Even as Albany’s insiders focus on Cuomo’s successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams, they privately continue chattering, worrying, that Cuomo might run for office next year, or at the very least employ his substantial remaining resources to influence critical races in the months to come.
“I think he’s going to try,” said state Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou (D-Manhattan). “I think he’s going to try a lot of things. He still has a lot of people in power in place — people who still probably benefit from helping him and are fighting for their political lives. But I do think there’s less and less patience for that.”
The former governor has repeatedly tried to smear the names of women who accused him. In newly released transcripts from state Attorney General Tish James’ investigation of the allegations, former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett said she was frightened by the behavior of the then-governor and his staff after she came forward in the spring to accuse him of “grooming” her for sexual harassment.
“It makes my life really hard and it’s simply unenjoyable that he can just choose to ruin my day because he decides to spew bull—- in the middle of a press conference,” she told investigators. “But also that it is simply damaging to the investigation …. As a witness, that scares me, and that’s all I’ll say.”
On a political level, Cuomo’s post-resignation behavior is an additional hurdle for Democrats as they look to recover from a bad 2021. His presence could scramble the 2022 governor‘s race, even if he’s not a candidate, and has left the state Capitol crowd yearning to put the three-term Democrat behind them.
“I think Cuomo was always very aggressive in trying to get his side out of how he feels on issues. But I think, people in the state, we’re ready to move forward, move on,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said at an annual gathering of New York’s political class in Puerto Rico, just after Election Day. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get ready for next year, next session, and I think that’s where people are at this point.”
But anyone who has been around New York long enough knows that argument is unlikely to sway Cuomo.
While social media accounts portray a carefree Hamptons angler with a new scruffy beard, Cuomo’s now sparse staff, paid out of his large campaign treasury, has pressed on in earnest, promoting allies’ op-eds, editorials questioning James’ integrity and potential pockets of political support. His daughter Michaela urged her Twitter followers to “please read” a Substack article slamming media coverage of Cuomo’s scandals and referring to his resignation as “a manufactured #MeToo-style PR offensive.”
For weeks, his personal attorney, Rita Glavin, has called for the attorney general’s office to release full transcripts of the interviews conducted as part of its investigation earlier this year. When James did so on Wednesday, Glavin said the rollout was “slow-rolling,” “selective” and “disturbing” in light of newer, criminal probes. Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi said redacted portions were aimed at covering up political ties between James’ staff and the women who accused Cuomo.
“Of course we’re not going away until the truth is revealed and we can’t control if some people have guilty consciences or if we are taking up valuable real estate in the heads of others,” Azzopardi said when asked why Cuomo has not gone along with his former colleagues’ requests to move on. “The AG abused her office and perpetuated a political hit job for her own benefit, which continued … when she selectively released transcripts that redacted conflicts of interest involving her own chief of staff, while also spreading false and salacious hearsay and rumors.”
The Cuomo camp’s attacks have not targeted Hochul or her administration. The remaining few people in Cuomo’s corner — or those who haven’t completely distanced themselves from guessing his mindset — say that if Cuomo wants to focus his attention on anyone, it is James, the attorney general he handpicked in 2018 to run on the Democratic ticket he led that year. Her investigation into his conduct sealed his demise, and now she’s running for governor in next year’s primary.
What form any revenge might take remains to be seen, as does what he’ll do with his $18 million in leftover campaign cash. Cuomo told New York Magazine last week, “I don’t know what the future holds.” Some former confidants have suggested he could aim for his old attorney general post as James exits the office. Others wonder about another campaign for governor.
But running in a primary against James or Hochul — or even his archnemesis, Bill de Blasio — would be ludicrous, right? Maybe not.
“He’s nuts and he’s got a vendetta right now,” said a legislative source, speaking anonymously to characterize their view on the often-vindictive governor. “I wouldn’t put it past him.”
Developing what others see as a winning strategy may not necessarily be the point, said Democratic strategist Bruce Gyory.
A Marist College poll last month indicated that Cuomo’s entrance into a Democratic gubernatorial primary could indeed shift some dynamics, particularly if the field expands (as is expected) beyond its two current declared candidates — Hochul and James.
In a potential three-way race that includes New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who has laid the groundwork for a run, Hochul received 44 percent support among registered Democrats, James received 28 percent and Williams received 15 percent. In a hypothetical four-way race in which Cuomo attempted a comeback, Hochul received 36 percent, James received 24 percent, Cuomo received 19 percent and Williams 9 percent. De Blasio, who is seriously exploring a run, would further complicate the dynamics.
Just the perception that Cuomo might run — and the outcome of such polling — can influence donors and endorsements, potentially shifting the field, Gyory said. Still, Gyory and strategists are quick to point out the hypothetical ratings can hardly be trusted until the full Democratic field is solidified.
“In the current polling data, I don’t see a path to victory [for Cuomo], but just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean that they don’t see it,” Gyory said. “And clearly the rumors of Cuomo and the potential campaigns for [New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio] and Williams aren’t helpful to James’ candidacy.”
What’s more, an omnipresent Cuomo forces the current declared Democratic candidates for governor — Hochul and James, both of whom are tied to his rise and fall — to continue responding to his news cycle, despite their best efforts to drive attention to their own achievements.
“You know the answer — I’m not focused on that,” Hochul said when asked in Puerto Rico about news that Cuomo’s court date to answer charges of forcible touching had been moved to January. “That is independent of my responsibilities as governor. The people of the state want me to focus on doing something for them.”
James, too, was asked about Cuomo during an event in San Juan that was supposed to be focused on inequalities faced by U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, one of her first events since announcing her gubernatorial run.
“As far as the former governor is concerned, it’s more of the same to undermine our report, our investigation,” James said. “It’s unfortunate the former governor of the state of New York refuses to take accountability for his own actions and his own conduct. I think he needs to move on.”
That’s not likely to happen before the year’s end even if the “move on” requests weren’t seemingly falling on deaf ears. This week, members of the Assembly’s Judiciary committee are set to review findings from a wide-reaching report that began with a now-abandoned impeachment process. And Cuomo’s new court date is not until after the New Year.
“We all just want to move on,” said another legislative staffer. “Everyone’s tired.”