Amid increasing calls to resign, Cuomo finds few allies in Albany. How it happened

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2021-03-08 20:36:24

ALBANY – In 2011, newly-elected Gov. Andrew Cuomo recognized the need to work collegially with the state Legislature after his predecessor Eliot Spitzer burned up his relationship with lawmakers within his first year.

“While I went to the people for support, my message did not demonize or alienate the legislators,” Cuomo wrote in his 2014 book “All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life.”

“I wanted them with me and believed I could get them.”

Now, more than 10 years into his tenure, Cuomo’s relationship with the co-equal Legislature is in tatters, the culmination of years of battles with lawmakers that leaves him with little goodwill at the most vulnerable moment of his career.

It has led to a growing group of lawmakers to call on him to resign over sexual harassment allegations and purposefully undercounting the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.

“At this time, I believe that Governor Cuomo can best serve the people of New York by resigning from office and allowing Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul to serve out the rest of his term,” Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, D-Nyack, Rockland County, said in a statement Sunday.

The allegations against Cuomo would be enough alone to strain any relationship between two the two branches of government on their own, but Cuomo’s tenuous political future is worsened by the disdain that many lawmakers already felt toward him, political observers said.

“He has a paucity of friends all over,” said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. “After three terms of hardball governor, he’s made a lot, a lot of enemies.”

It’s the experience that Spitzer faced in 2008 when he contemplated whether to resign after he was caught soliciting prostitutes. He didn’t think he could survive in part because lawmakers were threatening to impeach him; he had quickly worn out his welcome with lawmakers because of his hard-charging style.

For Cuomo, at least 16 of the Senate’s 63 senators have called for his resignation, led Sunday by its Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, didn’t go as far as Stewart-Cousins, saying instead, “I think it is time for the Governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York.”

More: Cuomo administration recrafted report on nursing homes to conceal death count: reports

Cuomo battling to stay in office

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to members of New York state's Electoral College before voting for President and Vice President in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to members of New York state’s Electoral College before voting for President and Vice President in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

The Democratic governor was defiant Sunday. He said he would not resign, saying it was the people not the politicians who elected him.

He urged the Democrat-controlled Legislature to wait until an investigation by Attorney General Letitia James into the sexual harassment allegations is finished before lawmakers make any judgment.

“So no, there is no way I resign,” he told reporters on a conference call. “Let’s do the Attorney General investigation, let’s get the findings, and then we’ll go from there.”

But the pressure on lawmakers to act more swiftly is growing — both from the left and the right.

The small but influential Working Families Party, who has long sparred with Cuomo, urged legislators to impeach Cuomo if he doesn’t resign

“If the Governor continues to disregard the wellbeing of New Yorkers and refuses to step down, then the Assembly must embrace its constitutional duty and begin impeachment proceedings to remove the Governor from office immediately,” the party’s state director Sochie Nnaemeka said in a statement Sunday.

An impeachment would start with a majority vote in the state Assembly, where Democrats hold more than 100 of the 150 seats and Republicans would certainly be on board with impeachment.

Then, an impeachment trial would be heard jointly by the Senate and Court of Appeals. A two-thirds majority vote would be required to convict Cuomo and remove him from office.

So that means 46 votes would be required, which would need to be a mix of Democrats and Republicans.

More: Amid heat on Andrew Cuomo, Democrats face pressure to weigh in. Here’s why

More: Andrew Cuomo refuses to resign as NY Senate leader says he should step down

What happens next?

A billboard urging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign is seen near downtown on March 2, 2021 in Albany, New York. The governor is facing calls to resign after three women have come forward accusing him of unwanted advances.

A billboard urging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign is seen near downtown on March 2, 2021 in Albany, New York. The governor is facing calls to resign after three women have come forward accusing him of unwanted advances.

Stewart-Cousins’ call for Cuomo to resign is one step, and Cuomo got out ahead of her announcement Sunday to make it clear he wouldn’t do so.

So the sides may be at an immediate standstill as they also look to get a complex budget deal done in advance of new fiscal year April 1 and continue to respond to the COVID pandemic, including bolstering the state’s vaccine effort.

Cuomo said the focus now should be on governing as James completes her report.

“This is not about me and accusations about me, the Attorney General can handle that,” Cuomo said. “This is about doing the people’s business, and this next six months I believe will determine the future trajectory for New York State.”

Cuomo found one influential ally: Hazel Dukes, president of the New York NAACP. She said in a statement Sunday that lawmakers should trust James, the first Black attorney general.

The statement was distributed by the state Democratic Committee, which Cuomo controls.

“Calls for the resignation of the Governor are premature and undermine the duty and responsibility of Attorney General Tish James to conduct the independent investigation that so many of us have called for,” Dukes said in the statement.

Still, Stewart-Cousins and Heastie may face internal pressure from their members to move swiftly against Cuomo as so far four former Cuomo aides, all women, have publicly expressed uncomfortable exchanges with the 63-year-old governor.

Democrats could face pressure from the left and the right to impeach Cuomo if he won’t leave, especially as they head into primary season next year and into the general election in November 2022.

And lawmakers are more independent than in recent times with younger, more vocal members who are less beholden to the legislative leaders than in the past.

“We need trust and transparency from our leadership, and we must demand a higher standard for those who have been elected to lead our state and our nation,” Sen. Samra Brouk, a freshman Democrat from Monroe County, said in a statement.

“It’s time for Gov. Cuomo to step down and allow our state to heal from the damage that has been caused.”

More: Cuomo chastised states, Trump for obscuring COVID information. Now he’s accused of the same

Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany

This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Andrew Cuomo finds few Albany allies amid growing calls to resign

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