When allegations came out against NY Governor Andrew Cuomo months ago, Socialist Alternative ended our statement with a warning and call to action: “Cuomo’s house of cards may be falling down before our eyes, but the ruling class is preparing to shuffle in their next deck. Socialists must be ready to intervene with cards of a new suit.”
After mounting pressures, Cuomo’s house of cards has collapsed. His top aide, Melissa DeRosa, who helped him retaliate against one of his victims, has resigned, as did his special counsel, Judith Mogul. He lost support from one of his closest allies, Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, who despite advising Cuomo to resign remained loyal to the end saying in a statement that “our state and its citizens are better off having had Andrew Cuomo as our Governor.”
Carl Heastie, the Assembly speaker, came out saying he won’t compromise with the governor any longer, and Jim Malatras, Cuomo’s handpicked state university system chancellor, “claimed outrage.” These key allies of Cuomo distanced themselves because the political ship was clearly sinking, threatening to take them down with it. As we wrote in March, “The compounding scandals surrounding Cuomo have dropped his approval rating to an all-time low of 33% statewide, and it’s clear that his credibility as a leader has been too damaged for the political establishment to ignore any longer.” It was only when Cuomo found himself abandoned by the small circle he had relied on for years that he finally decided to resign.
In his resignation speech Cuomo reminded New Yorkers of all the progressive measures his administration passed over the years. There’s no doubt that important victories were won in the past decade, but these were born out of social struggles, not the mind of an allegedly progressive governor. Marriage equality was won against the background of an increased movement and mass protests; the “Women’s Equality Agenda” as well as the Reproductive Health Act came out of the largest protests in U.S. history for women’s rights; and the $15 minimum wage came out of a nationwide movement of fast-food workers starting in Brooklyn and the Bronx and a historic victory in Seattle, led by Socialist Alternative councilmember Kshama Sawant.
Progress is not driven by the psychology of individual “leaders,” but by mass movements and the economic laws that they operate in. Cuomo’s psychology as a sneaky and brilliant corporate politician enabled him to manipulate these laws (and social movements) in his favor at different periods of time. But the same laws of progress apply to his replacement, Kathy Hochul, and future governors.
For that reason, we disagree with the short statement by the NYC Democratic Socialists of America, which reads “Andrew Cuomo has been the greatest roadblock to progress in this state for the last decade. That roadblock has finally been cleared. Free universal healthcare, housing, justice for all, and a Green New Deal for New York are within our grasp.”
While as a strong-fisted governor he certainly had the power to block progressive measures, Cuomo was only a figurehead for a system based on exploitation and oppression. It’d be a mistake to view a single individual as the main roadblock to progress.
New York has the second highest union affiliation in the country, strong social organizations, and many elected socialists, which is a reflection of a left-ward shift among New Yorkers. In this context, the main obstacle for winning change is the weakness of the current working-class leadership, and we should warn against the idea that workers are about to win a series of progressive reforms just because Cuomo has resigned. A great deal of blame should be put on the union leaders who consistently gave Cuomo blind support.
The System is Guilty
Cuomo’s political character is a product of a corrupt, oppressive, anti-working class system rather than the other way around. Harassment and bullying are the norm in capitalist politics. Cuomo was just doing it more openly than others. In the wake of Cuomo’s scandal, it was revealed that a toxic atmosphere at the governor’s offices and mansion was the by-product of a heavy-handed, forceful, and bullying individual. It is not a coincidence that the same approach was evident in his politics.
Cuomo’s forceful push for charter schools at the expense of public education; his alliance with state Republicans and the former pro-Republican Independent Democratic Conference (IDC); the forcing of cuts to Medicaid and blocking of the NY Health Act and tax hikes on the super-rich; his cover up of nursing home deaths during the early stages of Covid-19; and the dirty methods used to push back any political rival, are all examples of his anti-worker, bullying approach. But he didn’t do it alone. Those who defended him during his bullying and harassment of women have also defended his anti-worker politics.
In particular, it has been reported that Roberta Kaplan and Tina Tchen, two leaders of Time’s Up, one of the main #MeToo organizations, and Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ organization in the country, advised Cuomo in a P.R. campaign to defend him against one of the accusers. Kaplan has since resigned and many are calling on David to resign as well.
History of Dirty Politics
This has also brought up memories of the 1977 and 1982 rivalry between former mayor Ed Koch and Andrew Cuomo’s father and former Governor, Mario Cuomo. Flyers during their rival campaigns had the homophobic slogan “Vote Cuomo, not the Homo.” Andrew Cuomo was his father’s campaign manager and despite rejecting the allegations, the slogan was broadly understood to be his idea. More reports came out saying that the Cuomo campaign hired a private detective to prove Koch’s alleged homosexuality. Cuomo had the close support of one of the strongest LGBTQ figures in the U.S. is absolutely criminal.
Before his 2014 re-election, Cuomo set up the Women’s Equality Party, using New York’s fusion voting to put himself as the party’s candidate as a way to defeat female challenger Zephyr Teachout and create a division within the Working Families Party (WFP). He did this with the help of his successor, Kathy Hochul, and was eventually successful in breaking up the WFP around their later support for Cynthia Nixon, with many of its affiliated unions leaving the party in support of Cuomo. It was even alleged that the made-up party’s initials, WEP, were intentionally chosen to confuse voters who wanted to vote WFP.
But irony is a big player in this case. One has to wonder how Joe Biden, who was also accused of sexual harassment, could call on the governor to resign, something that he refused to do himself. Corporate media has remained silent on this question. And to add to the irony, in a striking moment in his resignation speech Cuomo said “when there is a bias or a lack of fairness in the justice system it is a concern for everyone, not just those immediately affected.” This comes out of the governor of a state where 373,000 of its residents have spent time in prison, three-quarters of whom are people of color. New York City is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., and the NYPD is one of the country’s most brutal police forces. The New York justice system has a long history of “bias or a lack of fairness” against working people. But apparently in Cuomo’s mind — as long as he has an open line with Black misleaders such as Al Sharpton, who spoke with the governor a few days ago — he is himself the real victim.
That some of the leaders of the labor, LGBTQ, and women’s movements have been close allies and enablers of this pro-corporate sexual harasser should send a strong message to all those organizing to end oppression. Only mass movements and genuine independent working-class organizations with real democratic discussions and structures can fundamentally change society.
An Alternative Needed
According to the New York Times, “there was talk among some advisers on Thursday about preparing and running a series of person-on-the-street television advertisements featuring New Yorkers who thought he was doing a great job.” It should not be ruled out that this now-dismissed idea would have had some impact. Despite his record, Cuomo does hold an authority in the state. But the main reason why many New Yorkers could put the governor’s bullying aside and why he was able to stay in power is not because he was doing a great job, but because there was never a strong alternative. Even the recent opposition from Teachout and Nixon, as important as they were, remained within the framework of the Democratic Party, a party controlled by Cuomo, his closest allies, and the billionaires they serve. This shows the importance of running independently of corporate politics not just to win, but also to pose a much-needed alternative.
The New York State Assembly has decided not to impeach Cuomo. However, following a backlash, the assembly will continue the investigation and will issue a report that might or might not lead to the impeachment process. Socialist Alternative supports any effort to impeach Cuomo and bar him from running for office again. However, we should have no illusions that individual treatment is the answer against corporate political bullying. What this episode points to is the need to throw out conservative union bureaucrats and rebuild fighting and democratic unions, backed by truly democratic social organizations and movements. We need socialists to run independently to help advance the idea of a new party of working people, a party that should be thoroughly democratic and fight for a program of fundamental systemic change with justice to all working people, people of color, women, and youth, for a socialist society.