She quickly added: “He will not let this go.”
What form that comeback takes has been a subject of intense intrigue in New York for weeks. His moves, which have already included a public declaration that he regrets resigning from office, come days ahead of the state Democratic convention in Manhattan, where Cuomo is likely to be a topic of the day despite being nowhere near the event.
One option, some past and current advisers said, would be to use his campaign war chest to simply attack his political foes this year. Or try to use his remaining influence to steer political conversations: He recently dined with New York Mayor Eric Adams, which raised eyebrows in Albany.
An aggressive push comes with peril, some former aides noted. He will likely face civil suits over the sexual harassment claims; the state ethics board is trying to claw back his $5.1 million book deal; and an undercounting of nursing home deaths continues to dog him.
But he plans to do something.
Might he kick off a return to public discourse by speaking at a Black church, as some close to him privately suggest and which as he did regularly amid scandals of the past?
Or, more defiantly and brazenly, will he run for his old seat as state attorney general — taking the $13 million still in his campaign coffers and unleashing a political war to beat James, who briefly ran for governor last year only to change her mind and run for reelection to her current seat?
Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi, in his strongest comments on the subject yet, said a run for attorney general isn’t happening — despite all the speculation around the possibility.
“While no one here can help it if some people in this town continue to be fixed on him, this is blatantly false,” Azzopardi said in an email to POLITICO.
“From the beginning the governor was laser focused on getting the truth out and making sure that New Yorkers understand the rampant politics and prosecutorial misconduct that permeated every page of the AG’s sham report.”
A Cuomo comeback?
In his first recent interview, Cuomo told Bloomberg News that he regrets resigning, but: “I never resigned because I said I did something wrong. I said, I’m resigning because I don’t want to be a distraction.”
He didn’t rule out a run for office.
Also occupying his time: Aiding his younger brother, Chris, in his battle against CNN after he was fired as its prime-time host. The journalist helped the elder brother during his scandals. Already, that fight led to the ouster of CNN boss Jeff Zucker, who admitted to a consensual relationship with co-worker Allison Gollust, who was briefly a former communication director for the governor.
Andrew Cuomo, 64, told Bloomberg that his brother’s firing hurt him more than his own resignation.
Cuomo, ever the political tactician, ran out of cards to play last August: The attorney general report, coupled with his office’s underreporting of Covid-19 deaths tied to nursing homes and a $5 million book deal on his Covid response that used state resources, stacked the deck against him.
If he didn’t resign, legislative leaders made it clear he would be impeached.
But Cuomo still feels wronged, particularly by James’ report.
“A lot of people say that: He resigned, that’s proof of” wrongdoing, Glavin told reporters. “But what people don’t understand is that almost all members of the Assembly, which would be voting on impeachment, said he had to resign or they were going to impeach him. And that’s what the report was meant to do.”
James has defended the report, saying Cuomo is simply trying to redefine history and salvage his 40-year legacy in and around New York politics.
“For months, Andrew Cuomo has been hiding behind his campaign lawyer and falsely crying ‘witch hunt’ despite previously admitting to this misconduct multiple times,” James’ office said after Glavin said Cuomo would file a complaint aimed at disbarring James.
“If he thinks he has a real legal case, he should go ahead and file it. These attacks are disgraceful and yet another desperate charade to mask the truth: Andrew Cuomo is a serial sexual harasser.”
A return to the spotlight?
During the pandemic, Cuomo’s star rose as almost as it crashed.
He was a media darling during his nationally televised Covid briefings, including playful ones with his brother; landed the lucrative book deal; and was even talked about as a potential presidential candidate.
But now Cuomo faces what would be extraordinary backlash if he were to so quickly try to revive his political standing. Some former aides recoiled at the suggestion of Cuomo back on the stump.
Other than seeking vindication and to bolster his own standing, few could point to a rationale for any political campaign.
“The main question everyone’s asking is when do people move on? And there are no answers,” a former Cuomo aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the former governor in frank terms. “At some point, you have to pivot. Is the pivot point a loss in an election? I think the key on all sides is when is he comfortable saying, ‘I need to move on?’”
Cuomo is believed to be looking at private polling again, those close to him said, something he regularly commissioned while in office. But public polls have shown little support for him since he resigned.
A September poll by Siena College showed by a 67 percent to 26 percent margin, including 55 percent of Democrats, that voters said Cuomo should have resigned. And his favorability was the worst Siena had found: 34 percent to 55 percent, down from 45 percent to 47 percent last June.
“Hey resigned. And, you know, it takes a certain kind of person to try and reenter the public space literally a few months after he resigned in disgrace, but to each their own,” said state Sen. James Skoufis, a Hudson Valley Democrat.
‘He’s not going to move on’
Cuomo’s vindication tour ramps up after five district attorneys all choose in recent weeks to not pursue criminal charges against him over the sexual harassment detailed in James’ report, though none questioned the veracity of the women’s claims.
“It is insulting to tell someone who has been wrongly accused and treated unfairly: ‘Just move on,'” Glavin said. “No, he’s not going to move on, because truth is important. Process is important; misconduct cannot get swept under the rug.”
But other problems for the governor linger.
The New York Sexual Harassment Working Group, made up of former female aides who were mistreated while working in state government, filed a complaint this month to get Cuomo disbarred as an attorney — a reminder that any Cuomo effort to redeem himself would be met with a swift response.
“While Andrew Cuomo continues his ‘vindication’ media campaign, the Sexual Harassment Working Group is fighting for actual accountability for the harm he inflicted on at least eleven women,” the group said.
Also, any of the extraordinary political support Cuomo amassed during his time in office has evaporated. Unions, business groups and political leaders all have moved on: They have all largely galvanized around Cuomo’s successor, Kathy Hochul, for her election bid this fall and for James’ reelection.
That’s why some expect Cuomo may be more focused on clearing his own name rather than a political run. Doing so hasn’t worked out well for other disgraced New York politicians in recent memory: Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner tried to run for office and failed.
“What he does or chooses to do, I think will be more focused on his efforts to clear his name,” said state Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs, who remained a loyal ally, but ultimately called Cuomo to resign and now backs Hochul and James.
Cuomo’s career has been staked to a bare-knuckled approach to governing, a style that undid his ill-fated first run for governor in 2002 against popular state comptroller Carl McCall, who unsuccessfully sought to be the state’s first Black governor.
That led to a comeback in 2006 when Cuomo ran for attorney general, beat a crowded Democratic primary field and crushed former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, a Republican, at the polls that November.
The comeback was complete four years later when he handily won the governor’s office — a seat held by his late father, Mario Cuomo, for 12 years.
But many Albany observers have noted Cuomo’s own revival then and the irony of today: It was aided by damning reports he oversaw as attorney general against Spitzer and Spitzer’s successor, David Paterson, putting fuel on the fire of their scandals that led to his ascension.
Cuomo may very well see his next political chapter as his second revival. after all, his first booka memoir in 2014 that sold a mere 3,000 copies, which was titled: “All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life.”