Kathy Hochul to take office August 24 as first woman governor
“In my mind I’ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I did not
fully appreciate. And I should have known. No excuses.”
—Governor Andrew Cuomo
As an obscure ancient Greek philosopher is supposed to have said, “Character is destiny.”
Greek dramatists introduced the concept of “hubris,” a character flaw that will lead to a hero’s inevitable downfall. The Greek tragedy metaphor has been used by at least one politician to refer to Governor Cuomo’s reversal of fortune, though right now there’d be few who would call him a hero.
Cuomo seems by his own admission to have operated and acted in a Mad Men-type manner in an age of “Me Too.” On Aug. 10, he announced that he will step down on Aug. 24 and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul will be sworn in as New York’s 57th governor. Cuomo has been in office since Jan. 1, 2011 and was expected to seek a fourth term to surpass his father Mario’s three.
Though he might escape the tabloid press moniker “Gropinator”—his former executive assistant Brittany Commisso accused him of groping her in the governor’s mansion—the governor has been exposed as a hypocrite after the devastating report on his sexual harassment allegations was released by Attorney General Letitia James on Aug. 3.
A press release from her office concluded that “Governor Cuomo did sexually harass multiple women—including former and current state employees—by engaging in unwanted groping, kissing, hugging and making inappropriate comments. Further, the governor and his senior staff took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story. Finally, the Executive Chamber fostered a ‘toxic’ workplace that enabled harassment to occur and created a hostile work environment. The investigators find that Governor Cuomo’s actions and those of the Executive Chamber violated multiple state and federal laws, as well as the Executive Chamber’s own written policies.”
Ironically, Cuomo had championed legislation to strengthen anti-sexual harassment laws in the state. In 2018, he stated, “Sexual harassment of women is real. It is undeniable. And this is the moment in history to make it end once and for all. And New York is going to be the state to do it. It ends here and it ends now.”
Though the governor, like every state employee, was supposed to take an annual sexual harassment training course, there is controversy as to whether he ever did. It is reported that an aide took one test for him and signed his name to the paper indicating completion.
Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D–Glen Cove) is leading the Assembly Judiciary Committee investigation into Cuomo’s alleged improprieties, not only the harassment but also the disputed number of nursing home deaths early in the pandemic, as well as whether state laws were violated in producing Cuomo’s book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Had Cuomo remained in office, the committee was certain to recommend impeachment, after which the governor would be tried by the Senate and the highest court, the Court of Appeals. The last impeachment of a governor took place more than 100 years ago.
On Aug. 13, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that, with Cuomo’s resignation, the impeachment process will not proceed.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D–Buffalo) told Brian Lehrer of WNYC that the civil and criminal cases will go on regardless of whether impeachment proceedings happen or not. She was referring to several prosecutors around the state who said they will look into investigating the governor.
Acting Nassau County District Attorney Joyce A. Smith said in a statement, “We are reviewing the deeply disturbing findings of the Attorney General’s report regarding the Governor’s alleged conduct. We have requested the Attorney General’s records related to any incidents that occurred in Nassau County and will thoroughly and expeditiously investigate any potential crimes.”
It seemed at one point that Cuomo was willing to hold on to power and defend himself via the impeachment process. But the total collapse of support gave him no choice but to resign.
Many doubt Cuomo will run for office again. With potential court cases that might put him in legal jeopardy, he might even be barred from seeking an elected office.
His enduring legacy will probably be the big projects that he pushed through. These included the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Long Island Rail Road Expansion Project, the airport renovations, Moynihan Train Hall and the East Side Access Tunnel.
In the social sphere, he championed marriage equality well before the Supreme Court legalized it. There was also the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana.
In the economic sphere he managed to achieve something that his father Mario and other predecessors could not—on-time state budgets. He proved his fiscal conservative bona fides by introducing the 2 percent tax cap to put the break on runaway spending and refusing progressives’ push to raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest. Another consequential decision was banning fracking for gas in the state in 2014. He also pushed through a $15 minimum wage while the federal standard has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009.
In a press conference on Aug. 11 Hochul said, “I spoke with Governor Cuomo yesterday and he pledged his full support for a smooth transition.”
Regarding his decision to step down she said, “I believe it is appropriate and in the best interests of the people of the State of New York.”
Hochul, who annually traveled to all 62 counties in her seven years as the state’s second official, pledged that her administration will be transparent. She has already announced she will seek to win election on her own in 2022.
A reporter noted that in the Attorney General’s report several members of the governor’s staff were implicated in trying to discredit the women who accused him of sexual harassment. “Are you planning on keeping any of them around?” she was asked.
She replied, “No one who was named as doing anything unethical in that report will remain in my administration. There will be turnover.”