Once hailed as the anti-Donald Trump, Andrew Cuomo’s political career is rapidly imploding in the face of twin sexual harassment and coronavirus cover-up scandals.
The New York Governor, one of the most prominent politicians in the country who shot to national stardom last year off the back of glowing media coverage for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is now facing an independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations and a potential impeachment over nursing home deaths.
Conservative media monitoring organisation NewsBusters notes that even though the nursing home scandal was known as early as April last year, “the Cuomo-boosters in the national media refused to touch it”.
“The broadcast evening newscasts made the Governor a star of their pandemic coverage, yet devoted a scant 51 seconds to it in all of 2020,” NewsBusters Rich Noyes and Bill D’Agostino wrote in an analysis published on Monday.
“This year, as the depths of Cuomo’s duplicity have become apparent, those same newscasts have delivered a scant 10 minutes, 56 seconds during the past four weeks (January 28 to February 25) – nearly as much airtime as they devoted over just four days (February 18-21) to Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s ill-advised trip to Cancun (eight minutes, 51 seconds).”
Here’s a rundown of all of the scandals swirling around Mr Cuomo.
Anna Ruch, a former Obama administration official who worked on the 2020 Biden campaign, had never met or worked with Mr Cuomo before meeting him at a wedding reception in September 2019.
The 33-year-old said after meeting the Governor, he put his hand on her bare lower back.
“I promptly removed his hand with my hand, which I would have thought was a clear enough indicator that I was not wanting him to touch me,” she said.
Instead, Mr Cuomo said she seemed “aggressive” and placed his hands on her cheeks.
“He said, ‘Can I kiss you?’” Ms Ruch said. “I felt so uncomfortable and embarrassed when really he is the one who should have been embarrassed.”
A bewildered Ms Ruch pulled away as Mr Cuomo drew closer. A friend took a series of pictures of the event as it occurred.
“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” she said. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”
Ms Ruch said she had to ask a friend if his lips had made contact with her face. She was told the Governor had kissed her cheek.
“It’s the act of impunity that strikes me,” Ms Ruch said.
“I didn’t have a choice in that matter. I didn’t have a choice in his physical dominance over me at that moment. And that’s what infuriates me. And even with what I could do, removing his hand from my lower back, even doing that was not clear enough.”
On Sunday, former New York journalist Lindsay Nielsen came out with allegations against Mr Cuomo, although she did not accuse him of sexual harassment.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Nielsen said she left Albany-based station News10 ABC in 2017 as a result of “threatening” tactics and “incessant bullying” she endured from the Cuomo administration.
“‘You have a vendetta against him don’t you!’ That was the last time I allowed someone connected to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration to harass and manipulate me,” she wrote.
“It was during one of the many accusatory and threatening phone calls I received by his staff members that I realised this behaviour was never going to stop.”
She said it was “shortly thereafter” she decided to leave her job at News10, where she had worked since 2012.
“The late night phone calls from the administration, the constant threats to call my boss, the incessant bullying to try and get me to stop doing my job and reporting specific stories … it would never end,” she wrote.
Nielsen said the alleged tactics were “deliberate yet evasive” and “skimmed the line of appropriateness ever so delicately as to make you feel like they were acceptable”.
Speaking to the New York Post, Nielsen said the harassment was “one of the reasons” she had quit. “I didn’t want to deal with it anymore,” she said, adding she came forward after seeing similar reports of allegations against the Cuomo administration.
“I don’t want another reporter to have to go through that. That’s why I did it.”
Charlotte Bennet is the second former aide to accuse Mr Cuomo of sexual harassment.
Ms Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the administration until she left in November, said the alleged harassment took place last year at the height of the state’s fight against COVID-19.
She said the most disturbing encounter occurred on June 5 while she was alone with Mr Cuomo in his office at the State Capitol, where he asked her numerous questions she interpreted as clear sexual overtures, including whether she thought age made a difference in a relationship, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.
He allegedly complained to her about being lonely during the pandemic, mentioning that he “can’t even hug anyone”, before turning to her and asking, “Who did I last hug?”
She tried to dodge the question by saying she missed hugging her parents. “And he was like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she told The New York Times.
“I understood that the Governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
She also described Mr Cuomo’s “horror movie” reaction the previous month after learning she was a survivor of sexual assault.
“The way he was repeating, ‘You were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed,’ over and over again while looking me directly in the eyes was something out of a horror movie,” she wrote in a text message to a friend after the conversation. “It was like he was testing me.”
Mr Cuomo said in a statement that he was “trying to be a mentor to her” and that he “never made advances toward Ms Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate”.
Lindsey Boylan first accused Mr Cuomo in December of having “sexually harassed me for years”, but provided no details at the time and declined to speak with reporters.
Ms Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development in the Cuomo administration and a former special adviser to Mr Cuomo himself, left in September 2018.
Late last month she published a lengthy post on Medium about her time working with him.
“‘Let’s play strip poker.’ I should have been shocked by the Governor’s crude comment, but I wasn’t,” she wrote. “We were flying home from an October 2017 event in Western New York on his taxpayer-funded jet. He was seated facing me, so close our knees almost touched.”
Ms Boylan alleged that Mr Cuomo had “created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected”.
She said his “inappropriate behaviour toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right”.
Ms Boylan described several alleged inappropriate encounters with Mr Cuomo, which began soon after their first meeting in January 2016 where, new on the job, she was “surprised by how much attention he paid me”.
In 2018, during a one-on-one briefing with Mr Cuomo, Ms Boylan alleged he had kissed her without consent. “As I got up to leave and walk toward the open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips,” she wrote. “I was in shock, but I kept walking.”
In December, Mr Cuomo said Ms Boylan’s claims were false. “Look, I fought for and I believe a woman has a right to come forward and express her opinion, and express issues and concerns that she has,” he said. “But it’s just not true.”
His office repeated that denial after her Medium article. “As we said before, Ms Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behaviour are quite simply false,” press secretary Caitlin Girouard said in a statement.
On Sunday, Mr Cuomo issued a statement on the growing controversy, claiming that his “jokes” had been misinterpreted as “unwanted flirtation”.
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way,” he said.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
He continued, “To be clear, I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”
His statement was issued minutes after his office caved to State Attorney-General Letitia James’ request to appoint an independent investigator to look into the allegations.
“The Governor’s office wants a thorough and independent review that is above reproach and beyond political interference,” Mr Cuomo’s special counsel and senior adviser Beth Garvey said in a statement.
“Therefore, the Governor’s office has asked Attorney-General Tish James to select a qualified private lawyer to do an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment.”
NURSING HOME SCANDAL
Separately, Mr Cuomo is also under growing pressure over his administration’s alleged cover-up of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.
In March last year, the Cuomo administration issued a controversial order requiring nursing homes to accept coronavirus-positive patients discharged from hospitals.
More than 6000 people with the virus had been admitted to nursing homes across the state by the time the order was rescinded two months later.
New York nursing homes were ravaged by the virus, with official figures – revised upwards after a damning report issued by Attorney-General James in January alleged the Cuomo administration had deliberately undercounted the deaths by 50 per cent – putting the total number of lives lost at more than 13,000.
Mr Cuomo has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
While Republicans have been attempting to draw attention to the scandal since last year, Democrats have only recently begun to turn on Mr Cuomo.
The tipping point came last month with a bombshell report by the New York Post that Mr Cuomo’s top aide had admitted the administration withheld data on nursing home deaths out of fear of a federal investigation.
In a private video conference call with state Democratic politicians, Melissa DeRosa apologised for withholding the data, saying “we froze” out of fear the numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors.
Addressing subsequent media conference, Mr Cuomo refused to apologise for the deaths, saying only he was sorry for not providing “public information fast enough”.
“This creates a void, and conspiracy theories and politics and rumours fill that void, and you can’t allow inaccurate information to go unanswered,” he said.
“We were busy. We were doing our job, we were trying to save lives. No excuses. I was not aggressive enough in knocking down the falsities.”
That came as it was reported that both the FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn had started investigations into the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing home data.
High-profile Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents a federal district in New York, also added her voice to a push for an inquiry by state legislators.
“I support our state’s return to coequal governance, and stand with our local officials calling for a full investigation of the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during COVID-19,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement last month.
“Thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers lost their lives in nursing homes throughout the pandemic. Their loved ones and the public deserve answers and transparency from their elected leadership.”
Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim, whose uncle died from the virus in a nursing home, has been a prominent critic of Mr Cuomo – and as a result claims he received a menacing phone call from the Governor threatening to “destroy” his career.
Mr Cuomo flatly denied the claim, saying the pair had “a long and hostile relationship” going back to an old feud over a bill to regulate nail salons.
The Governor accused Mr Kim of taking campaign contributions from nail salon owners, saying he had engaged in “pay to play” and acted “unethically if not illegally” in reversing his position on the bill.
Mr Kim last week said he would lead a push among his fellow Democratc Assembly members to pursue an impeachment trial of Mr Cuomo over the alleged cover-up.
“There is a tremendous distrust in what (the Cuomo administration has) done, and the potential cover-up,” Mr Kim told the Democrat & Chronicle.
“So let’s put them on a public trial and go through all the evidence one by one. That’s the only way to rebuild a proper check and balance and to rebuild the public’s trust.”