The meteoric rise of politicians could be subsequently followed by a precipitous and irreparable fall. New York State’s Governor Andrew Cuomo illustrates vividly this point. Was it a case in which Cuomo had become a victim of his own success? Only a few months ago, Cuomo was enjoying a high popularity rating, attributed to his prudent and hands-on management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cuomo successfully led New York out of the epicenter of the pandemic in 2020, to subsequently achieve one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation, and death rates in the United States. However, the emergence of the delta variant has been creating great concern, as infection, hospitalisations and deaths have been gradually increasing. In New York City, for example, at one hospital, there were just a few new daily cases of the COVID-19 infection, but today that figure has climbed to 32. The existing infection rate in New York State is 2.53 with an average death per day of 4 persons.
Suddenly, the formidable New York politician’s world came crashing; a barrage of allegations of sexual misconduct was levelled against him by 11 women. Those allegations, which he denies, have continually chipped away at Cuomo’s popularity, and served as a major distraction on the State’s governance. It had become apparent that with the incremental loss of public support, combined with that of his Democratic legislators, the only viable option available to Cuomo was for him to resign. President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had called upon him to resign. Cuomo had nothing to stand upon. No one tried to rescue him from falling. He reluctantly announced his resignation as Governor on August 10, 2021, to take effect from August 25, 2021.
Cuomo would be replaced by Lt Governor Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat, who will serve out the rest of his term. She will become the state’s first female governor. It has been reported that Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton, NYS Attorney General Letitia James, and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio are potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates in November 2022.
Cuomo’s resignation would not necessarily preclude his accusers from filing civil lawsuits against him. Neither would the New York State Assembly decide not to proceed with impeachment proceedings. The NYS Assembly has other compelling issues to inquire into, such as the Senior Homes fiasco where scores of seniors died, and how Cuomo staff distorted figures (by as much as 50%) on COVID-19-related deaths.
There is also an allegation that Cuomo got staff to work on his book during official time.
Andrew Cuomo comes from a family with a high-profile tradition in American politics. Andrew Cuomo’s father, Mario Mathew Cuomo, was an illustrious Governor of New York (1983-1994). Andrew served as Secretary to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001. He was elected as New York State Attorney General in 2006. Then he was elected as Governor in 2010, and won succeeding elections until his resignation.
Cuomo’s downfall brings to attention another case of sexual misconduct against a high-profile New York State Governor, Eliot Spitzer. Eliot had everything going for him. He was wealthy, and created a reputation for cleaning up Wall Street of financial improprieties. Eliot was nicknamed the Wall Street Sheriff. He was a rising star in the Democratic party. However, he quickly lost his stardom when, serving as New York State Governor, he was involved in sexual misconduct (a high-end escort service). The District Attorney gave him an opportunity to resign instead of filing criminal charges against him. He complied and resigned in 2008, and thus another powerful politician fell.
An almost similar fate was shared by another popular politician of neighbouring state, New Jersey. James McGreevey occupied the Governor’s office in 2002 amid great expectations. His rise to political power was dramatic, as had been the case of Spitzer, but he (James) was unable to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct, and under pressure admitted that he had sexual relations with a man. Had he shown any reluctance to resign, his former security aide, Golan Copel, would have filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.
Politics may catapult one into power, but if power is not used wisely, a politician could easily become a casualty. Politicians must avoid moral missteps and embrace accountability.
Humility, and not arrogance, should be a politician’s guiding principle. Both Eliot and James were toppled and cast into the political wilderness. Would Andrew, coming from a strong political tradition, suffer a similar fate?
Dr Tara Singh