It’s premature to compare New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Humpty Dumpty. But he has taken a great fall, much to the dismay of those of us who have admired his leadership during the early months of the pandemic.
Whether “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” can put him together again, who can say?
Right-wing media have jumped on Cuomo’s recent travails with undisguised glee. Nothing like a famous Democrat in trouble to get the juices flowing.
This week, his former aide Lindsey Boylan, a Democrat who’s running for Manhattan borough president, posted an online essay on the website Medium accusing him of sexual harassment, including an unwanted kiss in his Manhattan office and an invitation to play strip poker on a government plane upstate.
Last December, when she first posted a preliminary complaint on Twitter, Cuomo stated that “I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has. But it’s just not true.”
Her most recent claims of inappropriate behavior “are quite simply false,” according to Caitlin Girouard, the governor’s press secretary. The governor’s office put out a statement from four current and former administration officials who were aboard one or more of the four flights in October 2017 when Ms. Boylan had accompanied the governor.
“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” the statement said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, often at odds with Cuomo, stated: “These allegations are really disturbing. We need a full and independent investigation. I want to emphasize the word ‘independent’ investigation — by some individual or entity that is not compromised, is not something that is dominated by the governor’s office, but an independent investigation, because this is just unacceptable.”
Cuomo’s job approval rating dropped to 48 percent in a Marist poll released this week, before those allegations surfaced. Only 36 percent of registered voters said he deserves to be reelected to a fourth term next year, while 58 percent said it’s “time to elect someone else.”
As reported by The New York Times, three people who worked in the governor’s office during Ms. Boylan’s time there said that while they could not corroborate her allegations, they acknowledged that the governor would sometimes make inappropriate remarks and comment on people’s appearances.
According to Ashley Cotton, an aide to Cuomo when he was state attorney general more than 10 years ago, “I’ve known and spent over 20 years working with Andrew Cuomo — he is the same person in private as he is in public. He can be funny, he can make lousy jokes, he can be tough and direct. But I have never known him to cross the line.”
Nevertheless, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, told CBS 6 News in Albany on Thursday that “everyone has a right to be heard and to speak their truth and have it be investigated; I think that’s something that will be up to the Legislature to do.”
Earlier this month came the revelation that the governor’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, had disclosed in a private meeting with state lawmakers that the administration had withheld data on the full extent of deaths of nursing home residents during the pandemic.
Then, Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim alleged that Cuomo had threatened to “destroy” him in a phone call after Kim publicly criticized his administration’s handling of the nursing home controversy.
The governor’s office called Kim a liar, and Cuomo publicly attacked him during one of his televised coronavirus briefings.
Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation and Republican state lawmakers want to strip Cuomo of his pandemic-related emergency powers. There have even been calls for him to resign.
As the week began, The Times offered a deeply reported front-page article describing the governor’s long-standing pattern of aggression, including incidents when he berated aides, bullied elected officials and threatened political opponents over the years. Some former staffers called the governor’s offic a toxic workplace run by a demanding and controlling boss who governs by fear and retribution.
The story, based on interviews with more than three dozen legislators, political consultants, former state and city officials and New York political veterans, depicted Cuomo, 63, as “a talented and deft politician whose tendency toward aggression can seem out of step in an age when abusive behavior in the workplace or in professional surroundings is increasingly called out and often censured.”
Cuomo’s defenders cite his increasingly progressive record as governor. Some describe his bursts of anger as an “executive skill” that promotes an image of strength.
A former spokesman for Mayor de Blasio has described the governor as “a master of brutalist political theater,” and a longtime friend, Ken Sunshine, points out that “we’re from a place called New York. It’s not for the timid.”
In one of his early televised briefings, Cuomo ended by declaring: “Love wins, always.”
Most of those updates include the exhortation: “We are New York tough, smart, united, disciplined and loving.”
If the governor intended this as his personal motto, it rings a discordant note right now, despite his flashes of charisma and charm.
I’ve heard he has a nickname, “Andrew tough guy,” and, in the past, he has bounced back from challenging times.
This time — especially if offered in a sincere, “mea culpa” TV appearance — a lot less “tough,” and a lot more loving might help. Then again, it may be that too many lines have been crossed.