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“The Socialists May Take Over”: As Cuomo Races to Make Himself Essential, Progressives Smell Blood in the Water

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If this were a heavyweight fight, the referee would have stepped in and mercifully stopped the beating by now. But because it is politics, and because the guy absorbing the blows is New York governor Andrew Cuomo, the bobbing and weaving—and some counterpunching—will continue.

On Thursday evening, one of the three women who have recently accused Cuomo of sexual harassment sat for her first national television interview. Former Cuomo administration aide Charlotte Bennett repeated her allegations of sexual harassment by the governor and added cringey new details, telling CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell that Cuomo asked if Bennett, a sexual assault survivor, “had trouble enjoying being with someone because of my trauma.… The governor asked me if I was sensitive to intimacy.”

Hours later The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal broke similar, deeply reported stories about Cuomo’s other major scandal: his yearlong attempt to jigger the complete number of nursing home patients killed by COVID. Both outlets reported that a number of the governor’s top advisers had, in the spring of 2020, rewritten a New York State Health Department report to subtract nursing home patients who had been transferred to hospitals from the death toll, shrinking the tragic count by the thousands—at the same time that Cuomo was beginning to write a book extolling the “leadership lessons” to be gleaned from his management of the pandemic.

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Cuomo has denied accusations by former aide Lindsey Boylan that he planted an unwanted kiss on her lips. On Wednesday, in his first public appearance in about a week, he apologized to Bennett and to Anna Ruch—a stranger who says the governor suddenly kissed her at a 2019 wedding reception—though with the significant caveat, “if they were offended by it, then it was wrong…. If that’s how they felt, that’s all that matters and I apologize.” On the nursing home front, Cuomo’s answer to what the Times and the Journal reported is basically more of the same: that his administration did not have confidence in the accuracy of the COVID death numbers reported by hospitals, and so, unlike other states, separated them from the total in the report released last July by the state Department of Health. Beth Garvey, a special counsel to Cuomo, told the papers that “the out-of-facility data was omitted after DOH could not confirm it had been adequately verified.” Which is true, as far as it goes: Cuomo’s team also actively resisted, for months, calls by reporters and state legislators to turn over its statistics for nursing home patients who had died amid the pandemic. 

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Perhaps the timing of the latest nursing home stories, coming rapidly on the heels of the sexual harassment stories, was coincidental. But the political momentum has shifted against Cuomo, and it is accelerating. Critics who might previously have been kept quiet by the governor’s towering public-approval ratings and his strong-arm tactics—and enemies who have long chafed at those tactics—are seizing an opening. Cuomo is less concerned about attacks from his long-standing adversaries on the left; he is, however, keenly watching what the leaders of the state legislature do and say. Ominously, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, told an Albany interviewer on Thursday of the sexual harassment allegations, “If any further people [come] forward, I would think it would be time for him to resign.”

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A day earlier, Cuomo had resolutely said he would not be quitting. The governor’s survival strategy is to stay on his feet, keep moving forward by demonstrating that he’s focused on doing “the job the people of the state elected me to do,” and to play for time. On that last point there was some provisionally good news for Cuomo: a Quinnipiac poll taken after Bennett’s allegations, but before the new nursing home stories, showed Cuomo’s public approval down but still respectable, with New York Democrats approving of his job performance by a wide margin, 65-27%, and a majority of all voters saying he should not resign. Perhaps more significant to Cuomo’s chances of hanging onto his job through the end of his third term in 2022 is that, as of Friday morning, state attorney general Letitia James had not yet chosen a law firm to independently investigate the sexual harassment allegations against the governor. 

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