Two decades ago, as Bill Clinton’s time in the White House was coming to a messy finish, a member of Clinton’s Cabinet told me the soon-to-be former president was in for a rude awakening.
“There’s no bigger step down than the one out of the Oval Office,” I recall the official saying. “It’s going to be painful.”
That official was Andrew Cuomo, then the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and now a man facing his own messy exit from power. True, it’s the governor’s mansion in Albany, not the White House, but Cuomo’s fall from grace is as dramatic as they come.
Six weeks ago he was riding high, feted by the media and Hollywood, headed for a fourth term and perhaps the presidency. Then twin scandals began to emerge, and now he is surrounded by serious accusations that appear insurmountable.
And there is no respite in sight. Even if he were to leave office today, the federal investigation into the nursing-home coverup and the state attorney general’s probe into the sexual-harassment allegations will continue.
Cuomo’s single accomplishment of late has been to unite both parties against him, with fellow Democrats and Republicans in nearly equal numbers calling for him to resign or be impeached. The wave reached a peak Friday when New York’s senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, called for him to step down.
The media, much of which lavished praise on him not long ago, is similarly uniform now, with not a single major outlet defending Cuomo.
Among their sordid revelations, the scandals show the governor to be a one-trick pony, as his defense against the assault claims mirrors his defense against the 15,000 nursing-home deaths. In both, presented with evidence of his own mistakes and misconduct, he attacks, blaming everyone else.
On the nursing homes, it was The Post, Donald Trump, Fox News and even God. On the sexual allegations, the women might have “many motivations” and he won’t be ousted by “cancel culture.”
As for the resignation calls by Democratic House members, it’s because he’s not a member of the “political club.” That’s a tough sell coming from a three-term governor who is the son of a three-term governor.
The broad assumption that he’s toast is restrained only by questions of when he leaves and whether it will be with a whimper or a bang. The difference doesn’t matter as much as he thinks.
His refusal to resign loses resonance as each new allegation surfaces. The exposure of his megalomania robs him of any sympathy and fewer and fewer people fear him.
Yet the heroes of the unfolding spectacle are not the politicians calling for his ouster or the scribes and talking heads recounting the battle from the sidelines.
The honor goes to the 10 people in the arena who courageously broke from the cult of fear that Cuomo created. The 10 are all women, which renders a special comeuppance.
The first three women turned the nursing-home issue into a cause — and maybe a criminal case. The initial spark came from Arlene Mullin, a retired Long Island educator whose mother died from the coronavirus in a nursing home in early April.
After hearing a reference to an order mandating that nursing homes accept COVID patients being discharged from hospitals, Mullin found the directive on a state Web site and wrote to me about it. I had never heard of the order, nor had anybody at The Post, so Albany reporter Bernadette Hogan asked Cuomo about it at his briefing last April 20th.
He denied knowing anything about it, which I believe was a lie. The next day’s paper nonetheless reported the apparent tragic results of the order and how it made no sense, given that the virus had killed so many elderly in Europe and elsewhere. Soon, other families and nursing-home operators described the carnage the order was causing in New York facilities.
Still, the issue might have faded had an unspeakable tragedy not brought a second woman into the battle. Janice Dean, the Fox meteorologist who lost both in-laws to COVID in nursing homes, began expressing her outrage at Cuomo’s heartlessness and refusal to accept responsibility. Tentative at first, Dean quickly became a forceful presence among grieving families despite being insulted by Cuomo’s office.
Finally, the efforts bore fruit when state AG Letitia James reported on Jan. 28th that Cuomo had undercounted nursing-home deaths by more than 50 percent. Two weeks later, The Post obtained a recorded phone call when Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa confessed to legislators the governor’s team had withheld the data because a federal inquiry could use the numbers “against us.”
Thanks to James and a judge’s order in a Freedom of Information lawsuit, the 8,700 nursing-home deaths the state had reported suddenly grew to more than 15,000.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn opened a case and I’m told FBI agents “are very active,” with a focus on DeRosa’s admission and the phony July report where Cuomo’s team deleted the real number of deaths.
The other women who deserve recognition are the seven who alleged Cuomo’s sexual misconduct. Ironically, his reputation for revenge gives their accusations extra credibility.
Because she went first, Lindsey Boylan exhibited remarkable courage. The former Cuomo aide hinted in December he had harassed her, and was met with leaks of her personnel file to reporters.
One of the other accusers who came forward later, Ana Liss, said she thought at the time that Boylan was brave because “they’re going to crush you like a bug.”
Instead of shrinking, Boylan unloaded her story in an expose published online on Feb. 24. It was a shocking description of Cuomo pursuing and touching her repeatedly, and planting an unwanted kiss on her lips. She included e-mails showing his aides played along with his “crush” on her, even though she was married with a child.
Soon, former aide Charlotte Bennett followed with her disturbing tale, claiming Cuomo “groomed her” and propositioned her for sex during a meeting in his office. She, too, insisted that aides knew what the governor was doing and helped him.
One by one, five more women soon made allegations against Cuomo. Although the details vary, Karen Hinton, Anna Ruch, Liss, an unidentified woman and Jessica Bakeman, at great risk to their own reputations, each described Cuomo behaving in ways that are outrageous and, in some cases, perhaps illegal.
Other men and women who worked with Cuomo are now coming forward to depict a culture that resembled a harem, where young women were hired only for their looks, ordered to dress fashionably and wear high heels while their work was ignored or demeaned. Those who accepted Cuomo’s flirtations and touching reportedly got assigned desks closer to his offices in Manhattan and Albany.
As the cases increase and the outrage mounts, the only surprise now is that Cuomo still thinks he can hang on to power. Earth to him: Tick tock, tick tock.