Andrew Cuomo’s resignation marks the end of an era of political dominance such as we may never know again. Not since Nelson Rockefeller, the grandson of perhaps the richest man in history, has one governor so determined the affairs of New York. And not since Robert Moses, the original power broker, has one man lusted for such influence.
Cuomo is finished because the state attorney general, Letitia James, determined that he sexually harassed and groped nearly a dozen women, many of them current and former staffers, fostering a culture of intimidation and abuse. The report laid out the facts in stark detail and just about everyone in New York state who mattered politically believed the women. In a remarkably short time after the report’s release just one week ago, the state’s most powerful actors—the labor unions, the legislative leaders, the corporate donors—decided Cuomo was worth abandoning. With impeachment likely and conviction in the Democrat-dominated state Senate even more assured, Cuomo was finished. His choice was forced removal from office or resignation in disgrace.
Unlike most other politicians felled in sex scandals, there were many other reasons for driving Cuomo from public life. He mismanaged the pandemic and purposely hid the true death toll in nursing homes. He made $5 million writing a propaganda memoir last year, engineering state policy to make himself look better in the media.
Cuomo fell so quickly because he had no friends in politics. Instead, his relationships were built on convenience or outright fear. From the moment he took office in 2011, Cuomo made it clear that he would try to end the political careers of those who stood against him. The governor is constitutionally invested with extraordinary power, and it was in hashing out the state budget in the dead of night that Cuomo’s flex was most evident. That was where he forced New York City to pay the rent of charter schools—and granted sweeping legal immunity to the nursing homes and hospitals where coronavirus patients would die. That was where he, whenever he could, reverted to the triangulating, left-loathing Democrat he always wanted to be, attempting to slash funding to public hospitals and public universities. For almost his entire tenure, he allowed Republicans to control the state Senate—better to frustrate the ambitions of those who believed in the activist, humane government that meant little to him. No legislator, county executive, or mayor could stand against Cuomo. He was the unquestioned king.
There were accomplishments. In his first year, when not battling public-sector labor unions, Cuomo took on the Republicans and passed same-sex marriage in the state. It was a worthwhile feat—and one that Cuomo hoped would placate the left for the next decade. Subsequent achievements came only through concerted pressure, yielded to with great reluctance. Cuomo, a shill for real estate developers and landlords, signed off on tenant protections and criminal justice reforms only when Democrats took control, finally, of the state Senate in 2019. He raised the minimum wage—after belittling the idea for years—only so Democrats in the Legislature couldn’t use the issue as a cudgel against Republicans in a pivotal election cycle. Taxes on the wealthy, whenever he could, he ruled out.
Then there was the corruption and the incompetence. His closest aide, Joe Percoco, went to prison for quarterbacking a corruption scheme out of the governor’s office. Cuomo was not charged, but no one had a closer relationship with Percoco. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the entity that oversees all public transit in the state, wasted tremendous amounts of money and failed to provide adequate service during Cuomo’s governorship. In full control of the MTA, Cuomo preferred to focus on vanity projects like a bridge named after his father and expensive, odd light shows.
In the end, Cuomo was Robert Moses without the Master Builder’s sweep, Richard Nixon sans the self-made hustle. He was the prince in every sense, the son of a three-term governor he longed to surpass. Mario Cuomo accomplished even less than his son would—but was broadly much more popular, a beacon for liberals in the Reagan ’80s, thanks to one stirring speech delivered at the Democratic convention. Cuomo the younger learned much from his father, a deceptively bare-knuckled political fighter, but took certain lessons to heart over others. His father was too cerebral, too soft; he would be, he vowed to himself, something better.
Only he wasn’t. Mario Cuomo, upon his death, was sanctified by the political class. The eulogies were earnest and tear-choked. An era of New York had passed and many who lived it professed to have missed it since. No one will miss Andrew Cuomo’s 2010s.
The next governor of New York will be the lieutenant he had little regard for, Kathy Hochul. A Buffalo-area Democrat, she will be New York’s first female governor. Added to the ticket for regional balance seven years ago, Hochul was an afterthought in the Cuomo administration, not mentioned once in his memoir. A genial moderate who will need to run for reelection next year, Hochul will not be able to frustrate the left like Cuomo did for a decade. In two weeks, when Hochul takes office, it will be a very different New York.
The first line of Andrew Cuomo’s obituary, many years hence, will note that he left office in disgrace. He can still be impeached; the state Assembly, sick of his act, might want to bar him from running ever again. The Senate might well go along with it. Cuomo, at the apex of his powers, never hesitated to salt wounds, to kick sand in the eyes of those who tried to stand in his way. He governed without mercy. He does not deserve any now.