No amount of smoothing or spin can overshadow the indelible photograph published in the New York Times on Monday night: Governor Andrew Cuomo, red-faced and leering, clutching the face of a woman half his age at a wedding while she recoils in disgust.
The photograph capped a week-long wave of reporting about Cuomo’s personal and professional conduct toward young women who work for or in close contact to him. He’s accused of forcibly kissing one, asking probing sexual questions of another, and generally acting in ways that everyone, save the governor himself, seems to recognize as gross.
What should come next for Andrew Cuomo is a swift resignation, followed by a statewide investigation. The problem is Cuomo has spent years insulating himself from this, and a glance at social media and opinion pages show that his tactics have worked. The Cuomo defenders have logged on, and boy do they have thoughts.
The core of the argument in Cuomo’s favor, laid out by Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg in an instantly-dated op ed that published right after the wedding picture came out, is this: Democratic loyalists are still smarting after being forced to exile Al Franken from the Senate, and they’re resentful that they may have to sacrifice another promising political leader when the GOP is more than happy to protect and enable its own sex pests, conspiracy theorists, and outright Nazis. (On Twitter, of course, that argument was reduced to incoherent babbling about how Cuomo’s behavior was nothing compared to Trump, yadda yadda.)
Both versions of this point fall into the same trap, which Cuomo has spent years constructing: that he is indispensable in New York and national politics. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, he has been on camera almost constantly, winning an Emmy for his original programming and booking frequent guest spots on his brother Chris Cuomo’s primetime CNN show. In the waning hours of the Trump presidency, Cuomo emerged as one of the president’s fiercest critics, egging on the federal and state prosecutors investigating the presidents’ crooked finances, and presenting an easy foil to the chaotic mismanagement and conspiracy-mongering coming from the Oval Office.
The tactics worked: at various points in the past year, Cuomo’s star rose high enough that rumors swirled about his imminent foray into national politics. Political betting markets at one point fueled rumors that the Democratic party would swap him out for Joe Biden as their 2020 presidential nominee, and were followed by reports that he was angling to be Biden’s attorney general. In Cuomo tradition, the governor denied these aspirations; his father Mario also declined to seek the nomination in 1992. But as the party solidified around the rapidly aging Biden, Cuomo seemed sure to factor into its leadership in 2024 and onwards.
The truth, of course, was that Cuomo’s leadership, respectability, and strength was a veneer. As Alex Pareene wrote in the New Republic last week, obsessive New York politics followers have known this for years, as Cuomo weathered scandal after scandal and kept a tight grip on the reins of state power through an insidious combination of shrewd politics and sadistic bullying. But his power, like that of many politicians who make decisions that kill their constituents on a daily basis, rests entirely on the public delusion that having him in charge is better than the alternative, that only he can help, and that his potential for victory is worth all of the losses he will cause along the way.
This is false. We do not need him. We do not need any politician, particularly ones who have stopped serving the public interest of the people they represent. Unlike the servers and bartenders he briefly barred from vaccination eligibility, Andrew Cuomo is not an essential worker. He is, like any politician, a tool of the public’s will, and the revelation that he has used power accumulated through decades of toxic leadership to objectify and demean women only serves to drive home the point that it’s time for him to go.