What's Next For New York After Cuomo's Resignation? : The NPR Politics Podcast Once talked about as a future presidential candidate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) will leave politics in disgrace after the release of a report detailing multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Some allegations he denies, others encounters he says are being mischaracterized. Now, there are big questions about the future of politics in the state.

This episode: White House correspondent Asma Khalid, New York State Public Radio reporter Karen DeWitt, political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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What's Next For New York After Cuomo's Resignation?

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MILES: Good day, USA. It's Miles (ph).

MILLEN: And Millen (ph).

MILES: Calling in from sunny Sydney, where we're about to drive to the beach.

MILLEN: This podcast was recorded at...

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

1:08 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, August 11.

MILLEN: Things may have changed since this podcast was last recorded, like the sand between our toes and the saltwater on our skin.

MILES: But no matter what, remember this - we're all in this together. Stay safe. OK, enjoy the show.

MILLEN: Enjoy the show.

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DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Good for you fellows, I guess.

KHALID: I can't tell if they're trolling us by their, like, luxurious time on the beach while we sit here in D.C. (laughter). Either way, though, it sounds like fun.

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

KURTZLEBEN: And I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover demographics and culture.

KHALID: And today on the show, we're going to be talking about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and frankly, the shocking news that he'll be resigning. I say shocking because this announcement comes after the governor had been defiantly refusing to step down despite a damning report of sexual harassment allegations.

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ANDREW CUOMO: New York tough means New York loving. And I love New York. And I love you. And everything I have ever done has been motivated by that love. And I would never want to be unhelpful in any way. And I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing.

KHALID: So we are no New York political experts. So we invited one of our friends from New York State Public Radio, Karen DeWitt, on the show. Hey there, Karen.

KAREN DEWITT, BYLINE: Hey.

KHALID: And, Karen, thank you for joining us. You have covered the governor and the Cuomo family for a long time.

DEWITT: Yes, I certainly have. I've been on this beat for 30 years.

KHALID: You know, to those of us around the country, to non-New Yorkers, a lot of people really got to know Governor Cuomo through those snazzy press conferences he held during the early days of the pandemic. And, you know, some Democrats thought of him as a hero last year. And now here he's fallen, I mean, rather dramatically. Did his resignation surprise you?

DEWITT: You know, not completely. We knew it was going to have to come in the next couple of months as it became clear that he wasn't going to be able to win this political fight. I mean, the attorney general's report was just so scathing. I thought he was maybe going to hang on until just before the assembly drafted their articles of impeachment because they were headed down that road. And the governor might seek a face-saving deal, maybe no impeachment, and I won't seek a fourth term in office. But on Monday, the assembly speaker said absolutely not, no deals. And I think then the handwriting was on the wall. And he knew that it was just too much political weight. And it was better to leave now than to just be dragged through an impeachment fight that he was not going to win.

KHALID: So I want people to understand the scope of the allegations against Governor Cuomo. Let's take a listen to what New York's attorney general, Tish James, said, detailing the findings of the independent investigation.

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LETITIA JAMES: The independent investigation found that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging and by making inappropriate comments. Further, the governor and his senior team took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story, her truth.

KHALID: The attorney general went on to say that the governor's office was a toxic work environment that enabled harassment and made people feel uncomfortable voicing complaints. He has flat out denied some of the accusations, but a lot of his response has been essentially saying that his intentions were misinterpreted by these women and yet he's decided to resign under pressure anyway. Karen, allegations - the first allegations, we should say - surfaced months ago. So how was the governor able to hold on to his job for so long?

DEWITT: Well, he said, wait for the report. He said, I trust Attorney General Tish James. At least he said that initially. At one point, he predicted he'd be exonerated. And then as the report was going on in the final weeks, he started impugning the motives of Attorney General Tish James and her investigators, saying it was all political. But really, you know, he was a very powerful guy. People were afraid. And you have people like union leaders who needed things from him.

DEWITT: He also was really good in the last few months of building back his reputation. He first started appearing at events with key allies who were still sticking with him. And then he kept building out. He was appearing with politicians who'd already asked him to resign. So it seemed like that strategy was working, at least until we saw the contents of that report.

KHALID: You know, when these allegations first surfaced, I will say, you know, there were certainly some of us who watch national politics who thought that Governor Cuomo might kind of fight to the death, that he would hang on. And in seeing his resignation, do you interpret that the line of what kind of behavior politicians can be held accountable for has shifted?

KURTZLEBEN: I'm not sure about that. I think it's really, really hard to draw huge conclusions about, you know, how effective was - has the #MeToo movement been? Does this mean that now politicians can be ousted for X, Y? Like, it's hard to draw anything too big from that. But one very important thing that I want to get at here that this all has made me think of is about that line between your personal and your professional life - right? - because this is a thing that we have been discussing, talking about, obsessing over for decades, if not longer.

I mean, this all made me think of Bill Clinton because Bill Clinton, back in 1998, one of his defenses about Monica Lewinsky, about his affair with her was, well, to quote him directly - "Nothing is more important to me personally, but it is private, and I intend to reclaim my family life for my family. It's nobody's business but ours. Even presidents have private lives." He was saying, look; my behavior - my bad behavior on the side does not affect my professional life. Well, recently as a culture, we have been reassessing Bill Clinton. And one of the things that many critics of his have said is that, no, look; you had power, and you abused that power. Well, similarly, this has come up with Cuomo, right? Because - what made me think of this was an interaction at a press conference with Joe Biden yesterday when reporter Ed O'Keefe asked him this question.

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ED O'KEEFE: He was someone who supported your campaign early on. Know you called on him to resign, know you condemned the alleged behavior - but you're someone who spends a lot of time with mayors and governors. How would you assess his 10 1/2 years as governor of the state?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: In terms of his personal behavior or what he's done as a governor?

O'KEEFE: What he's done as a governor.

BIDEN: Well, he's done a hell of a job. Well, he's done a hell of a job. And I mean, both on - everything from access to voting to infrastructure to a whole range of things. That's why it's so sad.

KURTZLEBEN: Biden separated out the personal from the political, and this created an argument with Kaitlan Collins of CNN.

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KAITLAN COLLINS: Can you really say that he has done, quote, " a hell of a job" if he's accused of sexually harassing women...

BIDEN: Now, look; you asked two different questions.

COLLINS: ...On the job?

BIDEN: You asked the substantive - should he remain as governor? - is one question. And women should be believed when they make accusations that are able to, on the face of them, make sense and investigated - they're investigated. And the judgment was made what they said was correct. That's one thing. The question is - did he do a good job on infrastructure? That was the question. He did.

KURTZLEBEN: Look; I think that we are wrestling with that question much more intensely now than perhaps we used to - and not only in the political realm. I mean, look; the allegations are not at all the same. But this, to me, is similar to something that we've been talking about in arts, in pop culture. You know, can you like a Woody Allen movie even if you believe the allegations against him are abhorrent? Similarly, can you appreciate Cuomo's role in getting gay marriage passed even if you really find his allegations abhorrent? I think this is another flavor of that. And this is something that we are finding newer and newer, unfortunately, newer cases to have to wrestle with this question.

KHALID: And on a related point, how Republicans and Democrats feel about allegations of sexual harassment, the broader #MeToo movement differs. I mean, a lot of this has become another partisan line in a big, broad partisan fight about a lot of things.

KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely.

KHALID: All right. Danielle, thank you, as always, for joining us.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, absolutely. Thank you.

KHALID: We're going to take a quick break, and we'll have lots more to talk about in a minute.

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KHALID: And we're back. And joining us now is senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Asma.

KHALID: So let's talk about what is next in New York politics. When does Governor Cuomo officially leave, and who takes over for him?

MONTANARO: Well, he said that he's out in the next 14 days, his resignation effective 14

MONTANARO: days from yesterday. And who will take over will be his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, who interestingly got her start after a scandal where she ran in 2011 in a special election after, you might remember the name Chris Lee, who was an upstate New York senator who was pushed out by Speaker John Boehner. He was a Republican who had sent a shirtless photo of himself, and that is how she wound up running in a special election and winning that seat to one term.

DEWITT: Oh, my goodness. Even I don't remember that.

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

DEWITT: Kathy Hochul is from Buffalo and western New York. It's unusual for her to be now - going to be governor because usually the governors are from downstate. She's also, at least was more conservative than most of the Democrats in New York state are now. She once got an A rating from the NRA when she was running for one of her elections. She also held a lot of local offices, but now she's pro-gun control.

And she was chosen by Cuomo in 2014 to balance the ticket. And since then, she's pretty much been a cheerleader for Cuomo, traveling the state, going - sometimes starting in Buffalo, going to New York City in between Rochester and Syracuse and just, you know, singing his praises and, you know, promoting his programs. But doing that, she made a lot of connections that are going to serve her really well, I think, right now.

So even though she's not a household name at all, she's well-known about in the movers and shakers of New York. But one important point, she is not part of Andrew Cuomo inner circle. You might remember you almost never saw her at the COVID briefings. Of all the ones that he did, maybe she was there twice. So she has not had a close relationship with him. She hasn't spoken to him in months. And I think that's probably in her favor right now.

MONTANARO: And notably, she'll be the first woman to be governor of New York state, which is pretty remarkable considering New York's, you know, liberal legacy.

KHALID: And, you know, presumably she is temporarily stepping in, but there will eventually be an election here.

DEWITT: Right, November 2022. And it seems like Hochul should be the front runner. I mean, she'll have been in office, as long as everything goes right, for one in almost 1 1/2 years by then. And assuming that she does a good job, I think that she would definitely be someone to beat. Of course, the other name mentioned is Attorney General Tish James, who we discussed earlier. She's a potential candidate, but she has not said at this point whether she's running or not.

MONTANARO: Which is part of why Cuomo was trying to dismiss her investigation before he wasn't.

DEWITT: Right.

KHALID: I mean, this all feels striking in just how hard of a fall this was for Governor Cuomo in politics, maybe more broadly, the Cuomo family legacy in New York state politics. But, you know, I'm thinking of the governor, right? You look back to less than a year ago, he won an Emmy for his COVID briefings. He had this book on leadership. Democrats were talking about his future on the national, possibly even presidential stage. And here we are today.

DEWITT: Huge reversal of fortune. I mean, I think the daily COVID briefings where the nation got to know him really played to his strengths. He was in charge at a time when federal leadership was lacking. He had his dad jokes and stories. Personally, I was kind of happy for him after covering him for so long because he's never been well liked. But, you know, as we know now and those of us who covered him knew, he has another side. And that's very controlling, bullying and intimidating.

MONTANARO: You know, I think Andrew Cuomo, his legacy, seeing the Cuomo name, kind of, you know, sullied in this way, he's leaving in disgrace. It's a big shock for a lot of New Yorkers. It's not something that they ever saw coming. It's a shock to a lot of different communities, especially the Italian American community, for example, in New York state, where they saw Mario Cuomo take the community and really make it feel like it was on a national level that wasn't a second-tier community.

And, you know, to see this kind of fall apart, I think, is disheartening for a lot of New Yorkers who thought that he was doing a good job on policy and didn't realize his personal side and what he was doing behind the scenes. And, you know, to see what's going to happen next for New York state, a place that, you know, really tries to be at the forefront of, you know, this kind of liberal policymaking, what's going to happen there? I think it's a whole new generation that's coming forward.

KHALID: All right. Well, let's leave it there for today. Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio, thank you so much for coming on.

DEWITT: You're welcome.

KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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