Amid pressure from within his party and an impeachment looming, Gov. Andrew Cuomo submitted his two-week notice of resignation on Tuesday. “Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing. I cannot be the cause of that,” the Holliswood native said in a 22-minute live speech at his Midtown office. “The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing, and therefore that’s what I’ll do.”
Cuomo’s downfall is among the most spectacular in state politics, more than a year after he published a book extolling his role in dropping New York’s COVID hospitalizations from the highest in the nation to one of the lowest. In those months, his daily briefings attracted a national audience and he openly spoke of running for a fourth term with a campaign war chest estimated at nearly $18 million.
Recognizing the unprecedented health emergency, state lawmakers gave Cuomo the power to shut down schools, workplaces, and other public and private facilities. Having passed progressive wish-list items such as marriage equality while maintaining a centrist image and a reputation built from his youth as the son of Gov. Mario Cuomo, he withstood criticism of his COVID policies.
He was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of mostly elderly patients who were discharged from overburdened hospitals to nursing homes that were not prepared to host people carrying the virus as it spread to other patients and workers. He faced a lawsuit from Jewish activists who opposed his order to keep overnight camps closed last summer, despite their efforts to demonstrate that their isolated environment would have prevented the spread of the virus. He was unsuccessful in his effort to limit synagogue attendance strictly to ten participants, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Agudath Israel of America, which argued that attendance should be based on the size of the space rather than an arbitrary number.
On a longer timeline, his relationship with the Jewish community was positive, as he ordered state troopers to investigate anti-Semitic incidents and he flew to Israel when Hamas and Hezbollah rockets rained down on the Jewish state.
In the end, it was not the nursing home deaths or the heavy-handed lockdown measures that caused his longtime allies to call for his ouster. It was a detailed 165-page report citing 11 women who accused the governor of inappropriate behavior towards them and a workplace culture that suppressed their complaints. “What this investigation revealed was a disturbing pattern of conduct by the governor of the great state of New York,” State Attorney General Letitia James said in a press conference a week before Cuomo offered to resign. “These 11 women were in a hostile and toxic work environment.” In the week between the report’s publication and Cuomo’s resignation, President Joe Biden advised him to quit, and his close aide Melissa DeRosa also submitted her resignation.
“This has been a tragic chapter in our state’s history. Governor Cuomo’s resignation is the right decision,” State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “The brave women who stepped forward were heard. Everyone deserves to work in a harassment-free environment.”
His colleague, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, spoke of Cuomo’s resignation as an example of accountability in government. “We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the courageous women who came forward and helped pave the way for safer and more inclusive workspaces.”
With Cuomo’s resignation, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will make history as New York’s first woman governor. Prior to being selected in 2014 as Cuomo’s running mate, her long resume in politics includes working as an aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as a member of the Hamburg Town Board, as clerk of Erie County, and briefly as a Congresswoman in a district covering Buffalo and Niagara Falls. When Cuomo could not attend an event, Hochul represented him. On the Jewish scene, Hochul spoke out against anti-Semitism, visited yeshivos to announce state funding for STEM education, and the Jewish Children’s Museum three years ago on the anniversary of the Crown Heights riots.
It is too early to tell if Hochul will be running for a full term in 2022, and who else is seriously interested in the Democratic nomination for the state’s top job. The Republican contender is Rep. Lee Zeldin, who lives on the eastern tip of Long Island.
Next week, our columnist Manny Behar will provide a detailed analysis of Cuomo’s political career as it relates to the Jewish community, from his personal experiences with Cuomo and his father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo.
By Sergey Kadinsky