Impeachment is 'almost unprecedented' in New York, but calls for Andrew Cuomo to resign are growing among Democrats
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is under increasing pressure from Democrats to resign.
- Impeachment is also emerging as a possibility, but the only precedent is from a century ago.
- "Impeachment of the governor in NY is almost unprecedented," a political scientist told Insider.
Just shy of a year from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's star turn in Democratic politics for his internationally acclaimed COVID-19 press briefings, members of the governor's party are calling on him to resign.
Impeachment is also on the table, with New York's process closely mirroring that of the US Congress. While the move was once considered a remote possibility, Insider obtained a letter on Tuesday from six Democratic lawmakers in the New York Legislature calling for articles to be drawn up. Another Democrat in the Assembly told Insider that the unlikelihood of Cuomo resigning made impeachment all the more important as a remedy.
"He should resign, but because that is dependent on him, we also need to be willing and ready to investigate and impeach," Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat whose district covers Manhattan's financial district and Chinatown, told Insider.
Dueling scandals have escalated over the past week and sent Cuomo into stealth mode.
First came the fallout from his handling of the pandemic in nursing homes, which is now under federal investigation after his own attorney general accused the administration of undercounting deaths. A leaked conversation from his top aide about the death counts prompted a wave of calls for his resignation, mostly from Republicans.
Then, over the past week, three women came forward to detail allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo, which opened the floodgates for sterner statements from lawmakers.
While many Democrats initially called for an independent investigation into the harassment allegations - something Cuomo has said he supports - the ground began shifting after the latest revelations on Monday night, when a woman named Anna Ruch alleged Cuomo inappropriately touched her back and her face and asked to kiss her at a 2019 wedding.
The most notable call for Cuomo to resign came Monday from Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Long Island Democrat.
—Kathleen Rice (@RepKathleenRice) March 2, 2021
The New York Working Families Party has also called for Cuomo to resign. Cuomo ran on their ticket for his three gubernatorial victories.
—NY Working Families Party (@NYWFP) March 2, 2021
Before the sexual-harassment scandal began to snowball, the calls for Cuomo to resign came almost entirely from Republicans in response to his handling of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
While Cuomo has weathered ethics scandals in the past, these two pose a distinct problem for him, particularly the harassment allegations, according to a longtime New York political scientist.
"These allegations focus not on others in the administration or on policy differences or controversies or errors in administration but on the governor personally, his character and fitness," SUNY New Paltz professor emeritus Gerald Benjamin told Insider in an email. "They arise at a time that he is being heavily criticized on other serious grounds. He has played hard ball and has gathered adversaries for a variety of reasons over more than ten years in office. This adds to the difficulty of the environment as he faces these charges."
Benjamin said impeachment had been used only once in New York's history to oust a governor, with former Gov. William Sulzer booted by the Tammany Hall political machine in 1913 on charges of using campaign donations to buy stocks. Sulzer ran afoul of the machine when he tried to enact reforms in Albany, breaking with its platform.
"Impeachment of the governor in NY is almost unprecedented," Benjamin said. "The only example, Sulzer, is now widely regarded as a politically motivated miscarriage of justice. The constitution and law leave impeachable offenses ill-defined."
Assemblyman Phil Steck, a Democrat representing the eastern part of Schenectady County, said the timing of impeachment was an issue for him, despite his desire for Cuomo to resign.
"Well, I think calling for impeachment is not very sensible when we're right in the middle of the budget," Steck told Insider on Tuesday. "Impeachment would distract attention from a lot of the important things that have to happen in this state."
But Steck said the scandals had rendered Cuomo less effective in his role.
"He can't collaborate effectively with other branches of government because there is a lack of trust in his administration," the lawmaker said. "That's what the whole nursing-home scandal is about."
Benjamin, who spoke with Insider just a few hours before news of Cuomo's third accuser broke, said the next few days would be critical in determining his fate as New York Attorney General Letitia James moved forward with an independent investigation of the sexual-harassment allegations.
"There have already been calls for resignation. Their force will be determined by what other germane information, if any, is revealed in coming days," Benjamin said.
"I don't expect the governor to resign," he added. "The governor has failed in an attempt to define the investigatory process. The AG will conduct an independent investigation. She has already shown independence in her report on COVID deaths in nursing homes. This process will be under a microscope, as the fact and the appearance of independence are critical to all players - most importantly, the governor."
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