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A look at Cuomo’s career, from ‘Prince of Darkness’ to ‘completely alone and out of political options’

WBFO file photo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks in Buffalo circa 2012.

It’s a big reversal of fortune for the once powerful Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who just over a year ago was admired by millions when he was the de facto national leader of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He held daily briefings where he offered science-based advice, along with folksy accounts of his own life, including a traditional Italian Sunday dinner during lockdown with his daughters and one of their new boyfriends.

“So the answer has to be, ‘I like the boyfriend’,” Cuomo said. “Even if you don’t like the boyfriend.”

“But we’ll be at dinner, with the boyfriend, and we’re going to have our spaghetti and our meatballs,” the governor continued. “They won’t eat the spaghetti and meatballs because when I cook it they won’t eat it. But they move it around the dish, and that’s all I can ask.”

He won an Emmy for the broadcasts.

Cuomo has long been involved in running New York state, first as a top aide to his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who led the state for 12 years in the 1980’s and ’90s.

Cuomo ran his father’s first campaign for governor, in 1982, where he also served as Mario’s hatchet man and enforcer. It was this role that earned him the nickname “the Prince of Darkness” from those who bore the brunt of his displeasure.

Cuomo left New York during his father’s third term and became Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under then-President Bill Clinton, whom he considered to be a political mentor. He married Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert Kennedy, and had three daughters.

He made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2002, when he challenged party favorite, state Comptroller Carl McCall, the first African American major party candidate, in a democratic primary, Cuomo, trailing in the polls, dropped out days before the vote took place.

By 2003, Cuomo and Kerry Kennedy were divorcing, the details of their separation making for tabloid headlines.

It then seemed that Cuomo might be done with politics. However, just a few years later, he engineered a comeback, quietly running for state Attorney General in 2006 and winning. After former Gov. Eliot Spitzer imploded and resigned, and his successor David Paterson decided not to seek election, the path was clear for Cuomo to run for governor. He won and vowed to restore trust in government.

“You have nothing without trust,” Cuomo said on New Year’s Day 2011. “And we have lost the trust. And we’re not going to get it back until we clean up Albany.”

Cuomo, already known for his hard charging persona, managed to consolidate power in a dysfunctional Albany, and had several legislative achievements, including New York becoming the first big state to enact same sex marriage, and pushing a major gun control package through the then Republican-led state Senate, just weeks after the 2012 mass school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

“No one hunts with an assault rifle,” Cuomo thundered, to applause. “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer.”

He also held the line on government spending, sticking to a self imposed 2% per year spending limit and enacting a statewide property tax cap.

But along the way, his style earned him many enemies.

And when state Attorney General Letitia James issued a damning report that found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, including a state trooper, the governor found himself completely alone and out of political options.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that he is resigning from office, effective Aug. 24, saying that he did not want to face weeks and months of political and legal fighting over multiple scandals including the sexual harassment of 11 women.