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Thursday, January 27, 2022

With criminal cases fading, will Cuomo try to make a comeback?

Cuomo admitted no serious wrongdoing, and said he was stepping down to “let government get back to governing.”

By: New York Times |
Updated: January 7, 2022 1:27:41 pm
Andrew Cuomo, cuomo sexual harassment case, Albany, world news, Indian expressAndrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace, remains politically alienated and still faces federal and state inquiries into other aspects of his conduct as governor. (AP)

Written by Katie Glueck

The decisions came at a steady clip.

One by one, top prosecutors in Nassau, Westchester and Albany counties had declared the sexual harassment allegations against former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York to be “deeply troubling,” “credible” and serious.

And then, one by one, they concluded that they would not prosecute him for a crime.

The flurry of legal activity in recent weeks is set to culminate on Friday, when Cuomo is expected to make a virtual court appearance as prosecutors in Albany move to drop a criminal case involving allegations that he groped a former aide in the Executive Mansion.

Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace, remains politically alienated and still faces federal and state inquiries into other aspects of his conduct as governor, including over the book he wrote on the pandemic while in office. But people who have known him for years expect the moment to embolden him, even as many in his party have no interest in opening another Cuomo chapter, or revisiting the last one.

“He will see it as a victory lap,” said Karen Hinton, a veteran communications strategist who was a consultant to Cuomo when he was federal housing secretary. Hinton has said he touched her inappropriately at the time, which his team denied. She expressed concerns around the decisions against prosecution.

“​​I believe he thinks that will help propel him back to the political arena,” she said. “That’s the Andrew Cuomo I know.”

Cuomo has denied ever acting inappropriately with the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, saying they had misconstrued behavior on his part that might have been out of step with the times but was not meant to be sexual, even as multiple women came forward with detailed accounts.

His resignation in August followed a devastating report by the state attorney general, and was one of the most stunning political collapses in modern American history. Cuomo admitted no serious wrongdoing, and said he was stepping down to “let government get back to governing.”

The news of dropped charges has not caused a widespread reckoning over whether Cuomo should have held onto his office; indeed, many close observers of Cuomo say he stayed on as governor until he had no other political recourse, and that his decision to step down was driven more by Albany realities than the prospect of prosecution.

The state Assembly had begun an impeachment investigation, raising the likelihood of a drawn-out and embarrassing trial in the state Senate, and weakening his leverage over a Legislature he once ruled with an iron fist.

“The whole issue was not going to be determined by whether or not the actions were deemed criminal,” said Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee who was once a close Cuomo ally. “They went against what we would consider appropriate behavior for our highest elected official in the state. That’s why I think that ultimately he made the right choice in stepping down.”

Over the past few months, Cuomo has reached out to friends and associates to sound them out about the political landscape, and some who have spoken with him came away with the impression that he is interested in finding a way back to relevance in public life.

He was especially focused on how the Albany County district attorney, David Soares, would proceed, according to people who have been in touch with his camp, and likely sees the decision to drop the case as significant.

A spokesman for Cuomo declined to comment.

A dearth of criminal charges alone, however, is hardly sufficient to pave a path to political redemption, according to interviews with New York political leaders and Democrats who were once seen as his allies. Multiple entities that investigated him said they found his accusers to be credible. But cases built on allegations like those against Cuomo are very difficult to prove in court.

“They thought the evidence was credible, they thought what the women said really happened, what they said was it didn’t rise to a level they thought they could prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt,” said former Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat. “I don’t think it helps restore him.”

Jacobs has endorsed Cuomo’s successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, who delivered her first State of the State this week, and is seeking her first full term as governor this year. And as New York politics moves forward, with a new mayor of New York City and a far healthier partnership so far between the city and Albany than under the shared tenure of Cuomo and former Mayor Bill de Blasio, there is a real eagerness among many officials to move on.

“I’m a true believer in due process; he was entitled to that process. I don’t believe he was afforded that process,” said state Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, who praised aspects of Cuomo’s record. But asked if she believed that he should no longer be in public life, she replied, “Yes. For his sake, for his family’s sake, for everybody’s sake. It’s like, the show is over.”

Certainly, she allowed, some voters may not feel that way. There are those who believe he was “railroaded,” she said — “a lot more than people think.”

A poll from the Siena College Research Institute in September found that New York Democrats believed Cuomo should have resigned, 55% to 35%. But even as he struggled with his approval ratings overall, Democrats still rated him more favorably than unfavorably in September and October Siena polls.

“In American politics we’ve seen, there is always the potential for redemption,” Jacobs said. “Redemption comes after a reasonable period of time to put distance between the transgression and that reemergence. So, I think it’s going to take time, you know, we’re certainly not there yet, and we’ll have to see.”

It is unclear how much Cuomo has spent on legal fees, but when he left office he had an $18 million war chest, and he has continued to communicate with donors and party officials through emails and letters. And in his final address as he stepped down, he made clear he was hoping to rehabilitate his legacy.

More recently, he received a reprieve when the Manhattan district attorney closed without bringing charges an investigation into Cuomo’s handling of nursing home deaths toward the start of the pandemic, a lawyer for Cuomo who was briefed by prosecutors has said.

The attorney general’s office also said in a recent letter that it could not enforce an order by a state ethics panel to compel Cuomo to forfeit the proceeds of his pandemic memoir, estimated at $5.1 million — mitigation of another possible threat.

“If no district attorney will hold him accountable for what he did to the women” or his actions around nursing homes, Hinton said, “he could take that $18 million and try to recreate himself. It’s been done by other politicians. And it could ultimately help him. I don’t believe it will.”

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