ALBANY — Sunday marked the 365th day since the first New Yorker tested positive for the coronavirus, concluding a year defined in large part by the omnipresence of Gov. Andrew Cuomo on television screens throughout the state and nation.
Cuomo seemed poised to spend the day in hiding. And even if he does emerge later in the day, he has made it clear that he will not discuss a New York Times report detailing the account of a second woman who has alleged sexual harassment by the governor.
As of mid-Sunday morning, Cuomo’s schedule listed no public events for that day. If that doesn’t change, it would mark the sixth straight day Cuomo has gone without taking questions from the press. That would be the longest such streak since the pandemic began.
Disappearing in times of crisis is a time-honored Cuomo strategy. After the Times detailed his administration’s meddling in a supposedly independent Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption in 2014, he completely dropped off the grid for five days, even though he was in the midst of a reelection campaign.
But the current silence stands out even more, given that it coincides with the conclusion of a year in which he conducted 418 press briefings, television appearances and radio interviews, and won an Emmy for his televised briefings when New York was the center of the pandemic last spring.
“Once upon a time, the Cuomo playbook of ‘wait it out’ would have worked,” said Monica Klein, a Democratic consultant who has often been critical of the governor. “But because he’s done these daily press conferences this past year, it’s now notable and problematic when he tries to disappear from the public eye.”
Cuomo’s statement shortly after Saturday night’s Times story about the new harassment allegation suggested that his silence will continue, at least on the subject of his behavior.
“This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press; I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort,” Cuomo said. “I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgments. I will have no further comment until the review has concluded.”
That review and who should conduct it quickly emerged as a point of contention.
Cuomo’s administration announced on Saturday night that it had selected former federal judge Barbara Jones to conduct an “independent review.”
None of the many legislators who have been demanding “independent” reviews since the first allegations of harassment emerged on Wednesday seemed placated by this choice. Jones, notably, once worked with longtime Cuomo friend Steven Cohen at a Manhattan law firm. And Cuomo’s long history of getting involved in “independent” investigations conducted by people he appoints — including, for example, the aforementioned Moreland Commission — led to lawmakers demanding that he have no role in selecting the investigator.
“A truly independent investigation must begin immediately,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a Saturday night statement. “A truly independent investigation is warranted,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a separate statement.
Both subsequently clarified that they do not consider Jones’ appointment as “truly independent.”
“We believe the [state] Attorney General’s office should handle the investigation,” a Stewart-Cousins spokesperson said.
If there’s anything resembling a bright side for Cuomo as he attempts to hang on for his political life, it’s that the statements from the legislators who would play a role in any potential impeachment trials were focused on the idea of an investigation. A few members called for his resignation — “You are a monster, and it is time for you to go,” Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Westchester) wrote in a tweet directed at Cuomo — though this group was mostly limited to the people who have been floating the idea of a forced removal for weeks.
But the latest allegations certainly provide fodder for those hoping to take an immediate harder line against the governor.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, one of Albany’s two highest-ranking Republicans, had already introduced a resolution to establish a commission to explore the possibility of impeaching Cuomo over his administration’s ongoing nursing home scandal.
Barclay said he was unsure if the harassment allegations rose to the type of criminal behavior that might also be considered impeachable. But he did say that they helped make the case about why lawmakers should end the emergency powers that has allowed Cuomo issue legally binding decrees.
“There is a level of trust you have to have between the Legislature and the executive branch, and also the executive branch and the people. That trust is quickly eroding,” Barclay said.
“The governor was out there all through this pandemic saying what a great job he did as governor. I think that’s maybe causing even more problems because he didn’t acknowledge that mistakes were made,” he said. “Now, because of that, many people aren’t willing to give him any passes, nor should we.”