Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo provided the playbook for his own ousting when he served as New York’s attorney general, both through precedent established over his career and legislation he personally signed.
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will soon resign his post in the wake of two scandals. The primary scandal is Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment of 11 women, which he still denies despite an independent investigation commissioned by New York Attorney General Letitia James finding that he had violated state and federal law. The second is Cuomo’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state’s nursing homes, which has killed more than 15,000 New York nursing home residents.
Legislation signed by Cuomo in 2019 may have led to the investigators’ determination that he violated state law. The legislation, part of the governor’s 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda, eliminated the requirement that harassment had to be “severe or pervasive” to be legally actionable for employees, among other things. Cuomo also signed a piece of legislation that required all New York State employers to enact sexual harassment prevention policies and procedures, according to Newsweek.
The report unveiled by the state attorney general claimed that Cuomo’s office had a “lack of clear understanding and enforcement of the sexual harassment policies and procedures—particularly the mechanism for reporting potential sexual harassment—within the Chamber exacerbated the difficulty that employees experienced in having their allegations of sexual harassment heard and addressed, and their rights protected.”
Sharyn Tejani, the director of the National Women’s Law Center TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, told Newsweek that this line of the report indicates that Cuomo failed to follow his own laws regarding sexual harassment prevention. “Whatever training there was did not sufficiently ensure that workers knew how to report or proper steps in reporting,” Tejani claimed.
Further, Cuomo’s own fall echos the political takedowns which brought him to power.
During his tenure as attorney general, Cuomo oversaw a number of high-profile investigations, including an investigation into then-Democratic New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer came under pressure from various investigations and a sex scandal of his own and resigned his post as governor in March 2008. Cuomo used his elevated public profile from his time as attorney general to become governor of New York.
In the 2006 Democratic primary for attorney general, Cuomo bested the field by more than 20 points. Even prior to his election to the post, Cuomo’s political aspirations were clear: Follow in his father’s footsteps and become New York’s governor. He launched an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2002. But, his election as the state’s attorney general — beating former Westchester district attorney and current Fox News host Jeanine Pirro handily — led the Democratic chairwoman of St. Lawrence County at the time to declare Cuomo “New York’s own Comeback Kid,” The New York Times reported.
Cuomo’s most important investigation was his investigation into Spitzer’s efforts to politically surveil the Republican New York Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno at time time, which came to be known as “Troopergate.”
Cuomo’s report as attorney general found that Spitzer’s administration attempted to create media coverage damaging to Bruno before media outlets submitted Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests by keeping special records of him as he was escorted by police in New York City, according to The New York Times.
Emails obtained during the investigation showed “that persons in the governor’s office did not merely produce records under a FOIL request, but were instead engaged in planning and producing media coverage concerning Senator Bruno’s travel on state aircraft before any FOIL request was made,” the report read, the Washington Post reported. The governor’s staff also apparently attempted to cover up their requests made to State Police in their effort to track and leak Bruno’s whereabouts to harm him politically, a report from The New York Times claimed.
Cuomo’s office determined that Spitzer’s administration was not acting in accordance with the law then they released these fraudulent state travel records, as noted by a prosecutor who contributed to the attorney general’s report, according to the Buffalo News.
Cuomo’s probe into Spitzer’s conduct unleashed a torrent of other investigations by relevant authorities. The State Senate Investigations Committee, the Albany County District Attorney’s office, and the New York Commission on Public Integrity all opened their own probes into Troopergate.
Spitzer ended up resigning on March 12, 2008 because of a prostitution scandal. Spitzer allegedly met with a $1,000 an hour escort from a service called Emperors Club VIP for two hours, The New York Times reported on March 10, 2008. Spitzer paid up to $80,000 for prostitutes over several years — dating back to when Spitzer was attorney general himself, according to The New York Post. Of that sum, Spitzer paid Emperors Club VIP $15,000 for at least seven or eight meetings with different escorts, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I cannot allow for my private failings to disrupt the people’s work. Over the course of my public life, I have insisted—I believe correctly—that people take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor,” Spitzer said, announcing his resignation.
Spitzer was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor David Paterson before Cuomo was elected as governor in 2010.
Like Spitzer, Cuomo’s resignation came off the heels of a damning report released by the New York attorney general’s office, while other investigative bodies investigated his culpability in covering up COVID-19 death data from the state’s nursing homes.
The investigation, performed by independent parties, found that Cuomo “sexually harassed multiple women and violated federal and state law,” James said at an Aug. 3 press conference announcing its findings. (RELATED: Cuomo’s Resignation Shows Just How Skewed Our Moral Compass Is)
“Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women,” James went on to say during the press conference.
Ultimately, James stopped short of recommending criminal charges to be brought against the sitting governor, even though the report “revealed conduct that corrodes the very fabric and character of our state government and shines light on injustice that can be present at the highest levels of government.”