Does embattled former Gov. Andrew Cuomo deserve a second chance at political fame? The answer for South Bronx residents is mixed.
With whispers that the former three-term governor is mulling a return to politics — for a seat he abdicated in August following sexual misconduct allegations by 11 women — Cuomo’s rainy Thursday morning visit to ex-NYC Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr.’s Pentecostal church in the South Bronx drew both welcoming arms and visceral disgust.
Cuomo still has his loyal supporters like Betty Davis, who lives on Longfellow Avenue, the same block as Christian Community Neighborhood Church. Davis told the Bronx Times that Cuomo’s fall from grace last summer was a “political smear campaign.” Others, however, like Joslyn Rodriguez, a sexual assault survivor, feel “triggered” by Cuomo’s re-emergence in the public spotlight, stating that he’s shown a lack of accountability for his alleged actions.
The second-generation politician believes he not only deserves a second chance but, alongside “forgiving” local pastors of the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization on Thursday, warned that progressive extremism is destroying the Democratic Party.
Cuomo touted his Bronx roots, as a Fordham University alum, and warned that the country and state are in anxious times because of political extremism, the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic and cancel culture.
“Cancel culture says if you don’t agree with me and my point of view, then you should be canceled … anyone can be canceled,” he said. “Everyone is afraid of being canceled and the extremists refuse to have a reasonable conversation.”
Cuomo railed against “woke” politicians and progressive calls to defund the police amid a rise in crime in the city, calling it an elitist viewpoint.
“The Bronx is besieged with crime and the majority of the victims are Black and brown,” said Cuomo. “Many politicians feel that if they don’t go along with defund the police (rhetoric) they will lose in the primary or not get elected.”
Diaz Sr., who is out of politics following an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2020, invited Cuomo to speak at the event, and celebrated the former governor for facilitating projects in the Bronx such as a $10 million Orchard Beach restoration project and anti-crime legislation. He also detailed Cuomo’s efforts in 2017 to deliver National Guard trucks from the Bronx to San Clemente, Puerto Rico, after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
“We cannot deny the contributions that this family did for the Bronx …” said Diaz Sr., who blended his remarks through a mixture of English and Spanish. “I also would like to publicly thank former governor for what you have done for my brothers in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.”
For some, that’s worthy of a pass despite his alleged transgressions.
“He’s always been a friend to the Latino community, of the Latinos in the Bronx and we welcome a return to office,” said Victor Diaz, a Puerto Rican clergyman who lives in the Charlotte Gardens section of the Bronx.
Because he wasn’t criminally convicted or removed from his position — he resigned — Cuomo can still run for elected office, including his old post. But time is running out, as he would need to secure 15,000 signatures by April 7, the last day to file designating petitions with the state Board of Elections.
If he decides to re-enter politics, he’d be setting up a Democratic primary against Gov. Kathy Hochul, his former running mate, which could provide for dramatic political theater.
On Wednesday, Hochul signed three bills to close loopholes regarding sexual harassment in the workplace and took a dig at her predecessor, saying she “cleaned house” after succeeding him.
“We created a human resources department, a real one, so actual real complaints can be heard by real people, who will take action,” Hochul said. “We actually have an outside law firm available for people to complain to, so there’s no sense that anybody within my administration can cover up or sweep something under the rug. No longer will women have to live in fear in any workplace, particularly in our administration.”
One of the bills, sponsored by state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, an outspoken Cuomo critic who previously worked in his administration, will expand protections against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and provide survivors the opportunity to openly speak their truth, without fear of retaliation.
Cuomo doubled down Thursday in his defense that any sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him were unfounded, adding that he has since been exonerated. He also continued his criticism of state Attorney General Letitia James’ 2021 investigation into the allegations, calling it politically motivated.
If the ex-governor is planning on a political comeback, he may also need to address criticisms of his handling of the pandemic. While Cuomo has claimed numerous times that he led the state out of the throes of the pandemic, an audit released on Tuesday by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found something more damning.
The audit found that state Health Department officials under Cuomo, at times, underreported the full death toll caused by COVID-19 by as much as 50% from April 2020 to February 2021. The 41-page report concluded that the Health Department often acquiesced to what Cuomo and his top officials wanted during the pandemic, sometimes failing to meet its “ethical and moral imperatives to act transparently.”
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.