Analysis: Andrew Cuomo is in a very dangerous political place right now

Cuomo’s office was reacting to a Medium post from Lindsay Boylan, in which she wrote that in 2018 Cuomo “stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips.” Cuomo’s office also categorically denied another allegation in the Medium post that the governor had suggested he and Boylan play “strip poker” on a flight — providing denials from four current and former staffers who had flown with Boylan and Cuomo and insisted the episode did not happen.

Boylan first made the allegation of sexual harassment in December 2020. Cuomo denied it then as well.

While it’s not at all clear whether the denial puts an end to this or not, what is clear is that Cuomo is in the midst of a massively perilous moment in his political career. For a man who had previously seemed to be not only on a glide path to a fourth term in 2022 but was widely seen as a potential national candidate for Democrats down the line, Cuomo is now facing massive levels of scrutiny for both his alleged professional and personal conduct — and it’s not going very well for him.

Earlier this month, a Cuomo aide named Melissa DeRosa apologized to New York Democratic lawmakers, saying the administration “froze” out of concerns over a federal investigation when initially asked by state legislators back in August about the nursing home issue.

She later sought to clarify her remarks. “I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first,” she said in a statement. “We informed the houses of this at the time. We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout. As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked.”

Cuomo has said since that the misunderstanding of why he put a pause on providing the data on nursing home resident deaths to the state — he says he did so because requests for the data from the Department of Justice were prioritized — was the result of an information vacuum that led to “misinformation” and “lying” from other politicians and the media.
“I did not aggressively enough — we did not aggressively enough — take on the misinformation that caused people pain and, of course, pain for grieving families, and that’s what I regret. I’m not going to make that mistake again,” Cuomo said at a news conference last Friday announcing a series of nursing home reforms.
According to the New York Department of Health, people who lived in long-term care facilities make up more than 15,000 confirmed and presumed Covid-19 deaths in New York since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. And a report released last month by New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, suggested that Cuomo’s administration under-counted deaths among nursing home residents by as much as 50%.
“Preliminary data obtained by [the Office of the Attorney General] suggests that many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in [the Department of Heath’s] published total nursing home death data,” read the summary of the report.
New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighed in on the controversy last week, saying in a statement from her office, “I … stand with our local officials calling for a full investigation of the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during Covid-19.”
Even as he was seeking to control the fallout from the nursing home controversy, Cuomo stepped in it again. In a phone conversation with Democratic state Assemblyman Ron Kim, Cuomo reportedly threatened the Democratic lawmaker. As Kim recounted to CNN’s MJ Lee and Mark Morales in a story that ran on February 17:

“Gov. Cuomo called me directly on Thursday to threaten my career if I did not cover up for Melissa [DeRosa] and what she said. He tried to pressure me to issue a statement, and it was a very traumatizing experience. … [Cuomo added that] we’re in this business together and we don’t cross certain lines and he said I hadn’t seen his wrath and that he can destroy me.”

Cuomo’s office denied he had threatened Kim.

Senior adviser Rich Azzopardi said in a statement to CNN that “Kim’s assertion that the governor said he would ‘destroy him’ is false. The Governor has three witnesses to the conversation. The operable words were to the effect of, ‘I am from Queens, too, and people still expect honor and integrity in politics.'”

This is a battle on many fronts, the sort of thing that politicians hope to go an entire career without experiencing. Every state and national reporter is now digging into the various allegations against Cuomo — from the nursing homes to bullying to his personal conduct. And almost no one emerges completely unscathed from that sort of political scrutiny.

Republicans, sensing opportunity, have begun to circle Cuomo ahead of 2022. GOP Rep. Tom Reed said earlier this week he is taking a hard look at running, joining fellow Republican Reps. Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin, among others in the potential candidate mix.
A recent poll from Siena College showed that Cuomo’s job approval numbers are down. Fifty-one percent of New York voters said they approved of the job he was doing, while 47% described his performance as “fair” or “poor” — down from a 56% approve/42% fair or poor score in a January Siena poll.

Cuomo has proved to be a resilient politician over his three terms in office, having defeated several high-profile liberal primary challengers and putting himself on the verge of doing something his father — the late Gov. Mario Cuomo — never did: winning a fourth term.

But this series of problems poses the most serious threat to Cuomo’s political life that he has dealt with yet. And he’s not even close to putting them behind him.

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