(Bloomberg) -- However Andrew Cuomo chooses to exit, the three-term New York governor will leave a legacy that includes caps on runaway Albany spending, replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and legalization of gay marriage. The risk now is that he may only be remembered for the sexual-misconduct scandal that rocked the last year of his decades-long political career.
Those who know the governor say it’s his pride in following in his father’s footsteps as governor and dedicating much of his life to public service that keeps him from resigning, despite the growing furor and urging of top Democrats in Washington and Albany.
“I don’t think he can imagine a life, a professional life, outside this job,” said Gerald Benjamin, a distinguished professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
He may not have a choice. The New York Assembly Judiciary Committee, which is considering whether to initiate impeachment proceedings, said Thursday its investigation was nearly complete and gave Cuomo a new deadline of Aug. 13 to produce documents to support his defense.
Cuomo, 63, has been in politics for decades, helping his father Mario Cuomo run for office and diving in himself. Cuomo reveled in the popularity he gained last year as he held nationally televised coronavirus briefings, winning an Emmy and a $5 million book deal. He was praised for his pandemic leadership, and discussed as a possible presidential candidate.
Unlike many officeholders who have an off-camera life, Cuomo lives in the Executive Mansion full time, owns no other property and doesn’t rent a separate apartment. His marriage to a member of the Kennedy dynasty, Kerry Kennedy, ended in divorce and his relationship with Sandra Lee ended in 2019.
Then came the spectacular fall that worsened this week with the release of New York Attorney General Letitia James’s report that found 11 claims of sexual harassment to be credible. The report detailed inappropriate kissing, hugging, touching and comments and painted a picture of the executive chamber as a toxic administration ignorant to the rights of women.
Now the governor is facing possible criminal charges, civil lawsuits and calls to give up the job he loves.
For every inch he digs in, he loses support among Democrats. The calls for resignation stretched from the White House to the leadership of Congress, the Assembly and his own party.
One of the last holdouts in the party, State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, joined the chorus, saying he had urged Cuomo to step down, and when Cuomo refused, Jacobs warned him he would speak publicly.
“I think that the longer this goes, the worse it is both for him, the party and the state,” Jacobs said in an interview.
Yet Jacobs, who has spoken to Cuomo this week, said Cuomo isn’t resigning because he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong, despite the hundreds of pages of evidence in James’s report. And his next public appearance will likely be another attempt to make that case.
Fight It Out
“He, I think, is burdened by the fact that he doesn’t believe that he has done the wrong that is being ascribed to him at this point. He has a very different view of it. I guess he wants to get his side of the story out and feels there may be some change in the public mood when he does that,” Jacobs said.
“If you could look down the road and see any light, any chance of being able to get through this, then you could make an argument to fight it out and take some time,” he said. “I don’t see any scenario where he survives this politically.”
Nevertheless, Jacobs said New York and its residents “are better off having had Andrew Cuomo as our governor.”
After working on his father’s campaigns and then as an adviser to the governor, Cuomo served as assistant secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development from 1993 until President Bill Clinton appointed him to lead the agency. He served from 1997 to 2001. After a failed run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2002, Cuomo was elected state Attorney General in 2006.
A series of scandals then put him in place to run for governor.
In March 2008, Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned after just 14 months into the job amid a prostitution scandal. His lieutenant, David Paterson, replaced him and served nearly three years, but Paterson chose not to run for election in 2010 amid an ethics inquiry.
That cleared the way for Cuomo to run on the Democratic ticket for governor. Cuomo had won praise as an attorney general for his probes of executive bonus practices, collusion among health insurers and abuses by student-loan companies.
Cuomo defeated Republican Carl Paladino by a 2-to-1 margin. Over the next years, he delivered four consecutive on-time budgets -- a rarity for Albany. He also won credit-rating upgrades, cut billion of dollars in deficits and brought the state several liberal accomplishments such as legalizing gay marriage, raising the minimum wage to $15 and strengthening both paid family-leave and gun-safety laws.
He also touted himself as a champion of women’s rights, in moves that now seem ironic. He signed laws expanding abortion rights and toughened laws against pregnancy discrimination and unequal pay. In 2019, he also signed a bill broadening the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace, a law that may be used against him now.
Cuomo has long planned to run for an unprecedented fourth term -- his father tried and failed to do the same -- and has amassed an $18.5 million war chest already.
“What’s at stake is his, essentially, his inheritance from his father, not financial, but political, and his claim to greatness,” Benjamin said. “He’s essentially facing the destruction of his entire life’s work.”
Jacobs said he sees “a return to political relevance,” if not public office, even if Cuomo resigns or is removed.
“It would be a waste for all of his abilities to just lie dormant because of what happened now,” he said.
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