Allegations against Cuomo become headache for Democrats from Albany to Washington

The governor’s weakened standing as a result of the recent accusations by three women has emboldened many of Cuomo’s frequent intra-party critics, many of whom have chaffed under his decadelong death-grip on state politics and are keen to cast him aside. It was also forcing leading Democrats who are less predisposed to criticizing Cuomo to respond.

“The behavior described in these allegations against Governor Cuomo is completely unacceptable and every allegation of sexual harassment must be taken seriously and be reviewed,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Tuesday evening.

The governor remained silent on Tuesday, six days after former aide Lindsey Boylan accused him of sexual harassment in a personal essay posted on Medium. A second former aide, Charlotte Bennett, came forward on Saturday night with her own accusations that were published in The New York Times. The claims follow controversy over the governor’s handling of the deaths of nursing home residents early in the pandemic, as well as a spate of stories about his aggressive style of leadership.

Cuomo released a statement Sunday in which he claimed his comments to Bennett were meant to be “good natured” and said he was sorry the interactions were “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.” The governor on Monday authorized state Attorney General Tish James to appoint a “qualified private lawyer” to launch an investigation into the allegations. James pledged to disclose the findings of the investigation in a public report.

A half-dozen Democratic socialist state lawmakers on Tuesday jointly called for Cuomo’s impeachment, a process that’s only been used once in New York to remove a sitting governor. Meanwhile, the New York State Young Democrats demanded the governor’s resignation, as did the Working Families Party, which has long had a tortured relationship with the governor despite granting him their ballot line in all four of his successful statewide elections.

“Governor Cuomo’s reign of fear, harassment and intimidation cannot continue,” the Working Families Party said in a message posted to Twitter. “We are calling on the Governor to resign immediately because he is unfit to serve the people of New York.”

Other leading Democrats are proceeding more cautiously, but nonetheless have steered clear of reflexively siding with Cuomo as they often had in years past. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who overlapped with Cuomo in Albany prior to being elected to Congress, told reporters Tuesday the state’s congressional delegation has not collectively discussed the issue.

“Everyone is going to have to make an individual decision as it relates to these very serious allegations, in terms of the manner in which they communicate with people that they represent,” said Jeffries, who is also a member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team. “Everybody’s monitoring the situation closely.”

New York Democratic Committee chair Jay Jacobs on Tuesday urged members of the party to hold off on judgment while Attorney General Tish James’ office conducts an investigation — a process that could take months — and tend to other pressing matters in the interim.

“[O]ur state has a budget to compete, a pandemic to fight and the people’s work must continue,” he said in a statement.

Jacobs in 2010 notably came to the defense of former Gov. David Paterson when he, too, faced calls to resign, beseeching New Yorkers to “get the other side of the story.“

Beyond New York, the accusations against Cuomo have begun to follow even fellow Democratic governors. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who chairs the Democratic Governor’s Association, said the group is weighing how to respond to the sexual harassment allegations against one of its members, adding that it was “premature” to say whether it would push for him to resign but expected it “will be a significant part of the discussion.”

“I don’t want to jump ahead, but we will have a very serious conversation about what we ought to do, and what standard we expect all elected leaders to adhere to and stand by,” she said during a Washington Post live event Tuesday.

Republicans in New York and elsewhere have wholly seized on the matter in hopes of cracking open an opportunity to win on the statewide level for the first time in years. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), one of a handful of GOP politicians talked about as potential gubernatorial candidates, this week said that he is now “actively exploring” the idea of running next year.