With Cuomo unlikely to leave voluntarily—at least if his defiant response to James’ report is any indication—it will be up to state lawmakers to serve as the ultimate arbiters of his fate.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from New York Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs.
The walls may be closing in on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as influential political and labor leaders across New York call on him to resign in the wake of an attorney general report detailing allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and retaliation. At this point, it’s hard to find an elected official or state leader who isn’t urging him to give in and go away.
After Attorney General Letitia James published the damning results of her office’s monthslong harassment investigation, President Joe Biden called on Cuomo to step down. Three local members of Congress—Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Gregory Meeks and Tom Suozzi—also urged him to resign. All three had previously condemned the alleged abuse and harassment, but said they wanted to see an investigation play out.
New York City’s presumptive next mayor, Eric Adams, weighed in, saying in a statement that the Assembly should “take swift and appropriate action and move forward with impeachment proceedings if the Governor will not resign.” So too did 32BJ President Kyle Bragg, saying his union members “urge the Governor to resign and to take responsibility for his well documented actions and how they have hurt women.”
With Cuomo unlikely to leave voluntarily—at least if his defiant response to James’ report is any indication—it will be up to state lawmakers to serve as the ultimate arbiters of his fate. Assembly Democrats, led by Speaker Carl Heastie, are moving toward an impeachment vote. The Senate could vote at an ensuing trial later this year.
“You would have to be crazy to defend him at this point,” said one state lawmaker Tuesday during an hours-long Democratic conference where members of the Assembly discussed the attorney general’s report. “We have the votes [for impeachment]. Just waiting for judiciary to finish up.”
During the conference Tuesday, assemblymembers pressed for the probe to wrap up soon so that a vote could take place, according to three lawmakers present. “The tenor was ‘enough is enough,’” said another assemblymember.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee has been conducting its own investigation into the complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct since March, as well as allegations that Cuomo and his staff covered up COVID-19 death data in nursing homes, that they withheld information about safety concerns on the Mario Cuomo/Tappan Zee Bridge and that he attempted to obstruct investigations. Cuomo has denied each of those allegations.
What they’ve said: resignation, impeachment or silence
On Wednesday afternoon, New York Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs—a key Cuomo ally who’d previously held off on commenting publicly about the future of the state’s most powerful Democrat—released a statement calling for the governor to resign, saying he was doing so “with sadness and a measure of regret.”
“The facts presented make clear that there is a preponderance of evidence of both a toxic workplace and actual sexual harassment. I agree with the Attorney General. I believe the women. I believe the allegations. I cannot speak to the Governor’s motivations,” Jacobs said. “The Party and this State will not be well served by a long, protracted removal process designed only to delay what is now, clearly, inevitable.”
Despite the Cuomo’s-gotta-go groundswell in the Assembly, several Democrats, including some who said they would withhold judgement until the completion of James’ probe, have also not taken public stances.
A group of 20 female assemblymembers wrote an open letter March 8 saying they would await the results of James’ investigation before taking a stance on the governor. “We request that she be allowed the appropriate time to complete her investigation rather than undermine her role and responsibility as the chief law enforcement officer of the state of New York,” the letter at the time read.
On Tuesday, the day James released the results of her investigation, six of those lawmakers who signed onto the letter—Assemblymembers Deborah Glick of Manhattan, Karen McMahon of Erie County, Donna Lupardo of Binghamton, Didi Barrett of Dutchess County, Maritza Davila of Brooklyn and Patricia Fahy of Albany—explicitly called for Cuomo to resign, either via statements on Twitter or in response to questions from City Limits.
“Even though the Assembly is currently conducting our own impeachment investigation, it’s clear from this report that the Governor is no longer able to effectively serve and should resign,” Lupardo said.
Glick referred to a tweet she posted Tuesday afternoon: “You’ve always said you put the people of NYS first @NYGovCuomo – prove it- resign,” she wrote.
Bichotte, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, released her own statement Tuesday afternoon.
“The conduct by Governor Cuomo found in the report indicates that he is unfit for office and should step down and resign,” Bichotte said.
Other signatories expressed dismay at the report’s findings but stopped short of calling for resignation, instead saying the situation should be resolved through the assembly’s impeachment process.
“I would be falling short of my duties as a member of the Legislature if I did not respect the legal rights owed to a person and their entitlement to due process, as established in the United States Constitution,” Hunter said in a statement to City Limits, which said it is “it is time” for an impeachment vote. “However, based on the overwhelming evidence from the Attorney General’s report, it is clear that Governor Andrew Cuomo is no longer fit to serve, or to remain in office.”
Read More: ‘A Culture of Fear and Flirtation’: Andrew Cuomo Sexually Harassed Multiple Women, A.G. Investigation Finds
Rebecca Seawright, who represents parts of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, posted a statement on Twitter that called the details of James’ report “horrifying.”
“This matter is under review by the Assembly Judiciary Committee,” she said. “As a committee member, I take my role and due diligence seriously. I must respect the process prescribed by the New York State Constitution and refrain from further comment.”
Kimberly Jean-Pierre, who represents Long Island, also said impeachment proceedings are “both inevitable and appropriate.” Stefani Zinerman, of Brooklyn, said in a statement posted on Instagram that she “fully expects the governor to be impeached.”
“It is now up to the Assembly to gather the remaining evidence to ensure that we win the trial and remove him permanently from office,” she wrote.
Queens Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, another signatory, said she wants to see the results of the Judiciary Committee’s investigation before weighing in on Cuomo. “When the Judiciary Committee completes its investigation, it could well lead to an impeachment trial. So if he wants to avoid a trial, he should resign,” she said.
“I understand people want abrupt answers, but it’s not that easy,” Hyndman added. “But as you know, with the MeToo movement, people have resigned and left jobs for less than the governor has been found guilty of in this investigation.”
Two assemblymembers who signed the letter, Jenifer Rajkumar of Queens and Latoya Joyner of the Bronx, said they could not comment because they are members of the Judiciary Committee.
“As a woman and as a civil rights lawyer who has devoted her career to fighting for women’s equality in the workplace and freedom from sexual harassment, I am deeply concerned about the findings against the Governor,” Rajkumar said in a statement released Wednesday evening. “I will provide further information after the Judiciary Committee meets to plan our path forward.”
Other signatories—Assemblymembers Helene Weinstein, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Inez Dickens, Latrice Walker, Stacey Pheffer Amato and Vivian Cook—did not provide a response when contacted by City Limits.
They are not alone in their resistance to public comment. Some 41 of the state’s 150 assemblymembers have not stated their position, according to a spreadsheet maintained by Democratic Socialists of America organizer Honda Wang.
The silence from some lawmakers has fueled organizing in their districts, where activists have urged constituents to make phone calls to their representatives.
That strategy could spur action. One strategist who formerly worked for Cuomo said some elected officials are waiting to see what their constituents think before taking a public stance.
“They’re crunching the numbers and doing the calculations,” said the strategist, who asked to remain anonymous while talking about lawmakers he may work with. “Some will try to hide in the conference.”
The elected officials who keep their heads down have also confounded progressive activists and accountability groups.
“My feeling is if you’re a lawmaker, you know what Cuomo is about, especially if you’re a female elected official, you should be calling and demanding impeachment,” said Danielle Brecker, a co-lead organizer with Empire State Indivisible, which seeks to hold elected officials accountable.
Brecker ran for state Assembly in 2020 against long-time member Catherine Nolan, one of the lawmakers who has yet to take a public stance. Nolan did not respond to texts and phone calls for this story.
What happens next?
Cuomo, for his part, has remained defiant. After James released her report, he aired a 14-minute pre-recorded video in which he refuted the report’s conclusion that he fostered a “culture of fear, intimidation, and retribution,” sexually harassed employees and inappropriately touched multiple women. He also addressed one of his accusers by name and showed a montage of him kissing, hugging, and—in the case of a photo with Bill Clinton—pressing foreheads together with celebrities and political leaders.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately or made any inappropriate sexual advances,” he said. “That is just not who I am, and who I’ve ever been.”
His attorney also released an 85-page response refuting the specific claims in the report. The majority of the report is composed of photos of Cuomo embracing or kissing other leaders, past presidents hugging or kissing politicians, and screenshots of tweets by his accusers.
The investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office may be the least of Cuomo’s concerns, however. The Albany County District Attorney’s Office has opened a criminal investigation against the governor, The New York Times reported, and the Westchester DA’s office said Wednesday that it is also investigating.
“As some of the Governor’s conduct described in the report occurred in Westchester County, we have formally requested investigative materials obtained by the AG’s office,” DA Mimi Rocah said in a statement.
And he faces the specter of impeachment pending the results of the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s probe. Under state law, the Assembly can impeach a sitting governor with a simple majority vote following an inquiry. Thus, the 150-member lower house acts as a grand jury allowing a case to proceed to trial.
The 63-member Senate and the seven judges of the Court of Appeals then serve as the jury. A two-thirds majority is required to convict and remove a governor from office.
Cuomo may have a leg up at a potential impeachment trial: A majority of senators, including several who have called for his resignation and impeachment, voted in June to confirm Cuomo’s picks to fill two vacancies on the state Court of Appeals—effectively rubber-stamping the governor’s selections for his own potential impeachment jury.
The Senate voted 35-28 to confirm ex-Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and 45-18 for Anthony Cannataro, the former top judge in New York Civil Court. The nominations and rushed votes faced sharp rebukes on the left and the right, but little actual resistance from Senate Democrats.
Republican Sen. Sue Serino introduced legislation that would bar governors from filling vacancies on the Court of Appeals if they are facing an impeachment investigation.
“No one accused of a crime gets to hand-pick their own jurors, and our scandal-scarred governor should not get to either,” Serino said in a June statement. “Impeachment is not a process to take lightly, and first and foremost it should be one that is fully independent.”
Spurred by advocates on the left, particularly criminal justice reformers who pointed out Singas’ history of prosecutorial misconduct, some state senators put up token opposition. Still, the upper house eventually voted to confirm her while giving Cannataro an easy path to the state’s highest court.
The focus will again turn to members of the Senate to see whether there would be enough votes to secure a conviction at a potential impeachment trial. Democrats and Republicans alike renewed calls for Cuomo to step down Tuesday.
“The Attorney General’s report clearly and concisely documents that Governor Cuomo engaged in disturbing and unacceptable behavior,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Singas ally from Astoria, who abstained on her confirmation vote. “Andrew Cuomo lacks the integrity required to be the leader of our state and can no longer serve as New York’s Governor. He must heed the calls of so many New York leaders and resign.”
But other Democratic senators from New York City say they are withholding judgement, at least until they review James’ report. State Sens. Leroy Comrie and Joseph Addabbo of Queens both said they planned to wait before making a statement about the governor.
“Reading the report tonight,” Addabbo said in a text. “[But] can never condone sexual harassment or nonconsensual touching behavior.
“I’m reading and information-gathering from my constituents and colleagues before I comment on the AG’s report,” added Comrie.
Cuomo does maintain at least one potential supporter. Bronx Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr., a former state senator, urged his followers to keep Cuomo in their thoughts.
“In these difficult times, I call on all Pastors, Ministers, and the community in general, to unite in prayer for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his family, and Administration,” Diaz said.
His son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., took a different stance. Diaz Jr., a Cuomo ally featured in the televised kissing montage, urged the governor to leave office.
“The Governor should resign from office and if he refuses to do so, as a former member of the New York State Assembly, I firmly believe the legislature should move forward with impeachment proceedings,” Diaz Jr. said.
With additional reporting by Daniel Parra.