In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out. In New York politics, you get at least three strikes and maybe four or even five.
As growing numbers of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fellow Democrats demand he resign following three allegations of sexual harassment, there is widespread expectation he’ll quit any day now. That could happen, but absent bombshell accusations by more women, I wouldn’t bet on it.
It’s much more likely we’re in the early innings of a game that could go on for months. In fact, it’s possible the situation could go unresolved until the 2022 election, when Cuomo was expected to seek a fourth term.
I say this because it’s clear the governor has no intention of volunteering his resignation and because he can’t be forced out except by the Legislature through impeachment, which isn’t even close to starting. Although Cuomo’s standing with the public is slipping, it hasn’t fallen off a cliff and there are no huge demonstrations of New Yorkers clamoring for an immediate exit.
Cuomo, of course, has never been confused with a shrinking violet. His reputation as a political thug is well-deserved, and he’s not about to turn into Mr. Nice Guy in a crisis, even the most serious one of his career.
The first hints he is determined to try to ride out the storm emerged with his two attempts to pick or influence the person who would investigate him. The efforts were ridiculous, but they signaled that he will concede nothing and make his opponents fight for every inch of turf.
Only when there was no support in Albany for him to make the pick did Cuomo agree to let Attorney General Letitia James be the decider. But then he quickly grabbed back the spotlight by issuing an apology — of sorts.
His statement was moronic in that it basically blamed his accusers for not understanding his concern for them and sense of humor. But the significance is that it again revealed he will contest every issue and yield nothing without a fight.
That strategy is rooted in a fundamental fact: nobody can force him to quit. That’s his ace in the hole.
Impeachment and removal is the only recourse, but we are a long way from that, with only a relative handful of legislators supporting it so far. It’s been more than a century since the process was even used.
Mirroring the federal system, it requires a simple majority vote in the Assembly and a two-thirds vote in the Senate for conviction and removal.
Both chambers are heavily Democratic and to get anywhere near the magic numbers, there would have to be some form of due process and a finding which would establish the governor’s guilt beyond doubt. That’s going to be the task of the investigation when it starts, and even that comes with a hitch.
Conducted by a law firm to be appointed by James, the probe will have subpoena power but its final report will be limited to findings and probably a recommendation.
Suppose it concludes Cuomo committed the abuses as charged, and maybe uncovers others. Then what?
Even if it calls on him to resign, he could thumb his nose at it.
More confirmation that he’s going to be a tough out came Tuesday from the state party boss, Jay Jacobs, who serves at Cuomo’s pleasure. After calling the harassment allegations “disturbing” and pushing back against Republicans by invoking the sins of Donald Trump, Jacobs urged “Democrats to unite in our determination to allow the Attorney General’s investigation to do the work we have called for, and then to do what is right, whatever the outcome.”
He might as well have added “calm down” because that was the subtext of the next sentence: “In the meantime, our state has a budget to complete, a pandemic to fight and the people’s work must continue.”
In effect, Cuomo and Jacobs aim to use the investigation to buy time for a cooling off period. And getting back to business-as-usual over the budget, where Cuomo holds the power of pork, is a way of reminding members they have an incentive to keep Cuomo in office.
Oddly, even the announcement Tuesday that lawmakers plan to curtail the emergency powers they gave him a year ago could serve his interests. It shows the Legislature is acting to punish him without jeopardizing his job. No doubt many members will say the emergency powers vote is enough for now.
However, there is one other torpedo that could destroy Cuomo’s plan to play the long game. That’s the federal investigation into whether his office illegally withheld an accurate count of nursing home deaths from the Justice Department.
The seeming admission of a cover-up from aide Melissa DeRosa in her recorded call with lawmakers last month ignited the probe and forced Cuomo and his team to lawyer up with criminal defense attorneys.
If the probe moves swiftly and if reports of subpoenas and grand juries began to dominate the headlines, the governor could be facing the start of a serious criminal issue,which could change public sentiment and his calculations.
And if more women also make allegations against him, he would be hopelessly engulfed by an accumulation of scandals. Then it would be The End.
Fuel for thought
Sack that metaphor!
The agent for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says his client wants to stay with the Steelers and help them recover from a disappointing season, adding: “They lost steam down the stretch and that doesn’t sit well for him, so the fire burns strong and there is plenty of gas in the tank.”
The Times becomes ‘Lord of the Flies’
Ousted New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. has unloaded a 20,000-word opus defending himself and in the process reveals that the Gray Lady has sunk even lower than we realized.
McNeil was forced to resign for using the N-word in a conversation with high school students on a Times-sponsored Peru trip in 2019. Top editor Dean Baquet had closed the case quietly with a reprimand, saying McNeil had no “malicious” intent and deserved another chance, but when the Daily Beast wrote about the incident in January, 150 Times staffers asked for more information, with some demanding McNeil be fired.
In a heartbeat, Baquet flip-flopped. McNeil writes that Baquet said to him: “I know you’re not a racist,” but claimed “You’ve lost the newsroom. People are hurt. People are saying they won’t work with you” and asked for his resignation.
Earth to Baquet: It’s not McNeil’s job to win the newsroom, as if each reporter must win a popularity contest with colleagues.
It’s part of the editor’s job to manage the staff and Baquet has obviously failed. Having lost control, he is reduced to surrendering his authority to mob rule just to keep his job.
At least we know now it’s not an illusion that the Times often reads like the newspaper version of the “Lord of the Flies.” That’s what it is.