Some of the women had worked in his office and complained of an atmosphere of fear and harassment…reports Arul Louis
Besieged by allegations of sexual harassment, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democratic Party stalwart once hailed as a champion of women’s rights, is the latest American politician to fall in disgrace.
Cuomo, who emerged as an international TV star with a following even in India for his daily briefings on Covid-19 during the early days of the pandemic, announced his resignation on Monday hoping to stave off impeachment by the state legislature after defying calls to resign by his party leaders including US President Joe Biden.
The Cuomo scandal puts a spotlight on the sexual peccadilloes US politicians, including Eliot Spitzer, his elected predecessor as governor, who was forced out in a scandal involving prostitution.
An inquiry by State Attorney General Letitia James reported last week that he had harassed 11 women, including a woman police bodyguard and the state legislature began impeachment proceedings which were sure to lead to his conviction.
Some of the women had worked in his office and complained of an atmosphere of fear and harassment.
Even though his own Democratic Party held a majority in both chambers, he had antagonised virtually everyone across party lines and it was seen as payback time for his arrogance and the humiliation he meted out.
Cuomo blamed his fate on “generational and cultural shifts” that led to his actions being interpreted as harassment.
Announcing his resignation, Cuomo said, “In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
When the inquiry report was released and Biden called for his resignation, Cuomo responded by releasing dozens of pictures of him hugging various people including Biden and kissing or holding women claiming that it was his innocent way of showing affection.
With the sensitisation brought about by the #MeToo movement, Biden, too, has faced criticism from some women for his way of touching or hugging that made them uncomfortable.
While their reports have not risen to the same level of harassment as in Cuomo’s case, Biden has brushed them off with a similar argument, tweeting, “Social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted. And the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset. And I get it. And I’ll be much more mindful.”
When the Covid-19 ravaged New York last year, he was hailed as President Donald Trump’s antagonist and his daily briefings became a widely watched TV show during which he went into the scientific aspects of the pandemics at the president.
He brushed off the origins of Covid-19 in China, instead emphasising that it came to the state from Europe because of Trump’s negligence.
The performance won him a special Emmy, the high TV industry award, and a contract that fetched him $5 million for a book about his leadership.
His brother Chris Cuomo, the host of a prime time CNN news programme, was also engulfed by an ethics controversy because he advised Cuomo on handling the crisis and gave him plugs on his show while squashing negative stories.
While he boasted about his handling of the pandemic, there were allegations that he oversaw the manipulation of the death toll to show an undercount, which he finally admitted.
Cuomo will be succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who will be the first woman to head the state.
The son of former Governor Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo had been the state attorney general and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in former President Bill Clinton’s cabinet.
Perhaps aware of the potential for embarrassment, he resisted calls to run for president and made clear he would accept a position in Biden’s cabinet.
Among his achievements was the enactment of the state’s Women’s Equality Act and a stern zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment that has come to haunt him now.
He ruled with an iron fist, earning the reputation of a bully, even as his tactics succeeded in getting through several social, infrastructure and development projects in a state known for activist impediments.
Cuomo has suffered in his personal life.
According to reports, his ex-wife, Kerry Kennedy, had an extra-marital affair while they were married. She is the niece of John Kennedy, the slain president.
Fellow Democrat Spitzer, a highly popular governor, resigned in 2008 when his involvement with a prostitution surfaced, and he was succeeded in the interim till Cuomo’s election by the then Lieutenant Governor David Patterson, the first African American to hold the office.
Both he and his wife admitted at a news conference that they both had had extra-marital affairs and he said they were speaking publicly about it to prevent blackmail.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman quit in 2018 after it was revealed that he violently abused his former Sri Lankan-American girlfriend Tanya Selvaratnam, allegedly calling her his “brown slave” and slapping her till she called him “master”.
That same year, Al Franken, a comedian who became the Democratic Party Senator from Minnesota, was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment.
A member of the House of Representatives from New York, Anthony Weiner, resigned after he was accused of sending sexual pictures to minors. He was convicted of sending obscene material to a child and sentenced to 21 months in prison.
He had been married at that time to Huma Abedin, a close aide of Hillary Clinton, an unsuccessful candidate for president and the wife of Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton was himself impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual liaison with a White House intern but was acquitted by the Senate in 1998.
Democrats tend to pay a higher price for their transgressions because their own party holds them to the higher standards that it preaches, even though the Republicans preaches traditional values.
Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican who mysteriously disappeared for several days to Argentina for a tryst with his girlfriend while being married escaped with a censure by the legislature in 2008 and completed his term.