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Legislature curbs Cuomo's power, as calls for resignation grow

Office of the Governor

The New York State Legislature on Friday voted to end Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers granted to him during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the governor faces new developments on two controversies: sexual harassment charges and his handling of nursing homes during the health crisis.

Under the measure, many of the current rules and restrictions enacted by Cuomo, such as requiring mask-wearing and restricting indoor dining, will stay in place. But they will need to be reviewed by the Legislature every 30 days going forward. The governor cannot issue any new directives without first getting lawmakers’ permission.

Republicans, who are in the minority in both houses, said the bill does not go far enough. They said Cuomo’s current authority was set to sunset on April 30. The new measure will extend the governor’s emergency powers, though in a more limited way, beyond that date.

Deputy Senate Minority Leader Andrew Lanza said rules that restrict nearly every aspect of New Yorkers’ lives will continue indefinitely.

“Everything that matters, concerning the pandemic, all the things that are bothering people,” said Lanza, who added the concerns range from whether their children can play on a sports team to whether their barbershop can open.

“He continues to have the same unilateral power on all these matters that he has enjoyed under the old bill,” Lanza said.

Democratic Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris said many of the governor’s directives need to stay in place because there is still a deadly pandemic going on.

“This is still a public health crisis that we’re in. That’s why there are very few of us in this chamber and we are all wearing masks,” Gianaris said. “Maybe some of my colleagues prefer that this all go away and we could become Texas.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ended all mask mandates and restrictions on businesses in his state.

“That’s not what the people of this state want,” Gianaris said. “We are being responsible.”

Cuomo said on Wednesday that he negotiated the bill with the Legislature and agreed to its terms, causing Republicans to pan it as a “backroom deal.” Gianaris said the governor was not involved.

“The governor lied,” Gianaris said. “There was no agreement.”

There are also developments in two growing scandals concerning the governor.

One of the women who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, Charlotte Bennett, appeared on CBS,where she told anchor Norah O’Donnell that she felt the 63-year-old governor was grooming her to be a potential sex partner. It culminated in a private meeting in his office last June, she said.

“He asked me if age difference mattered,” Bennett told O’Donnell. “He also explained that he was fine with anyone over 22.”

O’Donnell asked Bennett, who is 25, what she was thinking while the governor asked those questions.

“I thought, he’s trying to sleep with me,” Bennett answered.

Cuomo on Wednesday apologized if his actions were harmful to anyone, saying he did not intend for them to be so.

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said. “It was unintentional.”

Bennett, in the CBS interview, said she did not misinterpret the governor’s intentions.

“I understood him loud and clear,” she said. “It just didn’t go the way he planned.”

Meanwhile, the New York Timesand the Wall Street Journal have reported more evidence of Cuomo’s top aides covering up the number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 in hospitals.

The hospital death numbers have been a subject of controversy. They were withheld by the Cuomo administration for months until the state attorney general, in a January report, found that the nursing home deaths were undercounted by 50%. Both papers reported that last June, state health experts wanted to include the hospital deaths in a public report, but the governor’s top aides took the numbers out.

In a statement, a health department spokesman said the numbers were removed because they could not yet be accurately verified.

The news led more members of Cuomo’s own party to call for him to leave.

Senate Aging Committee Chair Rachel May, a Democrat, said she was “angered beyond measure” over the reports.

“I was furious,” May said. “They’ve been telling us for eight months now that either they didn’t have the numbers, and they’d get them to us later. To discover that they had them all along and were deliberately withholding them really takes it to a whole other level.”

May said if the reports are true, then everyone involved in “lying” to the public and the Legislature, including the governor and his aides, must resign immediately.

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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