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‘Difficult to see the way forward’: Cuomo besieged by mounting crises

New allegations emerged this week from former assistant Lindsey Boylan, who says Cuomo kissed her without her consent, suggested a game of strip poker while on a business trip, and made other inappropriate comments. .

As the governor struggled to deal with the fallout from the scandal, one of his senior cabinet members was at a stalemate Thursday with state lawmakers at the expense of the other: the revelation that his administration during months failed to report the deaths of thousands of patients had been hospitalized with Covid-19.

That controversy exploded last week when Assembly Member Ron Kim (D-Queens) said Cuomo called him and threatened to destroy his career because of his criticism at nursing homes, drawing attention on Cuomo’s long history of hardball tactics that some describe as harassment and abuse.

Cuomo’s growing number of detractors now includes Republicans, progressives, good types of government, and women’s rights advocates, among others. For his detractors, the two controversies are not unrelated.

“Sexual harassment is a form of abuse of power, and when you fully compose it – the hidden but now public harassment and what we have already seen in broad daylight by Cuomo – you can profile the type of abuse. power that it really does, ”said Erica Vladimer, a former legislative staff member who accused her then-boss of sexual harassment and co-founded an advocacy group to fight a culture of such behavior in Albany.

Contrary to questions about his political decisions, friends and foes alike have characterized the new attacks on Cuomo’s character as self-inflicted. His decision to call out and berate Kim – and Kim’s decision to air it publicly – opened a door for others with similar experiences, New York GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said during a discussion Thursday that the party organized virtually with its counterpart in California.

“Cuomo made a very big mistake in doing this because Assemblyman Kim took the age-old advice on how to deal with a bully – that he fought back, fought back, and in doing so, inspired many others. to tell their own stories of and this governor’s abusive behavior, ”Langworthy said.

The allegations were enough to make Emmy-winning Cuomo’s briefings disappear for at least a day: The governor canceled a virtual press conference that was scheduled for Wednesday as a struggling administration and tired staff nearly turned exactly towards a new type of crisis. one year after the discovery of the first Covid-19 case in the state.

For a governor who has been in the public eye so much over the past year, his silence in recent days has been remarkable.

“The moment requires more than hiding, but it is not yet here,” said an administration official.

Cuomo is a self-proclaimed reducer and repairman, but an allegation of sexual misconduct is not something that can easily be stopped by political machination or a pivot. “‘The car has broken down and I’m going to start it?’ Well that’s not the right metaphor [for now]”Said the manager.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, another frequent enemy, on Thursday joined calls from Republicans and fellow Democrats for an independent inquiry into the sexual harassment allegations.

“These allegations are truly disturbing,” he told reporters. “We need a full and independent investigation. I want to emphasize the word ‘independent’ investigation – by a person or entity that is not compromised, is not something that is dominated by the governor’s office , but an independent investigation, because it is simply unacceptable.

Cuomo’s poll numbers have already suffered from the nursing home scandal. His approval rate for the job fell to 48% in a Marist poll released this week. Only 36% of registered voters said Cuomo deserved to be re-elected for a fourth term, while 58% said it was “time to elect someone else.” This investigation came out before Boylan released his harassment story.

“He’s not dead yet, but he’s taken a heavy blow. I think New Yorkers are paying attention like they haven’t before, ”said Republican consultant Jessica Proud.

“It’s hard to see how to do it for him. He’s someone who will definitely sink into his clutches, and I don’t think he will resign of his own free will, ”she said. “He will essentially be a governor who will not function.”

However, any effort to defeat Cuomo will come up against its own obstacles. Despite growing calls for an investigation into the harassment allegations, there is no clear roadmap for such an investigation. Albany’s main investigative body, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, is largely controlled by the governor.

Some have called for an investigation by State Attorney General Tish James or the special prosecutor she may appoint. She, too, has been an ally of Cuomo, but recently asserted her independence: it was her investigation that first found that the state had underestimated nursing home deaths by around 50%. The state’s top Republican lawmakers on Wednesday sent a letter requesting an investigation into the harassment allegations.

We don’t know what James might do if she decides to get involved. The New York attorney general’s office has broad jurisdiction to rule on state ethics matters, but these have historically been assumed on a situational basis. A spokesperson for James’ office said he was reviewing the letter from GOP lawmakers, but did not comment further.

Supporters of anti-harassment reforms are calling for a permanent dismissal – either from the legislature or the executive – giving the attorney general the power to investigate, publish reports and, if necessary, prosecute cases of sexual misconduct .

It would give more clarity as to who should tackle this issue and any other civil or criminal investigation that may arise in the future, said Zephyr Teachout, Fordham law professor and Cuomo critic who presented himself. both for the governor and the attorney general on democratic lines.

“In Albany, sexual misconduct, silence and retaliation have gone hand in hand with corruption,” she said. “People who are harassed in Albany repeatedly feel trapped because the places they could complain about are all deeply tied to the structures of power.”

“Obviously, I’ve been criticizing Andrew Cuomo for a long time,” Teachout added. “But this moment is different because of the national exposure level.”

If Cuomo follows through on his plan to run for office next year, no clear challenger has yet emerged.

The governor pushed the main challengers to his left in 2018 and 2014, and observers say that to stand a chance next year, a rival Democrat would have to be able to make inroads among voters of color in New York City.

“The only candidates who could beat him are those who could beat him at his base,” said Democratic consultant Rebecca Katz, who worked on Cynthia Nixon’s 2018 campaign. “New York City has been very strong for Cuomo. And if a progressive challenger comes close to beating him, they have to beat him in New York.

James and Williams are considered among the strongest potential challengers, but none have yet said whether they will show up.

“I’m not focused on that,” said Williams, who narrowly lost a candidate for lieutenant governor to Cuomo’s No.2 Kathy Hochul in 2018.

Williams said the latest revelations about the governor’s tactics were “neither new nor surprising.”

“They have just been hidden in plain sight for so long,” he told POLITICO. “He didn’t get the exposure that was definitely warranted for many, many years. And if it did, New York State might be in better shape.

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