Andrew Cuomo maintains support of New York voters, despite misconduct allegations
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has lost the support of most of his home state's congressional delegation, including Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as top local officials, amid sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. And pending the results from the state attorney general's investigation, he is at serious risk of losing his erstwhile ally, the president of the United States, who said the governor should resign if the probe confirms the claims.
The widespread opposition from members of his own party might be seen as a political death knell, especially for a Democrat in the #MeToo era. That was the case for Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who was pushed out of office by his colleagues — led by Gillibrand — in 2017. Cuomo also has a long history with Gillibrand, who was special counsel at the Housing and Urban Development Department while he was HUD secretary in the 1990s.
Cuomo's approach bears a closer resemblance to another politician from Queens, former President Trump — who doubled down on staying in office and banked on support from his core base of voters.
"I'm not going to resign. I was not elected by the politicians; I was elected by the people," Cuomo told reporters earlier this month. "People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to 'cancel culture,' and the truth."
And it's "the people" who are now the governor's last line of defense.
A poll released by Quinnipiac University last week shows that 55% of voters believe he should not step down, compared to 40% who believe he should. That support is even stronger among Democratic voters, with 67% saying they believe he should stay in office.
And a Siena College poll released on March 15 similarly found that 50% of respondents thought Cuomo should not resign over the allegations, while 35% said he should.
One factor contributing to this dynamic: 60% approve of Cuomo's handling of the pandemic, compared to 33% who don't, even as he received negative grades — 27%to 66% on transparency around nursing home death data. On the allegations, 41% say they're undecided, while 35% say he committed sexual harassment and 24% say he didn't.
"It's almost his last stand now," Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said of Cuomo's reliance on his voters. "When he says 'they are— the ones who can fire me,' he's not wrong."
While Cuomo may have the support to stay in office for now, his prospects for a fourth term look dim. The Siena poll found that only 34% of voters would reelect Cuomo if he ran again, compared to 52% who say they would "prefer someone else."
"They don't want him to run for re-election, but he doesn't have to resign," Greenberg said.
Cuomo's support among Black constituents helps tell the story of how he has survived so far. The Siena poll showed that 59% of Black voters say Cuomo should be reelected while 29% said they prefer someone else. Among White votes, those numbers are reversed.
Black voters also give Cuomo high favorability ratings, while his numbers among white voters are under water: 61% of Black voters view him favorably while just 37% of white voters do. And they give him higher grades than other voters do on whether he can do his job effectively, given the various investigations and on his handling of the pandemic.
"Communities of color are particularly attuned to and sensitive to issues of due process and not rushing to judgment," says a New York Democratic operative. "It isn't necessarily rushing to support him but it's wait-and-see mode." The operative also said there is a sense of respect among Black voters for Attorney General Letitia James and her ability to conduct the investigation.
It was no coincidence, then, that Cuomo visited a church in Harlem last week with Black church and community leaders and received a dose of the COVID vaccine. "You go to your friends because you know that they are going to be with you...when people start piling up on you," former Representative Charlie Rangel told reporters at the event.
That support is not uniform, however. Several Black members of the state's congressional delegation have called on Cuomo to resign in light of the allegations. But notably, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of House leadership, hasn't gone as far. "The reality is we've got an impeachment investigation that is in front of us, as well as a very thorough attorney general investigation that is in front of us that has already begun," he told reporters last week. "And then when the results of those investigations are presented to the public, I think some important decisions on accountability are going to have to be made."
Cuomo has a frosty relationship with members of the congressional delegation, and resignation calls from the two senators and other lawmakers don't carry much sway over him. But strategists say a call from Jeffries could carry more weight if he changes course. And further involvement from President Biden could also make a difference. During an interview earlier this month, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Biden whether Cuomo should resign if the investigation confirms the claims of the women. "Yes," Mr. Biden replied. "I think he'll probably end up being prosecuted, too."
Cuomo's defiance has drawn comparisons to another recently embattled governor, Virginia's Ralph Northam, who faced multiple calls to resign in 2019 after a racist photo surfaced on his medical school yearbook page. After initially apologizing for appearing in the Halloween photo, in which one man was wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and the other was in blackface, Northam claimed that in fact, he had not appeared in the picture. (A commission later issued a finding that said it could not determine the truth.) Even after prominent politicians such as Mr. Biden called on him to step down, Northam refused to resign. Northam, who is term-limited, remains in office and has even rebounded.
But some Democrats say such direct comparisons aren't accurate. One Democratic operative familiar with Virginia politics told CBS News that, unlike Northam, there have been multiple allegations against Cuomo. This operative said that Northam also worked hard to rebuild relationships with his constituents and other state politicians.
"They seem to think the idea they can just wait it out and everything will be fine because the public will move on," he said. "I don't think it works like that. You've got to rebuild political capital."
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