In Resignation Speech, Cuomo Makes a Last Play to Preserve His Legacy

Andrew M. Cuomo meditated on the lessons he had learned about “generational and cultural shifts” and argued his expressions of endearment could be dated, but certainly not malicious. He apologized for causing offense to the 11 women who had accused him of sexual harassment, even as he denied improper conduct. He was wistful as he described his affection for the state.

But as Mr. Cuomo resigned in disgrace on Tuesday, another message became clear: The governor, ever the tactician, was seeking redemption in the eyes of New Yorkers, straining to litigate and define his legacy — sometimes in defiance of reality — and to preserve his future standing amid the worst crisis of his career.

Politically ostracized, facing criminal investigations and the prospect of impeachment, and with his family’s legacy at stake, Mr. Cuomo’s decision to resign completed one of the most stunning falls in modern American politics, marking the end of a political dynasty and the beginning of a chaotic and uncertain new chapter of governing in New York.

But even on his way out, Mr. Cuomo, the iron-fisted pugilist who controlled the State Capitol for more than a decade, made another political play.

It was too late to persuade the people in power, who had been moving swiftly through an impeachment investigation, but Mr. Cuomo sought a different audience. His appearance amounted to an overt pitch to New York voters, as he apparently moved to conjure up memories of his leadership during the early days of the pandemic and recalled the litany of progressive policies enacted under his administration.

Many Democrats, in New York and beyond, had embraced Mr. Cuomo as their best foil against President Donald J. Trump, and the governor reached to remind New Yorkers of what they had once loved about him, even as his message elided or played down some of the key findings in an exhaustive independent investigation.

“American politics is rife with stories of redemption and people coming back,” said Jay Jacobs, the New York State Democratic chairman, who had been one of Mr. Cuomo’s closest allies but called for his resignation last week. “He’s doing the best he can to preserve his legacy, the positive parts of his legacy.”

Mr. Jacobs said that while it was clear that Mr. Cuomo had no immediate path to a return to elected office, he still had value as a “potential resource to elected officials and leaders, perhaps in the future.”

But his current political outlook is bleak: Mr. Cuomo has alienated virtually every New York and national ally he once had; even his longest, closest associates believed that he was out of options, with no path to political survival following the release of a searing report from the attorney general’s office.

Early polling suggested that many Democrats wanted him to resign; and the State Assembly still could press on with an impeachment. If he were impeached and convicted, he could be barred from holding state office again.

And despite the sometimes regretful tone, Mr. Cuomo was far from fully conciliatory.

He cast himself as a victim of a “politically motivated” controversy, suggesting that he was stepping aside to end a distraction for the state. The claim belied the fact that he had initially backed an independent investigation into his conduct — perhaps hoping, wrongly, that he could control it in the way he has dictated so much else in Albany.

Flanked by American and New York State flags, he minimized many of the allegations laid out against him, chalking them up to misunderstandings or suggesting they were the result of shifting mores around hugs or jokes. He directly apologized to a state trooper who had said he had improperly touched her, even as he maintained that while he may have been “disrespectful” and “thoughtless,” he had not intended to harass. (A statement from the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association called his speech “self-serving.”)

“In my mind I’ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” the governor said. “There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate. And I should have. No excuses.”

Most of all, he sought to make common cause with those viewers who first knew him as Governor Mario M. Cuomo’s older son.

Latest Updates

Mr. Cuomo reminded New Yorkers of their shared battles — in particular, around the pandemic. And he emphasized his administration’s achievements, reminding viewers of progressive accomplishments during his time in office, from legalizing same-sex marriage to enacting gun control measures to raising the minimum wage.

In many ways, it was a textbook political speech studded with pivots to policy achievements, efforts to cast himself as a family man and nods to once-effective political slogans.

He apologized to the women who have accused him of harassment, but also stressed his record on promoting equal rights and invoked his daughters, assuring them on camera that he would never “intentionally disrespect” women and describing his hopes for his “three jewels.”

He made references to “New York tough,” the language he used as he sought to guide the state through the early days of the pandemic. And he spoke of his “instinct” to fight, even though in this instance, he had to sublimate that instinct because he said a protracted impeachment battle would have hurt the state.

The Path to Governor Cuomo’s Resignation

Plans to resign. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Tuesday that he would resign from office amid a sexual harassment scandal. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will be sworn in to replace him.

Multiple claims of sexual harassment. Eleven women, including current and former members of his administration, have accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. An independent inquiry, overseen by the New York State attorney general, corroborated their accounts. The report also found that he and aides retaliated against at least one woman who made her complaints public.

Nursing home Covid-19 controversy. The Cuomo administration is also under fire for undercounting the number of nursing-home deaths caused by Covid-19 in the first half of 2020, a scandal that deepened after a Times investigation found that aides rewrote a health department report to hide the real number.

Efforts to obscure the death toll. Interviews and unearthed documents revealed in April that aides repeatedly overruled state health officials in releasing the true nursing home death toll for months. Several senior health officials have resigned in response to the governor’s overall handling of the pandemic, including the vaccine rollout.

Will Cuomo still be impeached? The State Assembly opened an impeachment investigation in March. But after Mr. Cuomo announced his resignation, it was unclear whether the Assembly would move forward with its impeachment process. If Mr. Cuomo were impeached and convicted, he could be barred from holding state office again.

Looking to the future. Mr. Cuomo said on Tuesday that his resignation would take effect in 14 days, and that Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, would be sworn in to replace him. She will be the first woman in New York history to occupy the state’s top office.

“What matters is actually improving people’s lives,” Mr. Cuomo said after thanking members of his team. “And that’s what you did. You made this state a better state for the generations that follow. And that is undeniable, inarguable and true even in these ugly crazy times.”

Mr. Cuomo was speaking to his staff, but he plainly believed those words about himself — reflecting recent conversations that he has had with people who have urged him to consider his future reputation.

Mr. Cuomo, however, is a man who has always operated on his own terms. And for a week after the attorney general’s report dropped, he seemed to believe that he could fight the claims even as his closest aide quit, the highest-ranking Democrats in the country, from President Biden on down, called for his resignation and people he has long relied on for political advice saw no path forward for him.

Still, the governor hunkered down, consulting with lawyers, his brother, his pollster and a shrinking inner circle.

But as it became clearer that the State Assembly intended to seek his impeachment, the situation grew less tenable. Under New York’s rules, if a governor is impeached the Assembly, he or she must step aside even before a Senate trial has reached a verdict. Mr. Cuomo, accustomed to the trappings of power, would have been loath to sit through a trial as effectively a private citizen, people who know him say.

“Today was all about buying him 14 days to figure out the next phase of his life, as opposed to an impeachment vote which would have triggered his immediate removal from his actual home and the executive chamber,” said State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Nassau County Democrat.

“He wants to leave on his own terms, and he wants it to be as comfortable and least embarrassing as possible and he bought himself 14 days to do that,” he added. “I don’t think voters feel any differently about the acts, the nauseating conduct, in the attorney general’s report.”

Asked if Mr. Cuomo could run again, Mr. Kaminsky replied, “I absolutely do not think so.”

Just before Mr. Cuomo spoke on Tuesday, his lawyer, Rita Glavin, made a lengthy presentation, criticizing the news media and lacing into the details in the report.

After she laid the groundwork, Mr. Cuomo came to his own defense. The political environment was to blame for his predicament, he claimed.

Even on the brink of resignation, Mr. Cuomo seemed to believe that he could have won in the court of public opinion, had he only had more time.

“This is about politics, and our political system today is too often driven by the extremes: rashness has replaced reasonableness, loudness has replaced soundness,” he said. “If I could communicate the facts through the frenzy, New Yorkers would understand. I believe that.”

Representative Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, likened Mr. Cuomo’s trajectory to a Greek tragedy.

“It’s the most precipitous collapse in the history of gubernatorial politics,” he said. “And as with all Greek tragedies, at the heart of it all is hubris.”

Source: Read Full Article