Last summer, three-term New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was considered, in political terms, dead and buried after one of the most spectacular falls from grace in modern American politics.
A year earlier, he had been an empathetic hero of the pandemic, offering New Yorkers some confidence in the state’s response to the first waves of Covid-19 while US President Donald Trump floundered or scrambled. a way through the daily briefings as the terrifying death toll mounted.
But then Cuomo was forced to resign from office, leaving a cloak of scandals to wear ranging from allegations of sexual harassment made by 11 women, including a member of his protection group, to a concealment of the number of elderly people who died in New York Nursing Homes from Covid-19.
Yet now â at 64 and out of office â Cuomo is once again trying to turn the tide and reclaim his reputation and maybe, maybe, his political career. “I don’t disappear” he told the New York magazine last year and he might well mean it.
In recent weeks, Cuomo has accelerated an image correction campaign that some see as a prelude to political rehabilitation efforts. With $16 million remaining in his vacant gubernatorial re-election campaign coffers, he has funds to fund the project.
At a Brooklyn church last week Cuomo gave his first public speech since leaving office. In an event that looked a lot like old-school retail politics, Cuomo took aim at those who brought him down. “The actions against me were a fault of the prosecutor,” Cuomo said, citing the Bible, in his speech. âThey used cancel culture to effectively cancel an election.â
The speech came after the launch of a digital and TV ad campaign that carries the same message: Cuomo is the victim, unjustly ousted from office.
In America’s upside-down politics, where chaos and division seem rife on both sides of the political divide, even his critics are reluctant to count him.
âThe country elected Donald Trump, so all bets are off,â said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization of Women of New York. âIt’s the wild Wild West of politics right now across the country. In terms of personal redemption, every human being has the right to seek it.
“Media coverage focuses on politics as sport,” Ossorio added, “which distracts from what matters: keeping our government honest.”
The question is, does anyone care besides Cuomo, and maybe his brother Chris who was fired from CNN for his involvement in his older brother’s damage control efforts?
âThe effort you see is more about public rehabilitation than pursuing a specific political audience,â said Evan Nierman, a crisis management expert. âThe likelihood of New Yorkers jumping back on the Cuomo train after it derailed so explosively is unlikely.
“Andrew Cuomo is the kind of person who doesn’t like not being in control. He likes to direct things, shape policies and outcomes, but not be the recipient of them. So he looks for opportunities to influence his own future and to regain some control.
Last month, his attorney, Rita Glavin, reiterated her innocence and challenged an independent report from the state’s attorney general’s office finding that “the governor sexually harassed a number of state employees by touching unwelcome and unwanted, as well as doing many offensive acts. and sexually suggestive comments.
The central theme of Cuomo’s argument is that New York Attorney General Letitia James, who announced and then dropped her bid for governor, was politically motivated. Glavin has announced its intention to file a misconduct complaint about James to a lawyers’ grievance committee and claimed that James’ office had “conducted a totally biased investigation”.
Four district attorneys considered filing charges but declined to do so, each carefully stating that their decision was not based on the credibility of their accusers. A fifth, from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, dropped its investigation.
It’s a crack in the door that Cuomo may believe he can open by reinterpreting, with the help of the campaign’s war chest, the findings of James’ investigation.
The former governor had notable meetings in Manhattan with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York City Mayor Eric Adams. In front of Brooklyn’s mostly black congregation, Cuomo offered a defiant and angry take on his situation.
âGod is not done with me yet,â he continued. “I’m blessed, I have a lot of options in life and I’m open to everyone, but on whether I’m at peace, no I’m not. But I don’t want to be at peace, and d Besides I don’t think you should be at peace either.
His lawyer put it more simply, saying a radio interviewer that Cuomo “isn’t going to let this go, because he can’t”.
But his efforts provoked a strong reaction. “Instead of accepting responsibility, serial sexual harasser Andrew Cuomo continues to challenge victims’ accounts,” read a statement of a group of nine organizations for the defense and defense of women’s rights, including Eleanor’s Legacy, Amplify it and Women of color for progress.
Members of Sexual Harassment Working Group – A group of Albany-based state government employees who have been victims of harassment or sexual assault on the job said Cuomo was “using taxpayer dollars to fund his victim-shaming campaign after multiple investigations have revealed him for what he really is: a serial sexual harasser who fostered a toxic and hostile work environment”.
The answer largely matches public opinion polls. A college of Siena survey published last month found that 52% of Democrats said they believed he sexually harassed multiple women and said they believed James by a 2-to-1 margin when she concluded he was a serial sexual harasser . Eighty percent said he made the right decision to quit.
“New Yorkers aren’t ready to forgive and forget when it comes to Cuomo,” said Steven Greenberg, a Siena College pollster.
But the former governor, who also spent $1.8 million in legal and public relations fees which include resisting efforts by an ethics commission to recoup more than $5 million he received for a book about his handling of the pandemic, remains determined to rehabilitate.
He said Bloomberg last month that he didn’t quit because he did something wrong, but because he didn’t want to be a distraction. âI’m still focused on communicating what happened here. Because as a precedent it must be exposed.
Nor would he rule out a future candidacy.
“He’s trying to find a way to remind people what he thinks they should think of him,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic pollster and former political scientist.
Cuomo, he said, was trying to find something people liked. Against him, voter trends against three-term governors and that the charges against him are “the very things that New Yorkers and Americans have trouble with.”
“He has to find a way to explain who he was as governor and make it credible before people give him the chance,” Sheinkopf said. “He’s not a guy who dies easily, but he’s pretty moribund right now.”