WINDSOR TERRACE — Andrew Cuomo’s final day as governor was Aug. 23, but some state lawmakers warn that New Yorkers may not have seen the last of him, and are taking steps to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Cuomo announced Tuesday, Aug. 10 his plans to resign amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced Friday, Aug. 12, that the Assembly would stop investigating the sexual harassment allegations. He explained that the body’s Judiciary Committee was charged with determining whether Cuomo should face impeachment, and the resignation, Heastie added, made that question moot.
But on Monday, Aug. 16, Heastie reversed course and said the investigation would continue.
“They quickly reversed it I think because they got a lot of blowback over the weekend,” said Brian Browne, professor of political science at St. John’s University. “They came out and said that ‘we’re going to issue at least a report on the findings of the investigation.’ ”
The sexual harassment allegations fueled a bipartisan clamor for impeachment. Cuomo also faces intense scrutiny in a U.S. Attorney probe into reports that he purposely fudged data to cover up an estimated 16,000 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
In addition, the New York State Attorney General’s Office is investigating reports that Cuomo may have used state employees to help develop a memoir manuscript for which Crown Publishing had agreed to $5.1 million. The working title was “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Before the reversal, Heastie said he was concerned the judiciary committee’s probe would interfere with the AG’s probe, as well as ongoing law enforcement investigations into sexual harassment charges against Cuomo.
Upon reversing the earlier stance, Heastie and Assembly Judiciary Chair Charles Lavine issued a brief joint statement, pledging that the committee would “take all appropriate steps to ensure that this effort does not interfere with various ongoing investigations by the United States Attorney concerning nursing home data; the attorney general concerning the governor’s memoir; and local law enforcement authorities in five jurisdictions — Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, Nassau, and Oswego — regarding possible criminal incidents of sexual misconduct.”
A week later, lawmakers pressed opposing opinions about whether impeaching a former governor was constitutional. Heastie said the matter was unclear.
Not so, said Assemblyman Ron Kim, whose district includes large portions of the Diocese of Brooklyn in Queens. Kim has been an outspoken critic of Cuomo, particularly over the nursing home furor.
Kim did not respond to The Tablet’s requests for comment. However, he told Neil Cavuto of Fox News that he, along with fellow foes of Cuomo in the Assembly, believe an impeachment is still an option they are bound to pursue.
He said their independent legal assessments “make it clear that we have a mandate, and we have the right to pursue impeachment.”
“The removal itself,” he explained, “doesn’t mean just a literal and physical removal of Andrew Cuomo, the man. It means disqualification and condemnation of every criminality that you and I have spoken about that he has done and stood for.”
Therefore, Kim said, “the intention behind impeachment is to remove and ban an unfit official from seeking public office again.” Doing so, he added, “protects the integrity of the state government and the people that we swore to protect.”
“That is our mandate,” Kim added.
Browne said the state constitution does not contain language that specifically allows the impeachment of a governor who has resigned. But, he suggested that banning an impeached governor from public office could possibly be written into the articles of impeachment.
“You saw with Trump,” Browne said of impeachment efforts against the former president. “That was one of the provisions that they had written into it.”
Trump was impeached twice by the U.S. House of Representatives, although those efforts failed when they reached the Senate.
But, “They were trying to forbid him from ever holding federal office again,” the professor said.
Legislation announced earlier this month would keep Cuomo from accessing his campaign funds if he tried to reemerge politically.
A pair of lawmakers who represent Westchester County have pledged legislation to ensure an impeached governor can’t use any of his campaign contributions to make another run for office.
Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and Assemblyman Chris Burdick — both of whom represent Westchester County — said on Aug. 6 they would introduce versions of the bill in their respective chambers. If approved, the measure would freeze the campaign accounts of elected officials who have been impeached in the State Assembly. It would make the State Board of Elections liquidate the account if convicted in the State Senate.
Browne said, however, that Cuomo may have sealed his own political fate.
“Stranger things have happened,” Browne said, “but I think Cuomo right now is so politically damaged. I don’t know where he would find statewide political support to mount a successful campaign.”