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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is getting backed into an increasingly tight corner. Since the release of the Attorney General’s report on Tuesday, which detailed sexual harassment allegations against him from 11 different women, a growing chorus of top Democrats — and even some of Cuomo’s closest allies — called for him to step down. In the state legislature, the governor’s critics say his impeachment seems like an inevitability and the only question is how quickly it comes.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, a vocal critic of the governor, told The Uprising “Cuomo does not have any partners at this point in the legislature.”
“Even members who were hesitant to call for resignation are coming out strongly for, not just resignation, but for impeachment,” Kim said. “I don’t see any way out of this for Cuomo. People who were complicit are no longer staying silent. They’re speaking out.”
Attorney General Tish James’ report described Cuomo making inappropriate comments and unwanted advances — including groping, hugging, and kissing — to the women, most of whom were current or former state employees. It also said Cuomo’s aides retaliated against one of the women in violation of state and federal sexual harassment laws.
New York’s impeachment process begins in the Assembly, the lower chamber of the state legislature. If a majority of the Assembly’s 150 members vote to impeach, the case moves on to a High Court of Impeachment, which consists of all the members of the state Senate and seven members of the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. That means, for now, all eyes are on the Democratic majority in the Assembly and speaker Carl Heastie.
In March, as the allegations against Cuomo mounted, Heastie opened an investigation into the governor’s conduct. At the time, some of Cuomo’s critics accused Heastie of “buying time” for the governor by starting the probe rather than immediately beginning formal impeachment. On Tuesday, the speaker called what one Albany source described as an “emergency” conference meeting to discuss the matter. Heading into the meeting, the source said they were confident that Heastie was no longer going to slow walk impeachment given the seriousness of the allegations in the report and its level of detail.
“Carl has no wiggle room now,” said the source, who requested anonymity to discuss the confidential deliberations.
Indeed, after the meeting Heastie, who did not respond to a request for comment, issued a statement saying “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.” Kim, the Assembly member and staunch Cuomo opponent, said no one spoke up for the governor on the call.
“There’s just no way. There’s no way for any sitting lawmaker to want to stand with him and validate him,” Kim said. “I think they want him to resign so they don’t have to be dragged into months of an impeachment process, but if not, I think members are ready and willing to proceed.”
In March, some Assembly members suggested Cuomo deserved due process and advocated for investigation rather than impeachment. And some lawmakers have rallied around the governor in the months since.
State Senator Gustavo Rivera, another vocal Democratic Cuomo critic, suggested the situation has changed with the release of James’ report. Cuomo is not a man known for warmth or for maintaining friendships. Rivera argued the governor’s backers had made a political choice and, with a growing chorus of Democrats from President Biden on down calling for Cuomo’s resignation, his erstwhile allies would see the writing on the wall.
“We all know the people who stood with him were making a cold-blooded political calculation,” Rivera said. “With the president calling on him to step down, they are going to be gone.”
Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment or to provide sources who were willing to speak in the governor’s defense.
With the Assembly seemingly coalescing around impeachment, the real debate is about what that might look like. According to Kim, there are some Assembly members who simply want to focus on the allegations in the attorney general’s report on sexual harassment. Others are calling for articles of impeachment that would encompass allegations the governor’s office covered up nursing home deaths during the early days of the pandemic, which was also the subject of a report from the attorney general, and questions about a lucrative deal he received for a book about his experience running New York during the COVID crisis.
“Some of us are more hesitant to proceed with just the AG’s report. They want to include nursing homes, the book deal, and the other pending investigations,” Kim explained. “They want to put it into one comprehensive package with the thought that, if the governor will fight it, calculating that he may have allies in the Court of Appeals who he has appointed … they need to make a sound legal argument.”
For his part, Kim wants to quickly move forward using the evidence in the attorney general’s report.
“I, for one, think it’s most dangerous to give him any kind of air or time,” Kim said of Cuomo. “We have enough. We need to proceed.”
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, another one of Cuomo’s more prominent Democratic critics, also believes the Assembly should move as quickly as possible.
“We just have to remember that every single time that we are delaying something, every single day that goes by without us actually taking action in the Assembly, that we are putting all the staff, all the women who work with him another day in danger,” said Niou. “We should try to draft things as quickly as possible.”
Niou has drafted up her own articles of impeachment focused on what she sees as abuse of power by the governor. While Niou said she agrees “there are many things that we could impeach him on,” she also noted “we have two AG reports already” and time is of the essence.
“There are many things that we could impeach him on,” said Niou. “There is right now a conversation of, ‘Oh, we should get everything.’ But I don’t think that we can. There’s so much … right now the priority should be to make sure that New York can govern.”
The potential impeachment is a stunning change of fortune for Cuomo, who has been in office since 2011 and enjoyed national celebrity during the first days of the pandemic. Just a few years ago, Cuomo, whose father Mario was also governor, was known as someone who tended to get his way in Albany through aggressive backroom dealings that had split potential opposition. Cuomo’s hold over the state capital was ultimately weakened by a new wave of progressive lawmakers who questioned his leadership style and, of course, the women who came forward to detail his alleged misconduct.
Yet even if he is standing alone, Cuomo seems to be trying to get his way one more time. Shortly after the attorney general’s report came out on Tuesday, the governor released prepared responses from his attorneys. He also pushed back in a defiant video where he spoke directly to the camera and vehemently denied all of the accusations.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” Cuomo said. “I am 63-years-old. I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am,”
Cuomo’s video presentation included a nearly two minute montage of photos of him and his family kissing and embracing various people. He argued this showed a photo one woman shared showing him holding her face at a wedding was not untoward. That woman said the governor touched her back and asked to kiss her.
“I’ve been making the same gesture in public all my life,” Cuomo said. “I actually learned it from my mother and from my father. It is meant to convey warmth.”
For Niou, the assemblywoman, the fact Cuomo is fighting back is part of why the legislature needs to move quickly to oust him. She argued a protracted battle will take the focus off pressing issues including pandemic recovery and the homelessness crisis. .
“New Yorkers cannot be without functioning leadership right now,” Niou said. “Our governor right now is focused on a slideshow of hugs and kisses to gaslight survivors of his abuse. So, I think that our leadership needs to act now to accelerate his impeachment and his trial.”