Andrew Cuomo and the Arrogance of Power

Andrew Cuomo has crash landed. Dropped by all of his Democratic friends and allies, including Joe Biden, and threatened with impeachment, the New York governor resigned Tuesday, Aug. 10, armed with a classic defense, denying guilt in connection with charges of sexual harassment, and offering his “deep apologies” to the women who “felt offended” by his behavior.

Admittedly there is, as Cuomo said, “a difference between the misconduct allegations and the finding that sexual harassment exists.” In justifying his resignation by saying that “wasting energy on distractions is the last thing state government should be doing,” he showed an incorrigible insensitivity to the social debate over equality and power relations.

Distractions? The damning public report last week by the office of the state attorney general, an investigation based on 175 accounts and thousands of documents, does not only demonstrate how Cuomo harassed 11 women in considerable detail, but also reveals a work climate characterized by intimidation and reprisals that he cultivated from the height of his omnipotence. Gifted with a controlling personality, as he himself said, the man served as governor for 10 years. Many wonder today how this toxic work environment was not brought to light sooner. It is perpetuated, inevitably, thanks to hypocrisy and complicit silence. And that means it took courage for these women to end their silence and stand up to the arrogance with which Cuomo took the reins of power.

The difficult work environment continued also because Cuomo is an astute and effective politician, a moderate Democrat who had the ear of the New York public until he lost it with this affair. His credibility, sustained on CNN by his celebrity brother Chris, also began to decline in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding the concealing of the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes at the end of 2020, activity the FBI is still investigating.

Until that point, Cuomo was praised for his leadership in managing the pandemic crisis, something that was seen as a healthy counterpoint to Donald Trump. He was so successful politically and media-wise that many encouraged him to enter the presidential race last year, when Joe Biden’s race for the nomination struggled to get off the ground. At the very least, least, he was seen as being easily on the way to a fourth term as governor. He was the antithesis of Trump, albeit markedly less so in the current situation, although it should be emphasized that, in the shift in attitudes, Democrats are generally more discerning with respect to their leaders than Republicans.

In any case, here we had Cuomo pleading Tuesday to having made the mistake of failing to take stock “generational and cultural shifts” (“I have been too familiar with people”), something that stands in clear contradiction to the progressive image he wrapped around his public life. He projected himself as a feminist champion — for political gain — for taking up the cudgels of the #MeToo movement and legislating against sexual harassment and violence; a progressive champion for contributing to the legalization of gay marriage, raising (too) progressively the minimum wage to $15 per hour and establishing a system for paid parental leave.

All of which is not nothing, even though, according to his detractors, we’re talking about an illusory progressivism, since Cuomo took a while to yield to social pressures before agreeing to implement these measures. Additionally, year after year he has defended a policy of austerity, promoting cuts in education and Medicaid, the public health care insurance system intended for the disadvantaged. Therefore, when the State Assembly turned Democrat in 2018 after the election of young, left-leaning members, Cuomo’s relationships soon became openly contentious.

“I am a controlling personality … But you show me a person who is not controlling, and I’ll show you a person who is probably not highly successful,” he said. False.

In this instance, we can attribute success instead to the fact that this concept of the exercise of power has been defeated. By an opportune stroke of luck, it is a woman, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is taking over from Cuomo until the 2022 election, a woman who characterized Cuomo’s behavior as “repugnant and illegal.” And in addition, a certain counterexample to the kind of authoritarian approach Cuomo took has been in the White House since January.

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