When an independent report said last week that one of the country’s most prominent Democratic leaders sexually harassed 11 women, even some of his closest friends and longest-serving allies finally lost patience with Andrew M. Cuomo .
One by one, they let him go. President Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and most senior members of Congress from New York issued a message that left no room for interpretation: The governor had to go.
The speed with which Mr. Cuomo was ousted reflects not only how thoroughly he alienated virtually every allies he once had, but also the possibility of political peril for a party that has attached its mark to the #MeToo movement during the Trump era, staking its reputation on a commitment to social equality and the empowerment of women.
Already, New York Democratic officials, activists and strategists have begun to privately discuss half a dozen politicians capable of succeeding Mr. Cuomo, with some potential candidates or their allies beginning to gauge their interest and identify possible sources of support. They include several people who National Democrats believe would easily win a general election in the imbalanced Democratic state – including women and people of color whose rise to governor’s office in Albany could boost the party’s image for inclusiveness.
The turnaround in a few days was a boost. Only a year ago, a stalwart of his party and star of daily pandemic briefings, and still presumed by many to be the frontrunner for a fourth term in 2022, Mr Cuomo suddenly seemed eminently beatable, if he were to survive and persist. with a campaign. And the political conversation crackled with the excitement and conjecture of an open race – with the conjecture largely focused for now on whether Attorney General Letitia James, whose office released the independent report corroborating the wrongdoing of Mr. Cuomo, would run as governor herself.
The longer it takes for Mr. Cuomo’s plight to be resolved, the greater the headache for Democrats.
Some Republicans have already used Mr. Cuomo’s situation to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy: In Virginia, the state GOP called on Governor Ralph Northam and his successor Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, to drop Mr. Cuomo, claiming that “their silence is a complicity. In Congress, Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, introduced a ‘Cuomo Amendment’ to prohibit federal infrastructure funding from being allocated to states run by governors who sexually harassed their employees.
And Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, a prominent Republican gubernatorial candidate and staunch Trump supporter, was able to focus his first campaign on Mr. Cuomo rather than having to defend his allegiance to the former president, a responsibility huge in a state. that Mr. Trump lost to Mr. Biden by 20 percentage points.
Representative Grace Meng of Queens, who served until January as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, suggested party leaders have no patience in letting the situation escalate, especially as ‘they continue to face the challenges of the pandemic.
“We have a midterm election coming up, and we need to make sure we focus on keeping the House and the Senate,” Meng said. “There is just no room for distractions right now. “
Although Mr Cuomo has given no indication that he plans to resign, sending his attorneys to mount an aggressive televised defense of his conduct, the State Assembly is moving swiftly with an impeachment inquiry, raising hopes within the party that the governor’s future will be determined. well before the midterm elections. Prosecutors on Long Island in Albany are continuing criminal investigations into the sexual harassment allegations, increasing pressure on Mr. Cuomo to resign.
Her main aide, Melissa DeRosa, said Sunday night she had resigned, leaving Mr Cuomo to face the impeachment process without one of his most trusted strategists. And Brittany Commisso, the executive assistant who accused Mr Cuomo of groping her and filed a criminal complaint against him, gave a TV interview forcefully rejecting claims by the governor’s attorney that she praised the physical contact.
Reverend Al Sharpton, whom Mr Cuomo featured in a video montage as he sought to defend himself last week, offered a ruthless assessment of the governor’s political hopes. “I don’t see how he survives this,” he said.
But Mr. Cuomo, who has come back from less difficult situations before, may not move quickly or quietly.
Impeachment proceedings would be uncharted territory for the State Assembly in the modern era, and many Democrats expect Mr Cuomo to mount an aggressive defense, which could prolong the proceedings, fuel attacks Republicans and keep potential adversaries in political limbo.
A spokesperson for Mr. Cuomo did not answer questions about his future or his position in the Democratic Party.
With few public polls still available, it also remains unclear whether early signs that Democratic voters want Mr Cuomo to step down will harden. Earlier this year, after the allegations of trial and error and sexual harassment by Mr Cuomo became public, many Democratic voters expressed reluctance to insist on his resignation, fearing the party would impose detrimental purity tests on its leaders. Aside from Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, who resigned after being accused of groping and forcibly kissing women, only a handful of prominent Democratic politicians have lost their jobs due to allegations of sexual harassment or harassment. ‘aggression.
However, by initially supporting the independent investigation, which was led by two outside investigators, Mr. Cuomo ultimately armed Democrats with well-documented evidence of his alleged wrongdoing, creating a process that many Democrats hope will be seen as fairer by the public.
“With Franken, there was so much pressure to quit before there was even a process, and it was wrong,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and another ally. longtime Cuomo who now thinks he should step down. “But there is a difference between an accusation that should be taken seriously and a report that fundamentally corroborates the accusations.”
The handicap of the potential Democrat on the ground to succeed Mr Cuomo begins with Ms James, who is seen by many as the most formidable competitor, capable of appealing to both black voters of all ideological backgrounds and white progressives who see her as having held Mr. Cuomo to account.
Ms James has yet to give any indication that she plans to run for anything other than re-election as attorney general, and she is often described as risk averse. But the possibility of a vacancy sparked intense speculation as to whether she would turn to the governor’s office.
Regardless of Ms James’ decision, if Mr Cuomo leaves before the end of his term, New York will immediately get its first female governor: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a former congresswoman from Buffalo, would succeed him and seek very probably a full term in 2022.
An official close to Ms Hochul said her team is already considering how to balance the reconciliation with the state and move forward with what they expect to be. ‘a prolonged period of recrimination towards the Cuomo administration. The official also said Ms Hochul is having conversations about staff in case she takes on the governorship. And several lawmakers have met with her in recent weeks and felt like she is preparing for the post of chief executive.
Ms Hochul would not only enjoy the perks of the governorship, but also a considerable head start: she did not have a close working relationship with Mr Cuomo, but it did allow her to spend much of her time. his six-year tenure spanning statewide, hosting economic development events, championing Democratic candidates, and quietly creating a statewide network of political donors.
Mr Sharpton, whose Harlem seat is a mandatory stopover for aspiring Democrats, said Ms James’ political associates, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Representative Thomas Suozzi of Long Island and Mayor Bill de Blasio the had all approached to probe him. about the 2022 governor’s race.
“It will be very difficult for the governor to stay, and I think it will open the primary season earlier,” said Mr Sharpton.
Other people who would consider running include Jumaane D. Williams, the left-wing New York City public attorney who lost to Ms. Hochul in the 2018 primary for Lieutenant Governor, and Steven Bellone, the Suffolk County Executive.
M. de Blasio has refused to exclude an offer. Likewise, a campaign adviser to Mr. DiNapoli, Doug Forand, said Mr. DiNapoli was happy in his current job but recognized “the unpredictable nature of the governor’s situation”.
The list of possible Democratic candidates will almost certainly grow and could include other members of Congress, depending on the results of the redistribution process. It could also include the names of more important women: some in party circles have expressed hope that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand or even Hillary Clinton might be interested in the post.
Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster, said that was to be expected.
“When something so visible happens,” she said of the Cuomo scandal, “and it continues to happen after people think it’s been fixed, it really gives you an appetite. for the candidates. “