Perhaps you’re wondering what the hell is going on with Andrew Cuomo.
Of course you are. You’ve been in deeply dull pandemic lockdown for more than a year. And now, here’s a drama involving politics, ethics, sex and remorse featuring one of the biggest political names in the country. In which citizens are challenged to decide whether, say, kissing a female subordinate on the mouth after a private meeting could count as a “customary way of greeting.”
Can I hear you say, “Nah”?
Cuomo was the hero of an earlier stage of the pandemic — the truth-telling, Trump-challenging star who won an Emmy for his daily coronavirus briefings. Remember when you deliberately tuned in to watch the New York governor show you a bunch of charts? We will think of this in retrospect as the era when people were buying the Andrew Cuomo Celebrity Prayer Candle on Amazon.
But wow, how fast things changed. It turns out that the stellar accomplishments Cuomo was pointing to every day were, um, fudged. Somewhat. The question was whether a nursing home patient who is hospitalized and dies from Covid-19 counts as a nursing home fatality. Obviously, if you’re the patient’s family, that doesn’t matter a heck of a lot. But if you’re a governor trying to demonstrate how well you oversee the nursing homes, it’s a big deal.
Cuomo’s star power was dimmed, for people who were paying attention. But this new scandal has gotten everybody’s interest. New York has a long record of this kind of political crisis. In 1881, enemies of Senator Thomas Platt managed to grab a hotel room next to the one where Platt was having an assignation. They watched the whole thing over the transom and dutifully reported all the details to an Albany newspaper.
Much, much later, Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned from office after voters learned he was an enthusiastic patron of prostitutes. (That was only 13 years ago, but gee, it seems like forever. George W. Bush was in the White House; Indiana Jones was headed back to movie theaters; and the Republicans were about to choose a new superstar, Sarah Palin, as nominee for vice president.)
Spitzer was succeeded by Lt. Gov. David Paterson. A day after he was sworn in, Paterson and his wife announced they had both had extramarital affairs.
There were also lots of terrible/embarrassing/cringe-worthy stories on the lower rungs, many based on the theme that nothing that happens in Albany counts back home. (Lawmakers: How many times do we have to tell you not to watch porn with your interns?)
Part of the problem is that New York has had a pathetic record of putting women in high office. We’ve elected only seven to statewide jobs, none of them governor. Maybe this will help change that pattern. If it does, credit goes first to the women who came forward to tell their stories, knowing the governor had control of the party in which they were trying to make their careers.
“Ultimately what will matter is — will they get punished for speaking out,” said Debbie Walsh of the Center for American Women and Politics. “All three had a lot to lose.”
Charlotte Bennett, a young former aide, told The Times that when she was alone in an office with Cuomo, he started asking unnerving questions about her personal life and volunteered that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.
(People, do you think this was … boasting? Sort of wondering if it wouldn’t be nice to hear a politician tell a wary young woman that he liked partners of all ages, up to about, say, 80.)
Anyhow, the beat went on. Lindsey Boylan, who is currently running for Manhattan borough president, recently reported that once, as she was leaving Cuomo’s office when she was his aide, “he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips. I was in shock, but I kept walking.”
Anna Ruch, who worked in Democratic politics, met the governor at a wedding, exchanged pleasantries and then felt his hand on her lower back. Ruch removed said hand. Cuomo was in a sensitive situation. How do you think he resolved it?
A) Saying, “Oh, sorry — I was reaching for a cookie.”
B) Sighing and muttering, “God, I’ve got to stop doing this stuff.”
C) Placing his hands on her cheeks, calling her “aggressive” and asking rather loudly if he could give her a kiss.
Yeah, I know you know it’s C. There’s a photo of the moment, and if Cuomo ever tries to run for office again, I guarantee you that voters will be seeing the stunned look on Ruch’s face on his opponents’ billboards.
On Wednesday Cuomo held a press conference in which he confessed only to having “made others feel in ways I never intended.” Doesn’t that sound a little too close to an innocent mistake? In a perfect world, he might have added: “You know, it’s a tough time right now, and part of it for me is realizing how I can really be a jerk with women.”