If someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Most New Yorkers have long known who Andrew Cuomo is. His hubris is part of his brand. He’s brash, and dependably unapologetic. He was born on 3rd base, success nearly a given. But that success doesn’t happen without enablers.
In 2017, when Harvey Weinstein’s decades of rape finally came to the public’s attention (and a wave of #MeToo allegations against many other powerful men followed), many people rightly pointed out that abusive men in power almost never act alone. In order to harass, assault, intimidate, and retaliate against employees, an abuser needs a lot of people willing to either help him actively cover it up, or at least turn a blind eye. Cuomo has long had plenty of people in his camp doing just that.
In nearly every case of workplace harassment, even if there aren’t active attempts to intimidate or discredit the victims, there are almost always coworkers who are at least vaguely aware of what’s going on but who choose to stay silent. Speaking up in someone else’s defense to those with more power is scary at best, and dangerous at worst.
The difference with the allegations against Cuomo is that it’s not just his political allies and inner circle who have dirt on their hands. We all do. This is our fault, too. We, especially New Yorkers, knew that Cuomo believed the rules didn’t apply to him and we rewarded him for it. We kept re-electing him, we allowed him his vanity projects, we fawned over him in the first months of the pandemic for doing his job.
Worst of all, when the allegations of sexual harassment first came out in December 2020, they were met, for the most part, with a collective shrug. There were some calls for consequences, just as there were with the allegations that he covered up the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. But for the most part we reacted the way of the SNL joke: “Yeah, I could see that.”
It wasn’t that we didn’t believe it; it’s worse, we believed it and didn’t care. Cuomo knew it, too. Other people in his position might have felt the tide turn, might have considered that there should be consequences for their actions, and stepped down before it got worse. But Cuomo had lived his 63 years without consequences, and so he doubled down. Not only did he refuse to resign, but he announced that he planned to run for a 4th term as governor. While we might have rolled our eyes at his self-confidence, we still accepted it.
So is it any surprise that we are here now? After the investigation by New York state attorney general (herself a former—albeit perhaps reluctant—ally) released a 165-page report concluding that Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women, his allies are finally defecting. President Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, every member of New York’s Democratic Congressional delegation, the head of the Democratic Party for New York, and even his own Lieutenant Governor have either denounced his behavior or outright said he should leave office. But Cuomo, of course, is digging his heels in.
Even in light of criminal investigations in three different New York counties, he insists that he didn’t do anything wrong. But finally the majority of voters (around 60%) agree he should leave office—meaning that perhaps for the first time in his long career, the Teflon has worn off.
Some Democrats have wrongly compared earlier calls to oust Cuomo to Al Franken’s forced resignation in 2018. But the more apt comparison is to Trump, another man born of privilege who put his own ego above all else. Another man accused of multiple incidents of sexual harassment. And while Cuomo’s political career can’t hold a candle to Trump’s hateful and damaging policies and outright crimes, the two men share more characteristics than most Democrats care to admit. They have been enabled by privilege, by those around them, and, perhaps most importantly, by a culture that has allowed them to get away with harassment and intimidation for so long that to them, it doesn’t even feel wrong anymore.
There is a 2013 tweet from Cuomo that has resurfaced in recent months where he called for zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Trump similarly frequently called out others for crimes and misdeeds that he was guilty of himself. It may be delusion. It certainly could be argued that Cuomo’s current tenuous grasp at holding on to power is delusional. But if it’s a delusion, it’s one that we’ve fed for years.
The private sector often isn’t any better when it comes to protecting and enabling privileged white men, rewarding them with handsome exit packages even when they’re forced to resign. And it is, still, mostly white men in seats of power in both the private and public sectors. Just 8% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women. Black CEOs are even more rare; the number has hovered around 1% for years.
Andrew Cuomo will not resign, just as Trump would never resign. But if Cuomo is successfully impeached, his Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would replace him. She would become New York’s first female governor. In 2008, New York governor Eliot Spitzer resigned amid scandal and state finally got its first (and so far only) Black governor David Paterson. The fact that the only way a woman or person of color gets the chance to lead one of the supposedly most progressive states is when their boss is forced out in scandal tells us a lot about what we value.
Surely there are many women and people of color who have been part of the machine that has enabled men like Cuomo. More women and people of color in positions of power isn’t a cure all. But it’s an important start. Those who don’t bring with them a legacy of privilege, and a birthright belief that the rules don’t apply to them will wield their power differently.
The blame for Cuomo’s actions are, of course, ultimately on him. But we all share the blame for letting him get away with it for so long.