The Spectre of Andrew Cuomo Continues to Haunt New York

Two years ago, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace after an investigation found that he had sexually harassed almost a dozen women, he had eighteen million dollars in his reëlection-campaign coffers. Some reports suggested that Cuomo might use the money to run for office again, once the controversy died down. Instead, as

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Two years ago, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace after an investigation found that he had sexually harassed almost a dozen women, he had eighteen million dollars in his reëlection-campaign coffers. Some reports suggested that Cuomo might use the money to run for office again, once the controversy died down. Instead, as campaign-finance disclosures recently revealed, the ex-governor has, over the past two years, spent more than half of the funds, much of it on lawyers and storage lockers. (When he moved out of the Executive Mansion, Cuomo was technically homeless.)

Sexual harassment was really just one factor in Cuomo’s downfall. The governor spent a decade ruthlessly dominating New York politics. Even as his daily televised pandemic press briefings briefly made him a national Democratic Party star in early 2src2src, he was covering up the state’s true number of COVID-19 nursing-home deaths, ordering state employees to help him produce a triumphant pandemic-response memoir that netted him a multimillion-dollar book contract, and threatening his critics with public humiliation and personal ruin. (“I will destroy you!” Cuomo screamed over the phone at one state lawmaker.) When legislative leaders in Albany turned against him, and started counting votes for a possible impeachment, it was recognition not just that Cuomo was personally a bad actor but that he was, politically, out of control.

And yet, there are still Cuomo fans out there—diehard Cuomosexuals holding out hope of a restoration. So far in 2src23, according to Politico, Cuomo has raised eleven thousand dollars from roughly forty people, with the largest donation coming from Anne Overstreet, a North Carolina resident whose Twitter bio, when Politico checked, listed her interests as “Music, Dogs, Fun, Cars, and Handsome Gentlemen who look like Andrew Cuomo.” Overstreet has given Cuomo four thousand dollars so far this year.

Cuomo himself has kept the door open to making a political comeback—eventually. Recently, he has been hosting a podcast, called “As A Matter Of Fact . . . with Andrew Cuomo.” He tapes the show in a home office, and his guests have included the former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, the former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, the pollster Mark Penn, and the former Fox News judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano. On the show, Cuomo presents himself as a voice of sanity in a world gone mad. “Rudy Giuliani, at one time, was a respected mayor of New York City,” he said, on a recent episode. “This is a different Rudy Giuliani that we’re seeing.” (Giuliani was recently indicted in Georgia, alongside former President Donald Trump.)

More quietly, the ex-governor has been attempting to get even, somehow, with the people who brought him low. He and the few advisers who remain loyal to him have questioned the integrity of New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, whose office interviewed a hundred and seventy-nine people and reviewed thousands of documents as part of the investigation that substantiated the allegations of harassment against him, as well as allegations that he had created a hostile work environment for women. On separate occasions, Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s spokesperson, has called the report a “sham” and a “political hit job.” Last year, Cuomo filed a grievance with the New York State Supreme Court, demanding an investigation into James for investigating him while also harboring aspirations to run for governor herself. “AG James cynically manipulated a legal process for personal, political gain,” the grievance stated. (James, for her part, has said that Cuomo “continues to blame everyone but himself” for his undoing.)

Earlier this month, the Times published a disturbing report detailing how Cuomo’s younger sister, Madeline, talked a group of older women, who’d become Cuomo fans during the pandemic, into being trolls online on her brother’s behalf. The women wrote malicious posts about Cuomo’s accusers on Twitter. “Your life will be dissected like a frog in a HS science class,” one woman tweeted at Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to the governor who came forward to denounce his behavior. Cuomo has said he was not involved in his sister’s project (“I acted on my own,” Madeline Cuomo told the Times), but his own efforts to attack and shame his accusers continue to this day. Earlier this year, Ana Liss, another former aide, who has said that Cuomo asked about her romantic life and found reasons to make physical contact with her while she worked for him, gave a nearly eight-hour deposition as part of a lawsuit brought by a former New York state trooper, who alleges that Cuomo touched her inappropriately. Liss had expected that her testimony would be kept confidential. Last week, Cuomo, who still denies harassing anyone, distributed a transcript of her testimony to the media. “This is uncontested public information that we believe can be widely distributed,” Azzopardi, who is himself a named defendant in the former trooper’s case, told Gothamist. (This week, Cuomo also subpoenaed the former state senator Alessandra Biaggi, one of his loudest critics, as part of the case brought by the former state trooper.)

Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s former deputy who last year won her own election for the top job, still operates in his shadow. No one wants another overbearing governor in New York—except when they do. Earlier this month, Politico reported on New York City’s struggle to provide for the tens of thousands of homeless asylum seekers who have arrived on its streets this year. Mayor Eric Adams has spent months calling for more help from the federal government. Some believe that Hochul could be doing more, too. One lawyer from the Legal Aid Society, for instance, argued to Politico that the Governor could have blocked upstate towns from refusing to accept asylum seekers. “We saw that Governor Cuomo did that during COVID,” the lawyer said. “He said, ‘I’m in charge, these are the rules, local governments cannot make their own rules.’ ”

When he was in office, and even as he was being pushed out of it, Cuomo argued that New York needed someone like him, willing to steamroller mayors and do whatever else he deemed necessary to get things done. He is not the first leader to convince New Yorkers that what they need is a strong, stern hand at the top. Nostalgia for these figures is often difficult to resist. (Can we finally stop saying that Giuliani deserves “credit” for his bearing after 9/11?) There’s no denying that weak leaders bring their own problems. In November, Hochul won the general election by fewer than six points, contributing to worse-than-expected results for Democratic Party candidates across the state, including in the congressional races, which helped give control of the House to the Republican Party. Notably, her party has stood by her. Progressives barely managed to offer voters an alternative in last year’s gubernatorial primary. Since her disappointing showing in November, Hochul has been bolstered by millions of dollars in fund-raising. The reality is that few people in New York want Cuomo or Cuomoism back. In fact, outside of political circles, few New Yorkers think of Cuomo very much at all these days. That’s unlikely to change, no matter how many checks Anne Overstreet writes in North Carolina. ♦

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