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Andrew Cuomo and the Line No Democrat Can Cross

His resignation proves that you can’t do what he did as a Democrat and expect to survive. This is a good thing.

A close up of Andrew Cuomo in profile, staring down at a crowd.
Seth Wenig/Getty Images

Andrew Cuomo’s resignation was inevitable. At the end, he had no support anywhere, from the president of the United States on down. And yet when it finally came, it was still shocking, because it was so out of character. His father’s onetime enforcer, the younger Cuomo always presented himself as the kind of guy who’d plow his way through any allegations.

But he had no choice but to quit. Letitia James’s report on his various sexual improprieties is devastating. Before that report came out—back when he had called for James to investigate the charges—it looked like he might survive this. The New York public seemed willing to let him have his day in court. And who exactly was going to beat him in an election, Andrew Giuliani?

But he had his day in court, and New Yorkers decided: enough. This represents an important piece of progress: In 2021, at last, it’s just not possible as a Democrat to survive credible and serial allegations of sexual harassment. The same can’t yet be said of the Republican Party—indeed, Republican voters made their serially accused sexual harasser the president of the United States. But you can’t do it as a Democrat.

He might have survived the nursing home deaths and the shameless book deal and the Moreland Commission business and all the other controversies that have centered around him. But the allegations James laid out in such lucid and lurid detail finally made people say: enough.

And so ends—well, I think—the Cuomo era in New York politics, which stretches back to the early 1970s, nearly 50 years, when Jack Newfield in The Village Voice first lionized Mario as the great liberal tiger trying to broker a housing compromise to bring racial peace to Forest Hills, Queens.

Mario became governor in 1983 and served three terms (Andrew was desperate to best his father’s record). Though one of the most articulate defenders of liberalism in America at a time when most Democrats were running in the other direction, Mario was in fact a rather unambitious governor, happy to cut deals with the GOP-run state Senate and not exert too many energies toward progressive goals.

Andrew was different. First of all, Mario was a nice man. I only covered him toward the end, but I got to know him better in his retirement. We’d get on the phone sometimes and pass 30 or 45 minutes just talking about politics and history. He liked to kibbitz.

In 2002, when Andrew first ran for governor (a disaster of a race), I got to know him, as well. He’d call me, too, and want to spend 30 or 45 minutes on the phone. Like father like son? Not really.

Andrew was intense; constantly trotting out lines, ideas, strategies. It put a journalist, even an opinion columnist, in a slightly uncomfortable position. But he was rhetorically relentless. Surely the difference had something to do with the fact that by the time I was talking with Mario, he was in retirement and relaxed, while when I met Andrew, he was on the make, climbing the greasy pole. But it wasn’t the whole story. Andrew was a jagged knife.

This is the guy who leaked (I presume—I have no proof, but everybody was aghast at the time) his own divorce papers alleging that his ex-wife had had an affair. I will never forget that day. The story ran in the Times. Your average newspaper reader, who doesn’t think about how things like leaked divorce papers get into newspapers, probably just thought poorly of his wife. But those of us in the know—in the news business, or working in New York politics—were calling one another in disbelief, saying, “Can you believe he leaked news of his daughters’ mother’s supposed infidelity?”    

But that was Andrew, and he never changed. The statements he offered in his own self-defense last week were nuts, as were that endless slideshow of him kissing Charlie Rangel and Al Gore. How he imagined this would play in his favor is mind-boggling. It bore all the hallmarks of somebody who’d absolutely lost his grip on reality and, more importantly, didn’t have anyone around him anymore to remind him of what reality was.

Now they’re saying on TV, the fact that he’s resigning means he can run again someday. One can’t put that past him. There are always second (or third, in this case) acts in American life. 

But it seems unlikely. This isn’t a corruption scandal. He didn’t have his hand in the till. This was a series of behaviors that the events of the past decade, from Harvey Weinstein on, have rendered simply unacceptable for men in powerful positions (except, as I said, in Republican politics, and maybe in certain parts of the corporate world). I doubt there’s any coming back from this.

And by a great stroke of poetic justice, the new governor will be a woman, New York’s first ever. Sometimes I think God exists, and She is just.