Photographer: Seth Wenig/AFP/Getty Images
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing an impeachment inquiry led by the states own Democratic lawmakers as allegations of his misconduct mount, but he still has a number of advantages as he tries to cling to power.
Pressure to unseat him hit a new high on Thursday after allegations emerged that he groped a female aide under her blouse, 59 Democrats in the state Legislature demanded that he resign, and the Assembly speaker began an impeachment inquiry that could lead to his removal from office.
Yet removing a sitting governor from office is a lengthy, complicated process. And the intractable Cuomo, who has said there was no way he would step down, continues to hang on, defiant.
Obviously hes very much on the ropes, said longtime Democratic political consultant George Arzt. Hes just stretching it out.
Assembly Democrats gathered on Thursday for what Speaker Carl Heastie called a discussion of next steps.
New York Democratic Party leader Jay Jacobs, a longtime ally of Cuomos who has asked fellow politicians to wait for the results of an investigation before passing judgment, said in a statement on Thursday that he respected the lawmakers who think the governor ought to resign, and that he would be convening a meeting of county chairs so that I can hear their perspective on the current controversy directly.
Read More: Cuomo Faces Probe by Hard-Charging N.Y. AG Seen as Rival for Job
Behind the statements is an intensifying clash among Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both houses. In one camp are a growing number of lawmakers who want to initiate articles of impeachment regardless of whether Cuomo steps down. Another faction argues that Cuomo should be given the chance to stay in power until Attorney General Letitia James publishes the findings of her investigation into the sexual-harassment allegations, or the Legislature conducts its own inquiry.
I dont want to be the one who makes a decision on the governors fate before all the facts are in, said Assembly Majority Leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the second most powerful person in the chamber after Heastie.
Peoples-Stokes was among a group of 23 female lawmakers who signed a letter earlier this week urging the public and other politicians to await the attorney generals investigation, a statement Cuomo himself hailed as the right way to go.
Were not really in a position to know, said Assemblywoman Latrice Walker of Brooklyn. She said demands for immediate resignation without allowing James to go forward and make her own determinations of fact represented an example of a female office holder, particularly a woman of color, being disrespected.
Earlier: Cuomo Enters Survival Mode After Public Apology, Show of Remorse
We are watching the position of the authority of the first Black woman attorney general being muted with these calls for resignation and impeachment, Walker said. Its insulting, its disrespectful, and its against the deeply embedded principle in American jurisprudence that you allow the facts to come out before you make a judgment.
But details of a sixth accuser, who said the governor put his hands up her blouse and groped her in the Executive Mansion last year, turned up the heat on Cuomo, who says he never touched anyone inappropriately. His office referred the matter to the Albany police.
It is impacting the ability to govern at this point, and it just, it crossed a line. This is a new level of allegation, said Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat who signed the 23-woman pledge. She said Cuomo should step aside and let our well-respected Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul step in while these investigations are underway.
On Thursday night, the Wall Street Journal, reported aides to the governor and others in his circle had called former employees seeking to discredit one of his accusers, Lindsey Boylan, a former aide.
Steps to Impeachment
Heastie offered a compromise late Thursday: He formally authorized the judiciary committee to investigate whether the allegations warranted impeachment. The committee will be afforded subpoena power to interview witnesses and evaluate evidence, which could later serve as a legal basis for impeachment.
That action could make a case stronger, with the potential for high-quality evidence from the probe, said James A. Gardner, a law professor at the University at Buffalo.
New Yorks impeachment process works mostly like the federal one used most recently against former President Donald Trump. The process starts with a majority vote in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, then moves to the state Senate, where a two-thirds vote by senators and the states top judges is required to convict.
Yet unlike the federal process, there is no high crimes and misdemeanors standard so the governor could be impeached for any reason lawmakers deem necessary. Theres also no telling how long the process could take because the state Constitution doesnt provide any language on timing and theres little precedent. The last impeachment was in 1913, and the Constitution is vague, Gardner said. I dont think anybody alive has any insight.
The moment impeachment proceedings begin at the Assembly, Hochul would step in as acting governor. Cuomo only would return to office if the Senate acquitted him.
A Cuomo spokesperson didnt respond to a request for comment.
Some lawmakers argue that keeping him in power could actually help them achieve more legislative victories as the April 1 budget deadline nears. Privately, some are weighing whether an emboldened Legislature could pounce on a weakened leader.
Theres huge built-up resentment in the Legislature about how the governor has controlled the budget process, so the impetus on the part of legislators and advocates to take advantage of the governors relative weakness at the moment to put their priorities back into the budget is very strong, said Kathryn Wylde, president of business group Partnership for New York City. The leverage has shifted to the Legislature.
The governor has final say over the budget, with lawmakers only able to remove or reduce spending with Cuomos approval unless they can muster the votes to override him, which Democrats now have in the Senate.
Cuomo has another card to play as the Legislature debates a $193.3 billion spending plan for fiscal 2022: $12.6 billion in federal aid from the federal relief package that he can help dole out to supporters.
Saved by the Stimulus?
The scandal could hurt him, but when you realize the presidents stimulus package has been passed, the impact of that on the states finances will be so positive that we will all look good in the budget process, said Peoples-Stokes.
Cuomo has long prized delivering an on-time spending plan, which he has said is the bulwark to a functioning government. Before he took office in 2011, late budgets were commonplace in Albany. Cuomo made it a point to pass four consecutive on-time plans during his first term and cap spending increases. He has even tied lawmakers pay raises to meeting budget deadlines.
While technically a spending plan for the state, budget negotiations have allowed him to flex his muscle and push policy priorities like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, overhauling ethics rules, and altering rules for teacher tenure. Lawmakers also look upon the budget as a way to keep promises made to their constituents.
Last Sunday, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, called on Cuomo to resign, saying his scandals were a daily distraction. Heastie said the governor should seriously consider whether he can still be effective in office.
Democratic consultant Monica Klein, a longtime Cuomo critic said that one-two punch was particularly damaging, since Cuomo has to work with both leaders to put together the budget.
This is a governor who wields his power to strong-arm legislators, especially around the budget negotiations, and instead the speaker and the majority leader are operating together without him, she said.
With assistance by Martin Z Braun, and Shelly Banjo
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