“I AM A New Yorker, born and bred. I am a fighter, and my instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated,” said Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, on August 10th, before switching gears—and resigning. “I work for you and doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you.” In his typical fashion, Mr Cuomo tried to wrestle back control of his story, control that he lost earlier this year when nearly a dozen women, including former and current staffers, accused him of sexual harassment. Even as his political career died, he tried to frame his resignation as an act of public service: “It’s not about me, it’s about we.”
A week earlier, though, “we” (in the form of Letitia James, the state’s attorney-general) published a 165-page report that corroborated the women’s claims. It concluded too that Mr Cuomo and his closest staff created a toxic work environment that enabled him to treat women poorly. In the days since he lost what little support he had left. The entire New York Democratic delegation to Congress called on him to resign, as did President Joe Biden. The state Assembly scheduled impeachment hearings. A vote to impeach him would have come within weeks, with a trial before state senators and senior judges to follow in short order. His top strategist announced her resignation. On the day he quit the New Yorker published a well-sourced story on Mr Cuomo’s bullying and smearing.
Yet Mr Cuomo hung on. Were he the governor of a conservative state, suspicious of the MeToo movement, perhaps he could have weathered the allegations against him, which his legal team continue to deny. His lawyers held two briefings, in which they tried to undermine the credibility of some of his accusers. The governor reportedly had hoped that the Assembly would not pursue impeachment if he said he would not seek re-election. Carl Heastie, the Assembly’s Speaker, made clear on August 9th that he was not interested in a deal. That may have been the moment Mr Cuomo realised he had no option but to go.
His fall has been swift. Just a year ago his daily covid-19 briefings were watched by thousands of Americans, who found the notion that someone in charge might actually be listening to public-health experts soothing. Not long ago Mr Cuomo was talked about as a future presidential candidate; some wished he had run last year.
Though his career has ended in scandal, Mr Cuomo could point to accomplishments during nearly 11 years in office. In 2011 he signed into law a bill legalising same-sex marriage, which he had pushed to pass. In the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, in which 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six adults were killed, he persuaded the state’s Republicans to support one of the strictest gun-safety laws in the country. He spent billions of dollars to improve infrastructure, building new bridges and improving the subway.
But his administration was also dogged by controversy. He abruptly disbanded the state commission to investigate public corruption when it reportedly began to look at groups close to him and his office. Preet Bharara, a federal attorney in New York (these days a political podcast pundit), brought charges against one of his top aides for taking bribes. He also brought charges against people involved in Mr Cuomo’s pet project, the Buffalo Billion, an economic plan to boost investment in the region.
Like a man caught on the wrong side of sliding doors on the subway, in response to the sexual-harassment claims Mr Cuomo insisted that he never “crossed the line with anyone” and that he did not “realise the extent to which the line had been redrawn.” He blamed generational and cultural differences. Last week’s report added heft to his accusers’ claims. His fellow Democrats, including several allies, said it was time for him to go. His team’s attempts to undermine the credibility of his accusers did not sit well with supporters.
Resignation is not the end of Mr Cuomo’s troubles. Earlier this year Ms James released another critical report, saying his administration understated the number of covid-19-related deaths in state nursing homes by as much as 50%. She is also looking into accusations that Mr Cuomo improperly used state staff to help write his book on leadership, sales of which may now be less brisk. Four district attorneys are looking into whether Mr Cuomo committed any crimes, underlining how cut-throat Democrat-on-Democrat fights can be in a one-party state.
Mr Cuomo will step down formally in 14 days. His lieutenant-governor, Kathy Hochul, will then succeed him. His departure opens up next year’s gubernatorial race. Ms James, the architect of the two reports which ended his career, is the front-runner.