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New York’s Indian American Lawmakers Demand a Fair Investigation Into Allegations Against Gov. Cuomo

New York’s Indian American Lawmakers Demand a Fair Investigation Into Allegations Against Gov. Cuomo

  • While State Senator Jeremy Cooney stopped short of calling for Cuomo’s resignation pending an investigation, Assemblyman Zohrab Mamdani asked Cuomo to quit. Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, has remained conspicuously silent.

As the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head and raged through New York and the U.S. last year, Democrats across the nation hailed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the face of competence as former President Donald Trump fumbled his administration’s response to the exploding epidemic.

Now, the Democratic governor is struggling through a sexual harassment scandal along with allegations of mismanagement of the pandemic in nursing homes that’s testing the limits of his party’s support, as Democrats grapple with one of the first political headaches of the post-Trump era. The scrutiny of Cuomo comes at a moment when Democrats are working hard to project unity and competence in contrast to the last four years of near-constant scandal under Trump. 

Cuomo’s scandal also threatens the moral high ground Democrats have sought on issues related to gender and sexual harassment — which are at the top of mind of many women who abandoned the Republican Party in droves last fall and helped fuel Biden’s victory.

Cuomo, the 63-year-old son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, and brother of CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo, is in the midst of his third four-year term as the top elected official in the nation’s fourth most populous state. Currently, Cuomo serves as the chairman of the National Governors Association. He has been expected to seek another term next year; New York has no term limits for governors.

So far, few Democrats have come to Cuomo’s rescue. But they haven’t explicitly condemned or asked him to step down either. During his March 3 press conference, following his COVID-19 briefing, Cuomo emphatically stated that he would not be resigning before claiming he is “truly sorry if he hurt or offended anyone and that was never his intention.” 

Right after Cuomo’s press conference, American Kahani caught up with New York State Senator Jeremy Cooney, a Democrat, to weigh in on the matter. “The key for me here is that there needs to be a fact finding investigation by the Attorney General of New York State (Letitia James), and until we have that investigation, which is under way, resolved, you can’t force the governor to leave office,” Cooney said.

The busy senator, who spoke to American Kahani between calls, added “If he’s made the decision not to resign, I cannot tell an elected official what he should or should not do. What we can say, is that we take sexual harassment very seriously, and have zero tolerance policy towards it in New York. We need to get to the truth of the matter and it needs to be non- political.”

And if the investigation finds Gov. Cuomo at fault, Cooney, who doesn’t believe there’s any room for soft-peddling here, states in no uncertain terms, “In my opinion then, the governor would either need to make the decision to resign or the legislature would have to take action. And our one course of action in the legislature is that the State Assembly would have to bring an impeachment action against the governor. We need to be absolutely consistent when it comes to issues of sexual harassment and protecting and supporting these women who bravely came forward. We need to hold whomever is found guilty of committing an act of sexual harassment responsible. Be it the governor or anyone else, they have to be held to the exact same standard. This will not be tolerated in New York.” 

Tweeting about the recent allegations New York State Sen. Kevin Thomas, stated, “These allegations are serious, and must be investigated fairly. I trust our @NewYorkStateAG to carry out this important task and ensure the transparency NYers deserve.”

American Kahani reached out to Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar (D-N.Y.) for a comment, but received no response. Surprisingly, Rajkumar’s Twitter has also been silent on the issue. As a woman legislator one would have expected Rajkumar to be out front taking a stand on the issue.

Cuomo was already facing criticism for his administration’s under-counting of pandemic-related nursing home fatalities when a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, elaborated on harassment allegations she first made in December. Boylan said Cuomo subjected her to an unwanted kiss and comments about her appearance. Calls for an investigation mounted when a second former aide went public with harassment claims.

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Charlotte Bennett, a low-level aide in Cuomo’s administration until November, told The New York Times Cuomo asked questions about her sex life, including whether she ever had sex with older men, and made other comments she interpreted as gauging her interest in an affair. Gov. Cuomo has denied ever inappropriately touching anyone, but has acknowledged that some of his comments may have been insensitive. Earlier, controversy over COVID-19 fatalities of New York long-term care residents by Gov. Cuomo and his top aides prompted increasing calls to repeal Cuomo’s expanded executive powers from both sides of the aisle last month.

New York Assemblyman Zohrab Kwame Mamdani took a step ahead taking to Twitter calling for Cuomo’s impeachment and went on CNN on March 5, to urge the governor to resign. Speaking about the under-counting of fatalities at nursing homes, Mamdani said: “This is just one instance of a larger pattern where Governor Cuomo has committed willful and corrupt acts of misconduct in office, which is the standard for impeachment,” he said. Mamdani shared a clip of his CNN interview on Twitter and wrote: “Article 7 of NYS judiciary law s.240, lays out the standard for impeachment: ‘willful and corrupt misconduct in office’. Our governor’s handling of nursing homes fits within that standard, as does his conduct towards his staff & members of the public.”

Speaking to the under-counting of fatalities at nursing homes and calls to strip Gov. Cuomo of his pandemic emergency powers, Cooney says, “I believe it is time to remove the executive emergency powers given to the governor.”

Pointing out that they (legislators) would be moving legislation on March 5 to do just that he adds, “Even before these women came forward, I believe we are in a different place than we were when the pandemic started a year ago. Legislature needs to be a co-equal branch of government again. There needs to be more transparency. There has been an eroding of public trust between public health officials and people of this state (New York) because there seems to be misinformation about what took place in nursing homes. We can’t afford to have that level of mistrust. This is one of the several reasons why these emergency powers need to be rolled back.” 

On March 5, the New York State Senate passed a bill to repeal Cuomo’s expanded emergency executive powers that were granted to him at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the passage of legislation, Thomas issued a statement. “In light of recent revelations about the conduct of the governor and his administration, it is clear that we need to return to a system of balanced oversight and review between the Legislature and the executive branch. The system created through this legislation will ensure transparency and continue to prioritize the health, safety, and recovery of New York State.”

Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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