Governor Andrew Cuomo's resignation on Tuesday didn’t initially sound like he was getting ready to leave office. If anything, the three-term governor appeared to be digging in his heels.
After a 45-minute presentation by his personal attorney, Rita Glavin, who said favorable evidence was omitted from the State Attorney General’s report finding Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women, the governor gave his own speech. He denied the most serious accusations. Instead, he once again apologized for being “too familiar” with people, explaining, “my sense of humor can be insensitive and off-putting.”
When Cuomo did finally say he would step aside in two weeks, he framed it as necessary to avoid a long and costly impeachment battle. He then followed up with a litany of his accomplishments: legalizing gay marriage, passing a $15 minimum wage, and cracking down on assault weapons. “We made New York state the progressive capital of the nation,” he crowed.
That defiant and even triumphant tone, by a take-charge politician known for his hubris, left the governor’s many critics wondering if he was considering a political comeback.
“I would never underestimate Andrew Cuomo,” said Rebecca Katz, who advised Cynthia Nixon during her unsuccessful Democratic primary challenge to Cuomo in 2018. “He's the most Machiavellian political figure in America right now, with the possible exception of Donald Trump.”
Katz noted that by resigning, Cuomo may have avoided an impeachment trial that could prevent him from ever seeking office in New York. He still has options without that trial, she said.
“He’s still a guy with basically 100% name recognition with $20 million in the bank,” she said, referring to the sizable war chest he accumulated while preparing to run for a fourth term next year. Under state law, he’s allowed to keep that money for a future campaign, refund his contributors, or give it away to charities.
“He’s been trying to buy time since this started,” said Katz. “And my worst fear is that he will go away for a couple of months and then come back and run for governor again.”
The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee met Monday to discuss impeachment proceedings, but has not yet announced whether it will end the probe in the wake of Cuomo’s resignation. Members are scheduled to meet again next Monday.
Some political observers don’t believe Cuomo is considering another political run because even his closest political allies have abandoned him in the wake of the attorney general’s damaging report.
“I can’t imagine," said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City. She stood by the embattled governor earlier this year.
As recently as late June, the governor was still able to hold a fundraiser with support from state Democratic Committee Chair Jay Jacobs. But even Jacobs called for Cuomo’s resignation after the attorney general’s report. Jacobs did not respond to calls and emails from Gothamist/WNYC.
Some of Cuomo’s opponents now want to force him into the political wilderness by urging the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee to continue drafting articles of impeachment.
“We will not rest until the entire stench of the Cuomo Administration is wiped clean from state government and we usher in a new era of integrity and common sense under a Republican governor in 2022,” said state GOP party chair Nick Langworthy.
Republican party spokeswoman Jessica Proud added that it wouldn’t surprise her if Cuomo did try to run again. “If you'll recall, we called for his impeachment in February over the nursing home cover up,” she said, “which he has yet to be held accountable for.”
The U.S. Justice Department recently declined to investigate whether Cuomo’s handling of the COVID-19 virus in nursing homes violated civil rights.
By raising fears of a Cuomo comeback, Republicans could be trying to energize their base heading into next year’s gubernatorial election. Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin has collected the most cash, drawing even more money than Cuomo in the last filing period.
Without Cuomo and his political scandals, Liz Benjamin, a political consultant who is managing director in Albany for Marathon Strategies, said it’s harder for a Republican to win in such a heavily Democratic state. “They needed a wounded Cuomo,” she explained.
Benjamin said it’s not likely that Cuomo is planning to reclaim his office next year, though he may be “leaving the door open” for future years. “He’s a political animal,” she said, of the 63 year-old son of former Governor Mario Cuomo.
Cuomo’s exit certainly opens the door for more Democrats. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take his place and has not yet said whether she’ll run next year. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Public Advocate Jumaane WIlliams, Attorney General Letitia James, and State Senator Alessandra Biaggi are a few of the other Democrats political observers said may jump into the race.
This is why some Democrats and their allies are also urging the Assembly to finish the impeachment process.
Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger said she wants to “do whatever I can to make sure that he cannot run for office again despite the fact that he has built up a giant war chest of money.”
“Resigning isn’t true accountability,” added Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party, which has tangled with Cuomo many times. She noted that the governor’s lawyer used her speaking time on Tuesday to “rebut claims” of sexual harassment, which didn’t set a tone of contrition.
“We worry about the governor continuing to make space for a potential reelection campaign,” she said, adding, “It’s not above him.”
But not everyone is so worried or thinks impeachment is necessary. Queens Assemblyman David Weprin, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said, “It’s a large expense to go ahead with an impeachment proceeding that in of itself would be a distraction.”
Another committee member, Kenneth Zebrowski of Rockland County, said he hasn’t made up his mind yet on whether to continue the proceedings. But he said, “I think it’s unrealistic that the governor’s going to run again.
However, he acknowledged that the “speculation can be interesting.”