Andrew Cuomo looms large in the battle to succeed him: 'There's strength in that dread.'

Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo remains in political limbo, more than three months after resigning in disgrace. He's not fully written off as a spent force, but he's been sidelined while the contest to replace him heats up.

Cuomo, who led the Empire State and its Democratic Party for a decade, resigned in August rather than face impeachment and removal from office as a result of an investigation by the state attorney general's office, which determined he sexually harassed many women and presided over a poisonous workplace.
His retirement marked the end of a precipitous decline from the national political celebrity he attained during the terrifying first wave of the coronavirus outbreak in spring 2020. Cuomo's handling of the situation, which was praised at the time, has now come under fire.

On Monday, the state assembly released its own report, which concluded that there was "overwhelming evidence" that Cuomo and his senior staff were "not fully transparent regarding the number of nursing home residents who died as a result of Covid-19," and that Cuomo and his senior staff were "not fully transparent regarding the number of nursing home residents who died as a result of Covid-19." Cuomo then used the skewed statistics to enhance his image in a now-famous book, which he wrote and promoted with the help of government employees and which initially stood to profit him roughly $5 million, according to the investigators.
 

Cuomo has rejected the sexual misconduct charges, claiming that he did not purposely inflate the number of nursing home deaths and that the book sale and publication procedure followed ethical guidelines.
Cuomo is now the subject of a criminal complaint in connection with one of the harassment allegations, and grand plans for an easy election to a fourth term in office — one more than his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo — have been replaced by a grittier calculus 18 months after Democrats semi-seriously chewed over his presidential prospects.

Cuomo's unwillingness to retire or at least hide in the aftermath of his resignation — which was forced by a state legislature ready to impeach, convict, and remove him from office — is motivated by a double struggle: clearing his reputation while also ensuring that New Yorkers do not forget it.

'I don't know that he is powerful, but I think he is feared'

Cuomo's public presence is now largely limited to his email list and Twitter account, which features a constant stream of broadsides from his lawyer, Rita Glavin, and spokesman Rich Azzopardi, in response to New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into Cuomo's alleged sexual misconduct. Cuomo routinely retweets complimentary opinion pieces, such as a September op-ed in Newsday that referred to his demise as a "Albany coup d'état." There's also a photo of the previous governor on a boat with his dog, Captain.Cuomo's decision to replace the executive chamber with an online echo chamber has been welcomed by many in New York politics, from operatives to politicians, and has created a new dynamic that they want to keep.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who represents a swing seat in southern Brooklyn, hailed a "period of good sentiments" in Albany, with incoming Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul openly discussing collaboration and collaborations with politicians who had been mostly ignored by the Cuomo administration.
But even in exile from the capitol, Cuomo casts a long shadow.
"There's always the possibility of mischief and mayhem, especially with someone who is hellbent on retribution," Gounardes said, "but I think that that will only get legs if we allow it to."
A Democratic consultant without ties to any of the gubernatorial campaigns underscored Cuomo's unique, if increasingly tenuous, hold on the party.
"I don't know that he is powerful, but I think he is feared," she said. "And there's power in that fear."
James' entry into the gubernatorial primary earlier this month, where she is widely regarded as Hochul's most formidable challenger, has been used by the former governor's small team as a means of seeking to undermine her office's report, which found that Cuomo had sexually harassed at least 11 women.
Inside the campaigns, and in public comments on the trail, discussion of the former governor's future plans has been limited.
One Democratic operative who has spoken to multiple gubernatorial campaigns told CNN that Cuomo was a secondary issue in those discussions, with more tangible electoral issues -- like "How is Brooklyn gonna go?" -- taking up "90% of the conversation."
"The one (Cuomo-related) variable that comes up is, 'What about the 18 million? Are we gonna see that 18 million? Are we going to see part of it? Where is that going to turn up?,'" the operative said, referring to Cuomo's warchest. "Because that's really the Cuomo question. He doesn't have a bully pulpit anymore. When he releases a statement, it gets less and less attention."
Azzopardi, Cuomo's spokesman, dismissed the chatter and insisted the former governor's only priority was to clear his name.
"Since the beginning of this ordeal, this has never been about politics for us it's been about getting to the truth," he said. "There's a ton of idle speculation out there but we can't help it if we continue to occupy vital real estate in people's head."

A political comeback?

Launching a fresh campaign would be one opportunity for Cuomo to settle scores, re-enter politics in a more recognizable form, and maybe raise even more money. For weeks, rumors have circulated about a possible run for state attorney general, a position he held from 2007 to 2010. Even some longstanding Cuomo supporters are skeptical, despite the fact that few are willing to completely discount the notion.
"When you're in a situation like (Cuomo's), I would imagine that you will continue to strive for not just relevance, but a role, and that's what he may want. Whether that's realistic at this time, or not, is something different," said Jay Jacobs, New York's state Democratic Party chairman. (Jacobs endorsed Hochul in October, when he said he last spoke to Cuomo.)
There is also skepticism in some quarters over how deep Cuomo's pockets actually are -- or will be -- given his recent expenses.
"I think he's got a lot less money than you and I think he has. Let's say he had 20 million or 19 million. He's now spent the last six months paying lawyers," said Chris Coffey, a New York political strategist and former co-campaign manager of Andrew Yang's mayoral bid. "So I think he would be lucky to break double digits (millions), which is still a lot of money, but if you keep going at that rate, he's going to spend that money pretty quickly."
Monica Klein, a New York City-based progressive political consultant, said Cuomo's reliance on a barrage of alternately incendiary and inscrutable video and email statements underscored his difficult position.
"This is a man who used his bully pulpit and the office of the governor to build and brandish his public image daily. Now, he can't rely on the constant coverage he once earned as the top state official," Klein said. "'Former governor passionately tweeting from Westchester' has no equal."
Glavin repeated a familiar series of accusations and demands during a livestream from Cuomo's website last week, expressing frustration that James had not engaged with the Cuomo team's public criticism or responded to its letters (before sending two more), and citing a recent New York Post report that amplified rumors about Cuomo's mulling a campaign as reason for James to recuse herself from any further investigations into the former governor.
"There's widespread speculation that the governor may run, may attempt a political comeback," Glavin said. "I don't know what the answer to that is, but the very fact that there is speculation and people are talking about it, we have unnamed former advisors talking about it, means that it's in the head of anyone who's running for governor."
However, according to Glavin's source, "many of Cuomo's confidants" had floated the notion, implying that she was essentially utilizing a narrative fuelled by previous governor's associates as ammunition for criticizing James.
James' office issued the harshest reprimand to yet in a statement, calling the news conference "dramatics" and "fake anger."
"To be clear, we stand by the investigation investigating several claims of sexual harassment against Andrew Cuomo, and, more importantly, we stand by the women who were courageous enough to speak truth to power," a spokeswoman said. "If Andrew Cuomo didn't want to be accused of sexual harassment, he shouldn't have sexually harassed multiple women in the first place."

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