NEW YORK – Governor Andrew Cuomo has become a pariah in many New York political circles. Almost the entire congressional delegation, both US senators and most of the state legislature, are calling on him to step down on increasing allegations of sexual harassment.
But the scandal-ridden leader was among friends at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem on Wednesday, grinning and thumbing up as he received his coronavirus vaccine surrounded by black leaders and clergy.
“Some people will say why would the governor choose a time like this to come to Harlem to get his shot?” Former MP Charlie Rangel said at the event. “When people pile on you … you go to your family and you go to your friends because you know they will be with you.”
With Cuomo being abandoned by other Democrats in Albany and Washington, his strategy of staying in power – and perhaps even getting re-elected – is a proven political game: “To dance with the one who brought you. ”
The increasingly isolated Cuomo relied heavily on black leaders during the crisis. His Harlem gig was the fourth such event he had held in the past few days – all broadcast online but closed to the press, ostensibly due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Black voters spoke out in large numbers for Cuomo in his last two democratic primary elections and remain one of his most important and reliable support blocs. Two polls in recent weeks show that black voters continue to support the governor in large numbers despite his bleeding support among elected Democrats.
Like many of the leaders who have stood by Cuomo over the past few weeks, Rangel – who had his own scandal – stressed the need to hold the verdict pending the conclusion of an investigation opened by the Attorney General into several allegations of harassment and inappropriate behavior on Cuomo stands now before.
“Back off until you have some facts,” he said.
Any path to re-election for the governor, should he survive long enough to run for a fourth term, will be through black voters. A former advisor to the governor said the strategy meets the state’s current needs.
“Is a good government a good policy? Absolutely. That makes sense because he’s always been there, ”said the former Cuomo official, who is still close to the administration.
The person who asked for anonymity to discuss the governor’s strategy found that most black voters are older, female and “not on Twitter” – a constituency Cuomo and his father, the late Mario Cuomo , have always courted.
“The name Cuomo is synonymous with this,” said the person.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the strategy.
At least six women, including several former aides, have accused Cuomo of wrongdoing, ranging from being aggressively fumbling to making inappropriate comments. Attorney General Tish James, the first black woman to hold the job, has opened an investigation into the charges and the State Assembly has opened an impeachment investigation.
A poll by Siena College released this week found that 69 percent of black voters believe Cuomo should not step down, the highest of the populations polled, while only 22 percent said so. That equates to 35 percent who say he should step down among all voters polled, and 41 percent among white voters.
Black voters were the least likely to say Cuomo committed sexual harassment at 71 percent – 21 percent said they did – and 71 percent were the least likely to be satisfied with the way he approached the allegations.
And if Cuomo runs for a fourth term in 2022, 59 percent of black voters said they would support him, while 29 percent said they would prefer someone else. Of all races voters, 52 percent want someone else, while only 34 percent would vote Cuomo again.
“We all know how many people, especially in our community, are currently detained on charges. Allegations and facts are two different things, “said Rev. Johnnie Green, pastor of Mount Neboh, in an interview after the event on Wednesday.
He said the request that Cuomo resign prior to the investigation was “absurd”.
“I think it’s premature and there will be a lot of egg on many people’s faces when the facts come out in its favor,” he added.
Cuomo’s support among black voters is far from monolithic, with a host of black elected officials demanding, among other things, that he resign or be charged. These include Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Representatives Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones, New York District Attorney Jumaane Williams, and many state lawmakers.
Some see his survival strategy as cynical.
“I’m a little disgusted that he’s trying to use black people as a shield for what he’s done,” said Senator Jabari Brisport (D-Brooklyn), who has brought charges against Cuomo.
“I’ve seen colleagues compare what happened to Cuomo to the Central Park Five or Emmett Till, and I think these are wildly off-base.” We are talking about a governor who has pushed actions that have actually hurt the blacks in this state the most, ”he said. “We are the last ones who should come to his defense now.”
Williams called Cuomo’s tactics “despicable” and said he used the Black New Yorkers’ experience of making false accusations in the criminal justice system to serve his own defense.
“The Black Community has a long history of trauma on many topics and it is definitely part of the Cuomo playbook to use people’s trauma and sensitivity against them. So I’m not surprised, ”he said. “It’s not over him.”
For the past few days, Cuomo has appeared with black clergy in Syracuse on Long Island and at the Javits Center in Manhattan to promote the Covid-19 vaccine and provide positive comments on his pandemic leadership.
He was recently supported by a statement published by 21 members of the Democratic Women’s Assembly, led by majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who argued that calling for Cuomo’s immediate resignation would undermine the authority of the black’s first female attorney general.
“We request that she be given adequate time to complete her investigation rather than undermining her role and responsibility as New York State chief law enforcement officer,” the group said.
Cuomo’s allies have also circulated statements indicating his wait-and-see attitude of a Group of black clergymen and Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York Conference, whom Cuomo has referred to as his “second mother.”
“As a civil rights attorney, I believe in due process,” Dukes said in an interview. “You have no proof. You have no proof.”
Rev. Al Sharpton said he was reluctant to demand Cuomo’s resignation pending the results of the investigation, and heard the same sentiment from the capital leaders of his National Action Network and listeners to his radio show.
“It is an innate suspicion to jump to conclusions only because we have become more victims,” Sharpton said in an interview.
However, that could change if it becomes clear that Cuomo cannot rule and lawmakers are unable to negotiate the state budget with him.
“That would exaggerate me and much of the black community,” said Sharpton.
Cuomo was re-elected twice against the main opponents on his left, aided by strong support in the black neighborhoods of New York City, despite falling out of favor with some state residents and white liberals.
Before the scandal broke out, he was supposed to run for a fourth term. He hasn’t given any answers to questions about whether he still wants to walk.
Green predicted that the black voters would stay with Cuomo unless the investigation found evidence of wrongdoing.
“He has a very impressive record. It will be hard to deny him a fourth term if the facts of these allegations are found to be in his favor. It will be difficult to go against a fourth term, ”he said.
But Brisport said as allegations continue to surface, support will wane.
“Everyone has their limits. Some people reached their limits months or years ago in response to the governor, others are not there yet, ”he said.
Sharpton said it all depends on who gets in the ring against Cuomo. Williams and James were both named as potential candidates.
“If challenged by Jumaane Williams he would be injured. If he ran against Donald Trump Jr. he would likely get more votes,” Sharpton said.
Anna Gronewold, Shannon Young and Bill Mahoney contributed to this report.