey has to manage all of these constituencies. And he’s put forward what some people have described as a middle ground in which he is having this impeachment inquiry. It’s gathering fact. As of Wednesday, St. Patrick’s Day, the assembly announced that had hired a Manhattan law firm, Davis Polk, to lead its investigation. And it’s unclear how long that investigation will take or what will be yielded at the end. So in the one way, the assembly is marching toward impeachment, but there are questions as to how fast that is marching and whether it is marching fast enough.

S1: Yeah, I mean, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how it’s happening in New York is revealing these kind of fault lines in the Metoo movement that some people look at what’s alleged about Governor Cuomo and say, well, I don’t know if that’s something that someone should leave a job for and other people see something really different. But I wonder, too, if in New York it’s really revealing the fault lines in the Democratic Party, you know, for years, Governor Cuomo fought off a kind of progressive surge and really kept the legislature under his control. And he he lost that battle and now he’s dealing with a legislature where there are a lot of progressives, but they’re not. In charge of the Democrats entirely, and so what you’re seeing is a little back and forth as the Democrats figure out where they stand here.

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S2: That’s very astute, Mary. There definitely seems to be overlap between these progressive lawmakers who are, first of all, newer to arrive in Albany and generally speaking, younger people. And they seem to have a different perspective on these allegations than people who are older, who are were elected with more support from the party establishment and who are generally more willing to give the governor a little bit of breathing room. This is a question, this question between the progressives and the institutionalists, and you can call it however you want, that the Democratic Party has been playing out in elections for well, you could trace it back to 1968. But, of course, the contemporary the contemporary spats are between people like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. And Governor Cuomo is very clearly in that Joe Biden wing of the Democratic Party and of the Democratic constituency here in New York. What we saw were the progressive wing of the party make serious legislative gains in the 2016 and particularly in the twenty eighteen elections and again this past year in the twenty twenty elections. What we haven’t seen is on a broad statewide basis, progressive challengers to Governor Cuomo and his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul. We haven’t seen success on that scale and on that level. So to the extent that this is a question about impeachment, which is driven by lawmakers each responsible to a smaller subset of individual constituents, I’m Wolf, to predict exactly what’s going to happen and exactly what. Response there will be.

S1: It’s funny you talk about how Cuomo is is more of the Biden wing of the party, and I totally agree with you, but it was interesting to me to watch Joe Biden this week be asked about Governor Cuomo and have him say, yeah, I think he should resign and he’ll probably be prosecuted if these allegations are found to be true by independent reporting. It made me wonder. A little bit about the Democrats in New York and whether they’re kind of painted into a corner here where enough of them have come forward and said Cuomo should resign. Cuomo should be impeached. That the relationship with the governor is now pretty broken. And, you know, there’s that line from the wire when you come at the King, you best not miss like you once you’ve gone this far. It’s really hard to reel things back in. Like if you don’t move forward and get him out of office, then you have a pretty bitter guy that you’re having to work with in the executive suite.

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S2: That’s exactly right. And as to go back to March in Albany is normally about the budget. It’s normally about decisions that will impact taxation, that impact how many teachers, local schools can have that impact, what kind of health care is available to people who don’t have the means to pay for it themselves and. It’s going to be an uncharted dynamic to see how leaders of the legislature will work or not work with the governor to make those decisions, make those important governmental decisions. But lawmakers with whom I’ve spoken say that they’re. Our continued challenges in working on real policy with Governor Cuomo, given the situation that he’s in, some of the people who have called for the governor’s resignation have explicitly said it’s not a question of the allegations and whether or not it’s believed that the allegations are true or not true, but simply that at this point they feel Governor Cuomo is just too distracted to govern. And at the end of the day, that seems to be an argument whether or not he can just do the job that he was elected to do that. That strikes me as very salient and is something that more and more people, even those who don’t want to necessarily say they’ll support an impeachment or even call for the governor’s resignation are repeated.

S4: Gibbsville kind, thank you so much for your time. Thanks, Mary. It’s a pleasure to be back. Jimmy Vehle kind covers New York State politics for The Wall Street Journal, and that is the show What Next is produced by Kamal Dilshan, Mary Wilson, Daniel Hewett, Davis Land and Ilana Schwartz.

S1: We are led by Alison Benedict and Alicia Montgomery. I’m Mary Harris. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned to this feed because tomorrow, our Friday show, what next Tuesday is going to be here with Lizzie O’Leary and I will catch you back here next week.