WINDSOR TERRACE — March 2021 began with a flurry of calls for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign, be impeached, or stripped of the extra powers the Legislature approved last year to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Political assaults accelerated in February from separate fronts, with dizzying daily developments, including allegations from two former members of Cuomo’s staff who claimed he behaved inappropriately with them.
However, the governor was already under fire for revelations that his administration underreported the volume of deaths in New York nursing homes from COVID-19 to avoid scrutiny from the Federal Government.
On Monday, March 1, a New York Times story described another episode between Cuomo and a woman who claims the governor acted inappropriately with her — including an unsolicited kiss — at a wedding in 2019. Following the latest story, a growing number of politicians across both sides of the aisle are calling for the governor to resign.
Cuomo was already under fire for revelations that his administration underreported the volume of deaths in New York nursing homes from COVID-19 to avoid scrutiny from the federal government.
On March 1, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio followed up a statement made the day before that assailed Cuomo, a fellow Democrat but also a bitter political rival. The mayor called for equal attention to the harassment charges and the nursing homes scandal.
“Both these issues need to be looked into independently, thoroughly, and we need to know what has to change as a result. We cannot just look at one or the other,” de Blasio said Monday at a press conference. “We need a full investigation of the nursing home issue where thousands of people died.
“Information was covered up, on purpose, and we still don’t know if our seniors are safe going forward — our elders. We don’t know if they are safe because we have not got a full accounting of the facts.”
FBI agents and federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn are investigating the handling of the pandemic by Cuomo’s senior staff, according to media reports. A Cuomo spokesperson said the staff is cooperating.
Meanwhile, assembly member Ron Kim, a Democrat representing Flushing, Queens, has been among the most vocal Cuomo critics. Kim also chairs the Assembly Aging Committee. COVID-19 is suspected in the death of his uncle last April in a New York nursing home.
As The Tablet previously reported, some critics were calling for these emergency pandemic powers to be reined in as early as August of last year.
In October, the Diocese of Brooklyn filed a lawsuit against Cuomo two days after he issued an executive order limiting attendance at religious services. A month later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the restrictions on attendance violated the First Amendment.
Brian Browne, a political science professor at St. John’s University, said the lawmakers have indicated they want to restore the traditional division of power among the three branches of state government: the executive (Cuomo), the Legislature, and the judiciary. Cuomo’s year-long grip on extra power disrupts that process, according to Browne.
“The Legislature really ceded this power to the executive office,” Browne said. “It gives broad executive powers on a wide range of issues — businesses, the private sector, nonprofits, houses of worship. Now, a year into this, I think that they’re realizing the full extent of it, and they’re trying to walk it back.”
Browne added that members of the Assembly and Senate acted in an unusual way to quickly extend the powers. Approval for them was rolled into a $40 million emergency funding bill with little debate, he said.
“I don’t want to be dramatic with the ‘fog-of-war’ type of analogy,” Browne added, “But it was the earliest days of the pandemic, and I think they were very willing to cede these powers, which basically allows the executive to temporarily suspend any law regulation.”
But Kim claims Cuomo botched the handling of reporting nursing home death data. Therefore, he said, an investigation via the impeachment process is appropriate. Meanwhile, he added, the special powers should end.
“It is time to undo the bad policies that led to unnecessary deaths,” Kim said in a tweet. “And it is time to start the impeachment process.”
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi recently joined Kim and eight other members of the Legislature in soliciting support to repeal the emergency powers granted to Cuomo last spring.
The nursing home controversy surfaced after a top Cuomo aide, Melissa DeRosa, admitted the state withheld nursing home death data out of fear that then-President Trump would leverage the findings for his political advantage.
Cuomo responded that there was no cover-up, just a mix-up in how figures were recorded in different categories. He said all the information was corrected and eventually released.
On March 25 of last year, Cuomo mandated that nursing homes had to accept recovering COVID-19 patients returning from hospitals. The order was sent to free up hospital beds as hundreds were dying every day at the height of the pandemic. But more infections ensued.
The state Department of Health now estimates that more than 15,000 nursing home residents died of COVID-19.
Browne predicted the political assaults on Cuomo may slow down so that the Legislature can complete its budget process and discussions about impeachment might be delayed until later in April.
“March is always a crazy month up in Albany with the budgeting,” he said. “The state budget is due April 1st. It is the biggest, most important thing that the legislature does all session, all year. There are a lot of pet projects tied up in that.
“And one thing is important to remember: if they don’t pass a budget on time, they don’t get paid. That’s always a motivating factor for the part-time legislature that we have.”
Still, Browne said March could be raucous, especially if more accusers come forward.
“There’s a lot of different roads this thing can go down,” he said. “And it might happen on parallel tracks at the same time.”