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In Barely A Year, Gov. Cuomo Went From A Pandemic Hero To A Political Pariah

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation, effective in two weeks, after N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James detailed the sexual allegations against him in a report.
Jeenah Moon
Getty Images
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation, effective in two weeks, after N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James detailed the sexual allegations against him in a report.

In the space of just over a year, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from a pandemic "hero," watched daily by millions of people, to a flattened politician under intense pressure to step down after 11 women came forward to accuse him of unwelcome touching and inappropriate comments.

The Democrat tried to hang on amid an intensifying scandal until N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James released an exhaustive report detailing the allegations of sexual harassment.

James' investigation brought down the governor less than a year after he won an Emmy Award for his famous coronavirus briefings — an anchor for many people locked down in their homes in the spring of 2020. His prominence in politics, though, began decades before that.

A political scion

Cuomo was born into politics, the son of the late liberal icon Mario Cuomo, who was elected governor of New York for three terms in the 1980s and 1990s.

Andrew Cuomo ran his father's successful first campaign for governor, also serving as the "hatchet man" and earning the nickname "the prince of darkness."

Cuomo went on to become the secretary of housing and urban development under President Bill Clinton.

In 1990, he married Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and the couple had three daughters. In 2003, he and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo separated. Their messy divorce attracted tabloid headlines.

In 2002, with his father long out of office, Cuomo launched a primary challenge for governor, but his timing was off. He ran against the Democratic favorite, State Comptroller Carl McCall, who hoped to become the state's first Black major-party nominee for governor. Cuomo, trailing badly in the polls, dropped out of the race days before the primary.

But he launched a comeback. After Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a scandal that involved patronizing prostitutes, the path was clear for Cuomo to win the job in 2010.

Accomplishments and condemnation

As governor, Cuomo became known for his hard-charging, sometimes bullying, management style. At first, many in the political world were willing to live with an unrelenting leader if it meant an end to years of dysfunction and chronically late state budgets.

Cuomo enacted same-sex marriage laws in 2011, putting New York at the forefront of the issue. He banned hydrofracking, enacted a $15 minimum wage and put in a property tax cap.

Eventually, though, his tactics earned him enemies, even within his party. By the time his fortunes began to turn, Cuomo found himself with few defenders.

In January, Letitia James' office found that Cuomo had undercounted COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes by 50% and suppressed those numbers for months.

Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim, who lost his uncle to the coronavirus in a nursing home, was the first to publicly rebel against Cuomo's blunt tactics. Kim told several media outlets, including ABC's The View, that Cuomo threatened to "destroy" him if Kim did not stop his criticisms of the state's nursing home policies.

"Cuomo is an abuser," Kim said on the show. "He has abused his powers. And abusers are cowards."

Cuomo has denied he threatened Kim and has, in turn, accused the legislator of corruption.

Then came the accusations of sexual harassment from multiple women and the last straw — James' damaging report. That's when Cuomo found himself facing major troubles, alone and out of political options.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.