Discover more from Political Currents by Ross Barkan
The State Assembly Holds Andrew Cuomo's Fate
It's the least glamorous, but now most important, of the legislative chambers
My publisher reminded me to remind you that if you pre-order my book about Andrew Cuomo, The Prince, you will get 15% off. It’s not a bad deal. Pre-orders matter because that’s how bookstores decide whether to order more of your book and how much of a campaign the powers-that-be want to put behind it. If you have a lousy run of pre-orders, it doesn’t bode well.
The Prince is doing fine, but we want it to do much better. The immediate goal is 1,000 pre-orders. With a discount, this book won’t even cost you $20 and you’ll end up receiving the definitive account of Cuomo’s career and how he failed New York during the pandemic. You should pre-order it now!
Buy two copies, give one to a friend.
Newer readers of Political Currents, or of my writing in general, may be surprised to learn I once ran for State Senate in New York. It wasn’t a gimmick campaign, though this Village Voice headline will always be one of my favorite. I was deadly serious and wanted to win. In retrospect, given the opportunities I’ve had since, I’m fine with how things turned out. It was year, though, I’ll never forget, and I made many good friends, including an accomplished rapper who ended up in the State Assembly.
My goal at the time was to get to Albany where I knew progressive Democrats would take power. There are fewer senators than state assembly members, just as there are a lot fewer U.S. senators than members of the House, so each one gets a bigger staff budget and more influence. I was ready to be a mover-and-shaker and maybe stand up to Andrew Cuomo, as relatively few Democrats wanted to do at the time.
In Albany these days, the Senate is often at the center of things. There are many young, progressive senators with great ideas and large social media followings. Two are proud socialists. Many of them are willing to confront Cuomo directly. It’s no surprise, really, that the Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, called for Cuomo to resign on Sunday, followng the numerous sexual harassment allegations—including the latest, which includes a charge that Cuomo groped a female aide—lodged against him and the ongoing nursing home scandal. Stewart-Cousins is cautious, but she is a consensus-builder who has the pulse of her conference. The Senate Democrats want Cuomo gone. She listens.
The Assembly, as I’ve written before, is a different kind of place. There are 150 members of the lower chamber, as opposed to the 63 in the Senate. A significant contingent of the leadership has been in office for decades, since state legislators have no term limits. In the year I ran, 2018, a whole cohort of new progressives won power and went to Albany, and more left-leaning Democrats won again two years later. The Senate has seen remarkable turnover. This is not the case in the Assembly.
This has created a new dynamic that is not quite noticed enough: the Senate is the younger, more left-wing body. Every Democrat in the supermajority chairs a committee of some kind. Individual lawmakers can wield real power.
In the Assembly, with many more members and a seniority-driven decision-making process, the new leftists can only get so far—for now at least. There are at least four Democrats who identify as socialist, but that’s four out of 150. In the Assembly Democratic conference alone—another supermajority—there are 107 members. With so many lawmakers, it’s up to the speaker, Carl Heastie, to exert himself and keep order. And he does. Heastie is soft-spoken and difficult to read, but he enjoys fierce loyalty from the senior legislators who keep him in power. It may have taken 10 senators or so to convince Stewart-Cousins to call for Cuomo’s resignation. It will take dozens for Heastie to do the same.
How will Cuomo be taken down? The threat of impeachment is the beginning of the end. A majority is needed to impeach, which amounts to 76 lawmakers. Like in Washington, it’s the lower house that initiates such proceedings, not the Senate. There are, I would say, enough votes in the Senate to convict Cuomo at any kind of trial. Progressive Democrats could join with Republicans and seal Cuomo’s fate. He knows this, which is why he is focusing his attention on the Assembly, pressuring 21 female lawmakers to sign a letter echoing his position: don’t make any declarations until after Attorney General Letitia James releases her report on the investigation into the harassment allegations.
On one hand, this stance is reasonable. We all deserve due process. What’s bizarre, though, is the argument that calls for resignation “undermine” the investigation of James, a Black woman. For one, Stewart-Cousins is a Black woman. And James’ office has told reporters that the investigation will continue whether Cuomo is governor or not. James herself has not asked legislators to stop making calls for Cuomo to step down. Rather, these legislators, with Cuomo’s urging, seek to weaponize identity to save the career of the state’s most powerful politician. Let’s not forget that Cuomo tried desperately to not have James appoint investigators at all. If the governor had his druthers, a former federal judge who served as a law partner of one of his closest aides would be overseeing the investigation today.
What now? Cuomo won’t do anything, probably, until James releases her report. This seems to be the stance of the most powerful Democrats, labor unions, and interest groups in the state. All view Cuomo as a weakened entity, but all are waiting to see just how devasating and detailed the report will be. At that point, we will know if there is momentum to force Cuomo to resign or for him to be impeached.
As of today, there are not nearly enough votes to impeach, but the number continues to grow. The most senior lawmaker in Albany, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, called for Cuomo’s resignation on Tuesday. Robert Carroll, a young Brooklyn assembly member, followed him on Wednesday. They join Sarah Clark, Aileen Gunther, Jonathan Jacobson, Carrie Woerner, Phil Steck, Tom Abinanti, Billy Jones, Pat Burke, Angelo Santabarbara, Ron Kim, Dan Quart, Harvey Epstein, Yuh-Line Niou, Marcela Mitaynes, Zohran Mamdani, Catalina Cruz, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Khaleel Anderson, Emily Gallagher, Victor Pichardo, and Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas as likely votes for impeachment, since they’ve all called for Cuomo to step down. That’s 23 votes. Heastie will not want to involve Republicans in such an effort, but there are 43 Republican assembly members who could all potentially vote to impeach Cuomo. For impeachment to be truly viable, at least 76 Democrats will likely have to be in support of moving forward.
Many more Democrats are undecided, waiting for the James report. Heastie will not move without a much larger share of the Democratic conference, but 22—if indeed they all hold firm—is a start. These next few months will be, without question, the most consequential of Cuomo’s political career. As with anything in Albany, nothing is ever quite what it seems.