As Kathy Hochul prepares to become New York’s first female governor, many of the men and women who ran the Andrew Cuomo administration remain in positions of power. Cuomo, who announced his resignation in the wake of a state attorney general’s report that detailed his sexual harassment of current and former staffers, governed with the help of a cadre of loyalists and sycophants. To exist in Cuomo’s orbit was to always do his bidding. Allegiance to the executive often mattered far more than competence.
The Letitia James report named many of the Cuomo figures who created the abusive culture of his administration. Some are already gone. Melissa DeRosa, who was the highest-ranked member of the administration, resigned two days before her boss. Alphonso David, Cuomo’s former counsel, was already in the private sector when he helped release the personnel file of a woman who accused Cuomo of harassment.
But other prominent Cuomo loyalists may claw for positions in the Hochul administration. The new governor, who takes office in less than two weeks, should purge them all, starting with a few key Cuomo acolytes.
Cuomo’s bilious press secretary and senior adviser has been a bulldog for the administration since its early days. Among reporters or anyone who criticized Cuomo, he was notorious for releasing barbed, personalized statements that attacked their character. Like other Cuomo staffers, he often shouted through phone lines and sniped on Twitter. During the investigation, Azzopardi made ad feminam attacks on James directly. Her report made it clear that Azzopardi was one of the top staffers fueling a smear campaign against the first woman to accuse Cuomo of harassment, Lindsey Boylan, sending confidential personnel files to several journalists. Perhaps no one, outside of DeRosa, was more blindly loyal to Cuomo. Hochul needs a new press shop, and that can only happen if Azzopardi doesn’t work there.
Garvey worked for more than a decade as counsel to the state Senate Republicans before Cuomo tapped her to serve as his special counsel, overseeing negotiations with the Legislature. Cuomo enjoyed pulling staffers from the Republican conference because he helped them keep control of the upper chamber for most of his tenure. Republican staff shared his austerity-minded ideology and general hatred of the progressive left. Garvey would go on to aggressively defend Cuomo when women began coming forward and accusing the governor of sexual harassment. There is no reason for Hochul to keep Garvey in her administration, given her history with the senate Republicans—an obstacle to many pro-tenant, pro-choice bills—and willingness to fight on Cuomo’s behalf.
No man, perhaps, wielded more tangible power in the Cuomo administration than Mujica, his budget director. Like Garvey, he had worked for the Senate Republicans. Like Garvey, he brought his budget-slashing mindset to Cuomo’s inner circle, where he was empowered during the pandemic to enact devastating cuts to social services, K-12 schools, and public colleges. Mujica still sits on the CUNY Board of Trustees, where he was happy to recommend the kind of punishing cuts that destabilized New York City colleges serving working-class immigrants. Mujica was a consistent voice against raising taxes on the rich, which would have helped the state avoid such chaos until federal aid arrived. Among Democratic lawmakers in Albany, few Cuomo administration officials were reviled more. Currently, Mujica sits on more than 30 boards, including the MTA and the Public Authorities Control Board. There is no reason to keep him in any of these positions. Any attempt to turn the page on the Cuomo administration must begin with dismissing Mujica.
Schwartz was one of the worst kinds of Cuomo loyalists—a perpetual presence in the administration even after he departed for the private sector. A veteran political operative who had spent decades doing his master’s bidding—he was most notorious, before 2021, for helping Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission set up to root out corruption in state government—Schwartz served as the unpaid vaccine “czar” of New York, deciding how life-saving coronavirus vaccines would be doled out in the early months of 2021. New York’s rollout was far from smooth, with confusing rules restricting access and Cuomo threatening million-dollar fines on health care providers who handed out vaccines to people technically forbidden from receiving them. Most egregiously, Schwartz mixed politics with vaccine distribution, gauging various county executives’ loyalties to Cuomo while performing his duties. Schwartz, of course, had no background in public health and eventually resigned when he came under fire. But he remains, like Mujica, a member of the MTA board and it will be up to Hochul to quickly remove him.
Dr. Howard Zucker
Zucker is still the New York State Health commissioner. Unlike other public health experts in other states, Zucker was as much a political functionary as an independent health authority, defending Cuomo’s most dubious and potentially illegal activities during the pandemic. Zucker was at the center of the ongoing nursing home scandal. He helped author and defend the directive—which he would inaccurately claim had been issued by the CDC—to send Covid-positive patients from hospitals back to nursing homes. That policy likely led to the further spread of the coronavirus in health care facilities. Later, Zucker defended the practice of counting nursing home deaths only if residents actually died on the premises. For reasons having no basis in public health or general accuracy, New York did not include deaths in the nursing home tally if a resident happened to be transferred to a hospital to die there. Zucker actively blocked legislators, journalists, and outside advocates from receiving the true nursing home death tally. It was only in 2021, when Attorney General James released a report on nursing homes that New York revised its tally properly, increasing the death toll by more than 50 percent. Federal investigators continue to probe the Cuomo administration over this scandal. Hochul should waste no time in dumping Zucker.