There was never any chance Andrew Cuomo would go away quietly, spending his remaining years fishing out on the Long Island Sound and maybe doing some low-profile consulting for candidates and corporations. He’s too restless, and too aggrieved. Yet it is still strange to see Cuomo, just seven months after resigning from the governor’s office in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal, turning up in the East Bronx at a small conservative Christian church across the street from PS 66, “the School of Higher Expectations,” and a block away from Hunts Point Auto Wreckers, in a congressional district that’s long been among the nation’s poorest.
Most of the state’s other big Democrats were downtown yesterday morning, marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades and drinking green beer. Cuomo, though, is in political exile, so he was grinning and trading jokes with the Rev. Reuben Diaz, one of the state’s most controversial, most conservative Democrats: His clergy group lists its top priorities as opposing same-sex marriage, legalized abortion, and the distribution of birth control in schools. Diaz, who was wearing a bright burgundy cowboy hat, is president of the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, which is headquartered at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church; he is also a former city councilman and former state senator. Cuomo—in his speech to the crowd of about 100, many of them ministers and parishioners—spun his willingness to work with Diaz over the years, despite their stark philosophical differences, as an admirable sign of “tolerance,” a quality, he said , that is too often lacking in politics. Perhaps. But the ex-governor’s presence was also a sign that his attempt at a comeback is starting mostly on the political margins, even among New York’s communities of color.
Cuomo—looking thinner, his shirt collar a bit loose—devoted a large section of his comments to a pitch for amending the state’s recent bail-reform measures, which he had helped craft as governor a little more than two years ago, and called “ the most historic criminal justice reform in the modern history of the state.” The rest of his speech, and his answers to questions afterward, tracked fairly closely with what Cuomo said almost two weeks ago at a small Brooklyn church, in his first public appearance since resigning last August: that he’d been driven from the job by “cancel culture” and “extremists,” not by the results of a five-month investigation conducted by the office of New York attorney general Letitia James, a probe Cuomo himself had requested. But in his telling of him, Cuomo was hardly the only victim. “Even the big shots—CNN, AT&T, Time Warner, and Discovery—they’re afraid of the cancel culture,” Cuomo said, his voice rising. “Even the billionaire media-owner big shots: John Malone, John Stankey, David Zaslav. They’re afraid of being cancelled. I know because my family paid the price for them being afraid of cancel culture.” Unmentioned was that younger brother Chris Cuomo was fired, in part, CNN said at the time, for advising Andrew during the sexual harassment scandal; also unmentioned was that just this week, Chris sold the network for $125 million. (A CNN spokesman declined to comment on the suit to The New York Times.)
Despite the church setting, there would be no repentance, no hint of apology or remorse or error on Cuomo’s part. “There were people who wanted to run against me,” he said. “They wanted my job, and they used this opportunity to help themselves politically.” The 11 women whose accusations James had examined and found credible? The fact that five district attorneys had declined to pursue criminal cases meant, in Cuomo’s self-serving view, that the AG’s report “was a fraud. It was a fraud.”
The only willing hosts for Cuomo’s reappearances have been small churches, but they make sense for Cuomo as subsets of a larger base that’s always rallied behind him—the Brooklyn church has a mostly Black congregation, while the Bronx church has a mostly Latino congregation. Voters of color in the city were among Cuomo’s staunchest supporters throughout his nearly 11 years as governor. These events came after Cuomo popped up in Midtown Manhattan for dinner with current city mayor Eric Adams and lunch with former New Jersey governor ChrisChristie. He has also, for nearly the past three weeks, been attempting to appeal to a broader audience, reportedly spending close to $3 million on media buys, including two TV ads touting his record and blaming “political attacks” for his abrupt exit.
The campaign appears to be working. A February Siena College poll showed Cuomo with a 60% unfavorable rating; by early March, a poll from Emerson College and The Hill had Cuomo trailing his replacement, Governor Kathy Hochul, by a mere four points in a hypothetical primary matchup. Earlier this week, citing “people familiar with the matter,” a CNBC story claimed that Cuomo was actually considering making the run, dialing up the chatter even louder—exactly as those people no doubt intended.