I often ask students, colleagues, and friends which capital city in the tri-states has the most troubling politics. Answers usually include Trenton’s political corruption, Hartford’s last-minute legislative sessions, and Albany’s never-ending political issues. But some officials take advantage of their capital politics and voter apathy. Case in point: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
It’s no secret that Cuomo won multiple gubernatorial and attorney general elections by leading Albany with a strong arm. But he could only get so far with sexual assault allegations from nearly a dozen women. Cuomo ultimately announced his resignation as governor Tuesday.
With the release last week of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ 165-page report on the sexual harassment investigation, Cuomo took to a prepared recording – not a live press conference – to assert his innocence and that his accusers lacked credibility.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, and other East Coast Democratic governors signed a joint statement that Cuomo “should resign” because of James’ findings. Additionally, every member in the New York congressional delegation and President Joe Biden publicly urged Cuomo to resign.
Then suddenly this week, Cuomo’s former aide, Brittany Commisso, gave an interview to CBS alleging that he had groped her. His strategist, Melissa DeRosa, resigned. It appeared that Commisso’s allegations and DeRosa’s resignation pushed Cuomo to step down, even though he refused to do so when the allegations surfaced months ago, much less when the investigative report went public.
Cuomo’s defiance should not be surprising. He can be as deterministic as he is tone-deaf. In a recent poll, for example, nearly 60% of New Yorkers agreed that Cuomo should resign or be impeached. Since former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn knows Cuomo well, she reminded CNN viewers that New York’s governor would be unlikely to resign. “I mean, knowing Governor Cuomo, he will fight until the end,” she stated. “He’ll fight too long and too hard.”
But New York’s governor is known for being strong-willed and he leveraged getting tri-state governors to respond to the pandemic. His way. New York media like The New York Times and The New York Observer have called him a “bully” in countless articles and editorials. Cuomo basked in the attention.
According to The Observer’s former editor in chief, Elizabeth Spiers, “[S]ome New Yorkers like the idea of a tough guy with sharp elbows in office because they conflate toughness with resiliency and sometimes fail to notice that what appears to be toughness may just be a lack of empathy.”
Interestingly, Cuomo’s political influence crossed state borders as area governors and lawmakers often followed his lead, particularly with coronavirus policymaking. Cuomo sparked Murphy and Cuomo to work altogether, which provoked me to write about the sudden gubernatorial partnership last year.
Instead of blaming Cuomo – and area elected officials for allowing Cuomo’s leadership to fester – we need to recognize that he took advantage of Albany’s longtime political problems. New York’s state Capitol has been riddled with corruption and favoritism for generations. In fact, its former assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, was recently furloughed from prison after his conviction on corruption charges. Essentially, Albany’s politics makes Hartford’s state Capitol appear banal.
But New York’s political issues have a spillover effect and voters easily become disinterested in state politics. Aside from springtime approval ratings at 55 to 57% for Lamont and Murphy, voter turnout in New Jersey’s June gubernatorial primary was a dismal 19%.
As an educator teaching state government, I know tri-state politics is unpopular. I have been teaching in Connecticut and New Jersey and it is challenging to get students to understand and follow state politics.
But the longtime malaise in all of the tri-state area capitols has led to state politics gone awry and a governor’s defiance. Albany’s political culture may be largely to blame – but so are voters for not engaging in elections and supporting empathetic candidates. Considering gubernatorial elections are taking place soon, Cuomo’s downfall is a cautionary example of why we must pay attention to our tri-state area’s politics.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is the associate dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies and teaches political science at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
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