By Arab News
By Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg*
Having lived in New York for nearly two decades, I have tried to follow the state’s politics from afar ever since leaving that wonderful place. Watching Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fall from grace is disturbing because of the ethical nature of the accusations against him. The scandal may signal the end of his career, just as his handling of the coronavirus pandemic earned him praise and perhaps encouraged his ambitions for higher office.
The accusations, if true, have exposed an unsavory side to his character that go against the sterling legacy of his father, Mario Cuomo, who was New York’s governor between 1983 and 1994, covering most of the time I lived there. In many respects, especially in terms of ethical standards and keeping one’s ambitions in check, the elder Cuomo was an exemplary governor.
It is sad to witness the rapid unraveling of Andrew Cuomo’s career after 10 successful years as governor. His distinguished career goes back decades at both the state and federal levels, including serving as New York’s attorney general, i.e., being responsible for justice and the enforcement of laws governing the conduct of government officials. He now stands accused of sexual harassment, with growing calls for him to resign, including from some of his own party’s leaders.
In December, a former aide to Cuomo alleged that the governor had sexually harassed her for years. She claimed that Cuomo “exists without ethics” and created a “toxic team environment.” Last month, another aide also accused him of sexual harassment. At least another five women have now come forward and accused Cuomo of various forms of sexual misconduct.
The two senators for New York, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, have called on Cuomo to resign and suggested an independent investigation of the allegations. President Joe Biden has also been reported to support an independent investigation into Cuomo’s conduct.
Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing and rejected the calls for him to resign, although he has apologized and acknowledged that his interactions “may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended.”
The harassment accusations have come amid another scandal swirling around Cuomo. In late January, an official investigation concluded that his administration undercounted coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-related deaths at nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. In February, a top aide to Cuomo revealed that his administration intentionally delayed the release of data about COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes out of fear that it would trigger a federal investigation by the Department of Justice.
Cuomo was concerned that his political opponents would take advantage of such reports. As a result of these revelations, New York Republican and Democratic political leaders have begun the process of rescinding the emergency powers granted to Cuomo during the pandemic. The federal government has also launched an investigation.
The charges against Cuomo are quite serious, even by the standards of New York politics. They came just as his popularity had skyrocketed as a result of his adept handling of the pandemic’s spread in New York. A disappointing failure at the beginning of the outbreak made the state a focal point for the disease in the US, with the numbers of infections and deaths rising exponentially. However, Cuomo went public and presided over lengthy daily press conferences covering all aspects of the pandemic, including prevention and treatment. His performance outshone that of the federal government at the time. He was seen by many as a star, a hero and a savior.
However, it appears as if that new-found success and fame contributed to Cuomo’s alleged misconduct, according to some of his accusers, and to his undoing. Much as in a classical Greek tragedy, hubris caused the hero to overstep the boundaries of proper conduct, leading to inevitable humiliation.
Cuomo has been New York governor, one of the highest-profile positions in American politics, since January 2011. Until last year, when the pandemic wreaked havoc everywhere, the state was doing quite well economically. New York’s gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded $1.7 trillion in 2019, meaning it would be the ninth-largest economy in the world if it were an independent country.
To put that into perspective, its GDP exceeded that of the six Gulf Cooperation Countries combined, which is quite sizable. Residents of the state are also quite well-off, with per capita income exceeding $91,000 in 2019, making it the second-highest in the world if it were a country. Pre-pandemic unemployment was at an enviably low rate of about 3.7 percent. The state is home to the two largest stock exchanges in the world and the headquarters of most of America’s largest financial corporations. It is the undisputed financial, cultural and fashion capital of the US. It is already recovering from the pandemic and its economy is expected to do well during 2021 and beyond.
To squander all of this authority and responsibility is tragic. It is doubly sad when you contrast it with his father’s record. Mario Cuomo became governor at a time when the state was close to bankruptcy, with its infrastructure crumbling and the business climate at its worst. Crime was high and people with means were leaving the state. He turned all that around. He also resisted temptation and repeated calls for him to run for president, focusing instead on the affairs of New York. He was married to his wife Matilda, Andrew’s mother, for more than 60 years.
Andrew Cuomo’s likely fall should be an object lesson for leaders and lesser humans. As the Greeks noted long ago, overconfidence and taking people and fortunes for granted can precipitate a nasty fall.
- Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1