Syracuse, N.Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing the greatest threat of his political life – and he’s not backing down.
But the Democrat’s denials about sexual harassment and misconduct may not be enough to save his career, or even allow him to complete his third term.
If he runs next year for a fourth term, he’d have to campaign as every top Democrat in New York and Washington are abandoning him. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and even President Joe Biden have called for his resignation.
In Albany, Cuomo already was facing intense anger from state Democrats who have started impeachment investigations on multiple fronts – a hostile work environment, data involving nursing home deaths, a lucrative book deal.
Yet Cuomo’s fate changed Tuesday. The state’s top law enforcement official came forward with sworn testimony from 11 women who describe how Cuomo created a hostile work environment, at times filled with sexual innuendos, unwanted touching and kissing by the governor himself.
Some of the women worked for him, fearing retribution if they spoke out. Others didn’t and testified at the shock that Cuomo touched them inappropriately in public. One was a state trooper, sworn to protect the governor.
“I don’t know who would support him,” Sen. Rachel May, D- Syracuse, said.
The governor has denied any intentional wrongdoing. Attorney General Letitia James’s report does not recommend any further action, including criminal charges.
But James did say Cuomo’s actions broke the law, creating a hostile workplace that is unacceptable under state and federal statutes. Plus, the Albany County district attorney confirmed an open investigation into the allegations against Cuomo that are included in the AG’s report.
May said she thinks Cuomo will attempt to ride out the turmoil.
“I think he will try,” she said. “But there’s actual violations of the law in the accusations. And that’s not something he should just be able to brazen through.”
The attorney general’s findings put renewed pressure on state lawmakers to decide the fate of an entrenched and powerful governor who is vowing to stay put.
“It’s time for public proceedings,” said Susan Lerner, the director of Common Cause/ New York. “”It has to be established that no elected official, and certainly not the chief executive, is able to flout the laws they are charged with enforcing. It really is the question of accountability.”
If impeached, Cuomo would be temporarily removed from office while awaiting a verdict.
That means Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul could take over even before a final verdict. On Tuesday, even the usually loyal Hochul said the AG’s investigation documented behavior by Cuomo that was “repulsive and unlawful.”
Statewide, Cuomo’s popularity has slipped in recent months. A poll from Siena College in late June found nearly two-thirds of voters said they were ready for a new governor.
Cuomo’s ability to survive will likely come down to votes – not from state residents in a 2022 election, but from state lawmakers and top judges.
In New York, the Assembly impeaches, or charges, an official with wrongdoing. Then a jury of nearly all state Senators and New York’s top judges deliver the verdict, which must carry a two-thirds majority.
That means it’ll take at least 76 Assembly votes to impeach Cuomo, and another 46 senators and judges to convict him.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R- Pulaski, said he thinks when put to the test, the votes are there to impeach Cuomo. That means at least 33 Assembly Democrats would have to join 43 Republicans to impeach.
“Who’s going to vote against impeaching him?” Barclay said.
In addition to the sexual harassment claims, the Assembly is looking at how Cuomo’s office handled Covid-19 patients and nursing homes, alleged defects on the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and whether the governor used state resources to write his coronavirus memoir.
“This is not the end of it,” Sen. John Mannion, D-Geddes, said. “That’s just one of the investigations that’s going on. I expect that action will come soon.”
So far, the Assembly’s impeachment committee has met four times. Another meeting is scheduled for Monday. Much of their work has been in private executive sessions.
The committee, led by Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Long Island, has hired an outside law firm to research the accusations against Cuomo.
In many ways, Cuomo’s ultimate fate rests with one man: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, another Democrat. He holds the power to bring legislation to the Assembly floor – a move Albany leaders rarely make unless they have the votes.
Heastie had stopped short of calling for Cuomo’s resignation.
Now, the speaker says, Cuomo’s time is over. Heastie said the Assembly would step up its impeachment proceedings.
“After our conference this afternoon to discuss the Attorney General’s report concerning sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo,” Heastie said in a statement Tuesday afternoon,” it is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office.”
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