In 1978, the elder Cuomo ran for lieutenant governor successfully. After one term, he threw his hat into the ring for governor, winning the first of three straight elections to serve as New York’s chief executive. Andrew M. Cuomo was a key aide to his father and, after his election in 1982, became an adviser in his administration. In 1984, Andrew Cuomo was central to the effort to get his father a prime-time speaking slot in the Democratic convention, an opportunity that launched Mario Cuomo’s national profile.
Mario Cuomo never ran for president, despite frequently flirting with the idea. When Democrat Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 — and particularly when Cuomo lost his reelection bid in 1994 — it was Andrew’s turn to be the political standard-bearer for the family.
Andrew Cuomo was appointed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993 and assumed the top job in the department in 1997. In 2006, he won election as attorney general of New York. Like his predecessor in that job, Eliot Spitzer, Cuomo ran for governor four years later, and won. He’s since been reelected twice. In 2017, he oversaw the unveiling of a replacement to the crumbling Tappan Zee Bridge that spanned the Hudson River north of New York City.
The bridge would be renamed after his father.
All of that background is useful when considering how deeply embedded Andrew Cuomo is in New York politics. Tendrils stretch elsewhere into America’s political culture, certainly. His younger brother Chris hosts a news show on CNN, as you likely know, and until 2005 he was married to Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter. But the centrality of his family can be summarized with one simple data point: For 23 of the past 50 years, the governor of New York has had the last name Cuomo.
Andrew Cuomo is now enmeshed in a scandal that threatens to submarine his third term in office. After questions emerged about his administration’s efforts to downplay coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes in the state, Cuomo responded by reportedly attacking a Democratic legislator. That appears to have been the tipping point for a number of his associates to come forward with allegations of toxicity and abuse — and inappropriate touching or suggestive language.
During a briefing on Friday focused on the pandemic, Cuomo urged patience as the allegations against him were adjudicated by the current attorney general, Letitia James. He attacked Democratic officials who’d called for him to resign, obviously directed in part at members of Congress who did so on Friday morning.
“Politicians who don’t know a single fact but yet form a conclusion and then an opinion are in my opinion reckless and dangerous,” Cuomo said. “The people of New York should not have confidence in a politician who takes a position without knowing any facts or substance. That my friends is politics at its worst.”
“People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture and the truth,” he continued. That mention of “cancel culture” is a bit odd; the term is popular on the political right and is often used to defuse criticism of improper or dubious behavior by suggesting that the targets of the critique are simply victims of a sort of cultural witch hunt.
“I’m not going to resign,” Cuomo continued. “I was not elected by the politicians. I was elected by the people.”
Then Andrew Cuomo, three-term governor and son of a former three-term governor, said this: “Part of this is that I am not part of the political club. And you know what? I’m proud of it.”
Brother, if you’re not part of the political club, then Mickey Mouse isn’t part of Disney. If you’re not part of the political club, then Meryl Streep isn’t part of Hollywood and wine isn’t part of France. If Andrew Cuomo isn’t part of the political club, then the term “political club” has literally no meaning.
What Cuomo’s trying to do is to differentiate between himself and Democratic politicians and activists who have long been critical of him as governor. Cuomo has in the past tacitly encouraged Republican control of the state Senate in New York. He’s bristled at challengers from the left in two most recent Democratic gubernatorial primaries. To a significant extent, he prides himself on his independence from the party broadly — an independence that is, of course, to at least some extent born of the natural sense of entitlement that his last name carries. He can be a Cuomo instead of a Democrat because the Cuomos have been a separate, exclusive political entity in the state for a long time.
To use an analogy Cuomo would loathe, his saying that he’s not part of the political club is like former president Donald Trump saying that he’s not part of the Republican establishment. Of course Trump is part of the establishment; it’s just that he’s carved out his own space within it. Cuomo is in a similar position. He can stand apart from the Democratic Party because he doesn’t need its institutional power to be successful. He, like Trump, is the pinnacle of the thing he rejects.
And it’s safe to say, this is why Cuomo’s in the political position that he’s in. He’s long done things the way he wants to, regardless of what others might think. That can be a powerful tool for an elected official. But it also can spur a lot of resentment. When the wall of power that keeps that resentment hidden from view begins to crumble, we get scenarios like the one Cuomo now faces.