The Summer Read Everyone’s Expecting: The Tish James Report


Andrew Cuomo gives remarks. | Azi Paybarah via flickr

ALBANY – Few governors in New York’s recent history have dominated the news cycle – and levers of government – like Andrew Cuomo, the three-term governor of the state. But in the summer of 2021, with a besieged Cuomo considering re-election next year, the future of state politics rests with another state official: Attorney General Tish James.

James, who has been investigating a portfolio of allegations against the governor since March, has made it clear that there is no clock in his office to count the months, weeks or days remaining in his investigation. “It will end when it ends,” she told reporters at an event unrelated to Albany late last month, one of the few public remarks she has made about the issue. ‘investigation.

Uncertainty has crippled much of New York’s Democratic political apparatus. State lawmakers have put their parallel impeachment inquiry at a very slow pace. Cuomo has not revisited his pre-scandal pledge to run for a fourth term in 2022. And potential Democratic top challengers are waiting to see if they would face an injured Cuomo, a vindicated Cuomo, or maybe no Cuomo at all..

Another investigation is lurking in the background and could be just as important: The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn have looked into Cuomo’s Coronavirus Task Force and how it has handled homes in retirement at the onset of the pandemic.

And so Albany waits, with political strategists, potential campaign staff and potential opponents enduring spikes in cortisol whenever the Attorney General’s office announces a media availability, wondering if that might herald the release of his. conclusions. So far, however, they have had to fall back on rumination and rumor, playing various assumptions and explaining how these scenarios may or may not hurt Cuomo’s political fortunes.

“I think we’re all anxiously waiting: does she have the gut courage to charge the governor?” said Republican State President Nick Langworthy, whose views on Cuomo’s conduct leave little room for ambiguity.

There is no sign that James constituted a grand jury or that any of his conclusions would necessarily rise to the level of prosecution. Most of the speculation in Albany centers on the aftermath of a damning report filled with new details about Cuomo’s conduct – from allegations of sexual harassment to possible misuse of staff in the production of his pandemic memoir, for which he received $ 5.1 million – and how such a report would influence the impeachment inquiry, the first of its kind in over a century.

A senior Capitol staff member noted that “everything is an impossibly plotted political game theory.”

Waiting – playing the long game for political ends – is something Cuomo does well, and this patient approach may well allow him to downplay the seriousness of the James report and claim to have suffered a simple wound of the flesh, albeit in the eyes of the critics, his legs are cut off under him.

“He is absolutely running a perfect crisis management campaign,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who noted that the strategy is unfolding as he predicted in the spring. “It can’t go on forever; at some point there will have to be a closure. But it is expected that if there was some sort of crime involved, we would have already had some sort of outcome. If they had a pound of political flesh to add, they would have. ”

All of this raises the possibility that the James Report, whenever it comes, will contain little or nothing new, which could allow last winter’s avalanche of bad headlines to dissipate, renewing Cuomo’s chances of win the fourth term that was denied to his father, Mario. , who served as governor from 1983 to 1994. “If there is no foul play, he will be re-elected,” said Sheinkopf, who worked on Cuomo’s previous campaigns.

Republicans, unsurprisingly, do not share Sheinkopf’s assessment of the election outcome, although they agree with his basic tenet: barring any crime, and despite his astonishing fall from grace, Andrew Cuomo will be on the ballot next year. “I think the only way he isn’t his party’s candidate is if he leaves by arraignment or arrest or some element of that,” Langworthy said.

If that happens, more than a few New York Democrats – many of them, in fact – will find themselves sharing a ballot line with a governor they called to step down earlier this year, when it seemed like every week. bring new and overwhelming. revelation on Cuomo.

“What I have said very clearly and many of my colleagues have said it very clearly is that the governor should resign,” said Democratic Senator for the Bronx Gustavo Rivera. “Maybe some people forgot that we said it once, but I didn’t. Considering that this is not a criminal investigation – at least those relating to impeachment – the question is if he is a trusted partner in governance. And we said he is not. He added for good measure that he was looking forward to working on “many other pieces of legislation” with the government. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul – assuming she will take Cuomo’s place sooner rather than later.

“Obviously he would run for office because his ego wouldn’t allow him to do less, but for the sake of state governance, we can’t allow him to be the Democratic candidate,” Rivera said. “It would be unreasonable to allow this. Guy to be in this position.

More than 50 Democratic state lawmakers called for Cuomo’s resignation in March, but there does not appear to have been a time when this prospect was under consideration on the second floor of the Capitol, where the offices are located. executive. Some have since joined forces with him on issues that affect their neighborhoods. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who was among those who called on Cuomo to step down, stood alongside the governor in April at an event and thanked him for promoting the vaccination efforts in Yonkers. She then reiterated that her call for Cuomo’s resignation remained unchanged.

Cuomo, in the months after the scandals broke, has remained busy but focused with his events and bed mates, around but away and away from appearances on the State Capitol. It’s a familiar tribute to most of his decade in power, but a far cry from the personality he cultivated during the pandemic. On Tuesday, he tackled the rise in gun violence by declaring a state of emergency for shootings and signing a first nationwide attempt to hold gun manufacturers accountable. He did not answer questions.

James also stayed busy and more visible than ever. She has touted her role in multi-state antitrust action and her lawsuit against the NRA, appeared in two parades in New York City and, over the past two weeks, has made rare appearances in Albany and Syracuse to promote the separate position of his office on combating drug trafficking and gun violence. across the state.

Above all these more routine activities looms the prospect of an uproar to come once the James Report is released. If it contains new revelations or more embarrassing details, the governor’s fate could be sealed and the governor’s upcoming race turned upside down. After all, President Joe Biden – a longtime friend and ally of the governor – said in March that if the stories were confirmed, Cuomo would have to step down and “will likely end up being sued as well.”

Contrary to most speculation about the James Report, the Assembly impeachment inquiry has raised doubts as to its aggressiveness, as it covers some of the same ground. Several of the women who accused Cuomo of harassment and their advocates declined to participate in the assembly inquiry, saying the chamber has historically been ill-equipped to deal with complaints of sexual harassment against its own members.

And a possible end to the impeachment inquiry seems distant – potentially more distant than James’. The Judiciary Committee announced on June 30 that it would begin issuing subpoenas, but members say that does not mean it is close to completing the review, which would be broader in scope, given allegations of sexual harassment, the misuse of resources to write his personal memoirs, potentially withholding information about the deaths in nursing homes from Covid-19 and the safety of the Hudson River bridge he has recently named after his father. How fast the Assembly moves can also depend on what James finds.

In a more practical sense, the wait will soon collide with planning for a possible primary in 2022.

Several names, including that of James herself, have been put forward as potential Democratic nominees if Cuomo is impeached or chooses not to run, but this list so far overlaps little with those who might actively challenge the incumbent. . Cuomo reported he remains committed to the fourth term he declared in 2019, most recently with a fundraiser of $ 10,000 per plate on June 29 and a virtual “popular reception” on July 6 to grow the $ 16.8 million he had in his war chest in January.

Voters so far appear mixed on Cuomo’s future. Although his popularity hasn’t changed much lately, 23% of voters registered in a recent poll in Siena said he should “quit immediately”. A total of 39% said he should ‘serve his term but not be re-elected next year’, while 33% want him ‘to continue serving [his term] and seek re-election next year.

Most voters likely made their decision on Cuomo one way or another, regardless of the conclusion of the inquiries, Langworthy said. In other words, they are the only ones not to wait at all.

As for Cuomo, “I don’t see a guy going anywhere… He’s done apologizing,” Langworthy said.

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