On Jan. 28, New York Attorney General Letitia James reported that the Cuomo administration had undercounted COVID-19 related deaths in nursing homes by thousands. Hours later, Health Department Officials added 3,800 deaths to their count of nursing home residents who had died of COVID-19 while hospitalized. This increased the death toll in nursing homes by over 40 percent. Previously, Cuomo had dismissed criticism of his handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes as partisan attacks originating from former President Donald Trump. The report by the Attorney General’s office cites significant discrepancies between the deaths reported by nursing homes to attorney general investigators and those released to the public by the Health Department.
Further, claims of sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual advances, unsolicited kisses and groping have also been made against Cuomo. Former aide, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, stated that Cuomo asked questions about her sex life, and if she ever has sex with older men. Bennett reported the incident to Cuomo’s Chief of Staff and was transferred to a different job shortly after. In a statement, Cuomo denied claims that he was making sexual advances with these comments, stating “I never made advances towards Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” Lindsey Boylan, another former aide of Cuomo, said in an essay published online that the governor had gone “out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms, and legs.” Boylan claimed that in 2017 Cuomo had proposed that they play strip poker. She also alleged that in 2018 he gave her an unsolicited kiss on the lips following a one-on-one meeting.
Anna Ruch, who never worked for Cuomo, has accused him of groping her at a wedding in September of 2019. She alleged that Cuomo put his hand on her bare lower back, and when she removed his hand he called her “aggressive” and proceeded to place his hand lower, on her bottom, and asked to kiss her.
Following the accusations, both of New York’s Senators, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have called for Cuomo to resign. In a joint statement, the two senators said, “Due to multiple credible sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York.”
Both President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have deferred to the ongoing investigation to determine whether Cuomo should resign his seat as Governor.
Additionally, 16 out of 19 of New York’s House Democrats, including Dutchess County Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, called for Cuomo to resign. Despite his party largely abandoning him, Cuomo has refused to step down, stating that he will not succumb to “cancel culture.”
One hundred eighteen state senate and assembly members, including 59 Democrats, out of 213 total members, have called on Cuomo to resign his position and allow Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul to assume his responsibilities. Further, after a three hour emergency meeting the New York State Assembly granted the judiciary committee full jurisdiction to investigate claims made against the governor, opening up the possibility of a potential impeachment trial in the future. A governor has not been impeached in New York since 1913, making this an extreme and nearly unprecedented step. However, in 2008 Governor Eliot L. Spitzer resigned in response to the state assembly drafting articles of impeachment.
Adding to Governor Cuomo’s ethical missteps, New York State’s “Vaccine Czar” Larry Schwartz recently placed calls to New York County Executives to assess their loyalty to Cuomo in the face of these scandals. Schwartz has been a friend of the governor for 30 years, and used to work as his most influential aide from 2011-2015 before moving into the private sector. Schwartz returned to the administration on a volunteer basis in the Spring of 2020 following the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York. He currently runs New York’s vaccine distribution, which entails making regular phone calls to each of the County Executive to discuss the supply they will be receiving in the coming weeks.
However, when he called Executives following Cuomo’s scandals, Schwartz was only interested in determining whether they were still supporting the Governor. He encouraged County Executives to await the results of the impending investigation by the Attorney General prior to making judgements on if Cuomo should continue in his role. One County Executive was so unnerved by the call that they filed notice of a complaint with the public integrity unit of the NY attorney general’s office, citing that they believed Schwartz was threatening vaccine supply if executives did not support the governor.
Schwartz, when speaking with the Washington Post, claimed that he was acting separately from his role as head of vaccine distribution when he called the executives to assess their support. Some executives stated that they did not feel the call made an explicit threat.
Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County Executive and president of the New York State County Executives Association, stated that three to four executives contacted him or his office following the calls from Schwartz.
Molinaro, who unsuccessfully ran against Cuomo for governor in 2018, has been outspoken on his belief that Cuomo should resign since the Spring of 2020, when there were questions regarding Cuomo’s handling of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes. Since the recent scandals, Molinaro has said Cuomo is “unfit for office,” called on him to resign and asked the State Assembly to impeach him. Amid these calls for resignation, Molinaro has been accepting campaign contributions. He encouraged his constituents to “chip in…today to speak out and stop Gov. Cuomo’s abuse of power.” Molinaro has not announced a gubernatorial run, and stated that he is unsure of his political future and is being scouted as a potential congressional candidate.