Just as the news media and others had convinced themselves that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was determined to draw out the impeachment process, insist on his innocence and remain defiant, he resigned, saying today that he would officially step down in 14 days.
I cannot find a full text of Cuomo’s resignation speech, not is there a video that WordPress lets me embed. You can watch it here.
1. Good. Everything else aside, resigning was the right thing to do, and the best outcome for the state. It doesn’t matter if the resignation itself was graceful or appropriately contrite— it wasn’t—or whether Cuomo would have stayed on and roiled the government indefinitely if he thought he could survive. It’s the most ethical decision even if his reasons for it and his method of doing so were unethical.
2. Hanging around for two weeks after resigning is unusual for an elected official resigning during a scandal. Cuomo will be a kind of super-lame duck. In theory, saying two weeks to help with an orderly transition is responsible. In practice, I expect it to be chaotic. He may not last the full 14 days.
3. Cuomo began his announcement by attacking the accusations against him and the process that brought hum down. So much for accepting accountability and admitting wrongdoing. He blamed the political environment (“there are many motivations at play, if anyone thought otherwise they would be naive”), his political enemies, social media, and rapid cultural changes that were just too darn sudden. He never admitted that he did something wrong. Incredibly, Cuomo presented himself up as a victim.
4. And, incredibly enough, a selfless hero. “I work for you and doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you because as we say, it’s not about me, it’s about we,” Cuomo said, agreeing that fighting the wave of opposition in the wake of the sexual harassment accusations would throw New York into months of turmoil. “I cannot be the cause of that,” he said. “The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government. And therefore that is what I’ll do, because I work for you, and doing the right thing, is doing the right thing for you” What a guy! This is, as we know by now, standard face-saving strategy. It’s still nauseating when it is not accompanied by a genuine apology and an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
5. Almost as nauseating was Cuomo’s choice to use this speech to praise his accomplishments. Even Richard Nixon had the sense not to try that. Of course Cuomo didn’t mention the fact that his pandemic policies killed masses of vulnerable seniors in nursing homes as his administration covered up the death toll. If one is not going to give a fair and complete audit of one’s tenure in a resignation speech, it is unethical to give a misleading one. That’s why an ethical resignation says, simply, “I screwed up; it’s my fault; bye.”
5. The closest Cuomo came to that was saying that the eleven women who accused him were genuinely offended, and he’s sorry for they felt that way. This is simply a rephrasing of the classic non-apology apology. “If I did something that offended them, I’m sorry”/ “To everyone who may have been upset at my conduct, I apologize.” It’s them, not him.
6. It is astounding that Cuomo could say, as he did,
“I want to thank the women who came forward with sincere complaints its not easy to step forward but you did an important service and you taught me and you taught others an important lesson personal boundaries must be expanded and must be protected.I accept full responsibility. I am a fighter and my instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated….I believe it is unfair and it is untruthful and I believe it demonizes behavior that is unsustainable for society. If I could communicate the facts through the frenzy New Yorkers would understand.”
How many contradictions are there in that sequence? He takes full responsibility, except that what happened is politically motivated, unfair and untruthful. He wants to thank the eleven women for being unfair and untruthful, and for alerting us to standards that demonize innocent behavior and that will eventually damage society.
7. The entire tenor of the speech is that sexual harassment boundaries suddenly changed, and that it’s all generational. The conduct described by the women has been per se workplace sexual harassment for decades. GOP Senator Robert Packwood resigned in 1995—that’s 26 years ago!—after 29 women accused him of the same kind of conduct Cuomo has been accused of. It was, as they say, in all the papers. There was also this guy named Bill Clinton, and another Democrat who was criticized for photographs showing him groping, hugging, sniffing and touching women (and girls) who looked as if a tarantula was crawling down their blouses. That Democrat, Joe Biden, presided over a Senate hearing in which a former employee claimed that inappropriate jokes and touching by her former boss, Clarence Thomas, should disqualify him from being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. That was even before Packwood’s fall, in 1991. Cuomo missed all of this? How?
While most elected officials managed to steer clear of sexual harassment (most of the scandals involve affairs and actual sex), there is also a daunting record of court opinions regarding what constitutes “unwelcome sexual advances” and a “hostile workplace environment.” How could Cuomo’s ethics alarms not ring? How could his legal alarms not ring?
8. The answer is that Andrew Cuomo is like so many, usually male, people in positions of power. They think the rules, and even the laws, don’t apply to them, and shouldn’t apply to them. They are also deluded: because they are accustomed to everyone sucking up to them, they can’t imagine that a staffer, even the youngest and most attractive, wouldn’t be thrilled and flattered to have such a figure of importance and power flirt with them, even to the point of stealing a kiss or copping a feel.
9. If Andrew Cuomo, in fact, had heard and understood the message I tried to convey to NPR audiences four years ago—the exact message that got me blacklisted there—he might have really learned something about sexual harassment.
Nah, probably not.
UPDATE! The transcript of Cuomo’s speech came out while I was writing this. Dr. Eemlio Lizardo was kind enough to pass along the link.
Now that I have it in front of me, I have a couple more observations;
10. Cuomo said this, and until it was in print, I couldn’t properly comment on it. I’ll break it up..
- “I thought a hug and putting my arm around a staff person while taking a picture was friendly, but she found it to be too forward.” It is too forward, because of the inequality of power, and it is how she felt that matters. This is Sexual Harassment 101.
- “I kissed a woman on the cheek at a wedding and I thought I was being nice, but she felt that it was too aggressive.” Well, the testimony is that Cuomo kissed women elsewhere, but even so: if she works for you and doesn’t consent, you don’t kiss her. In fact, you don’t kiss anyone—including ME, without consent.
- “I have slipped and called people honey, sweetheart and darling. I meant it to be endearing, but women found it dated and offensive.” Why are you trying to be “endearing” to young women who work for you? The women didn’t find it to be dated and offensive, it is dated and offensive, and again, their reactions are all that matter. I am older than Cuomo; I have supervised hundreds of women and girls, and I have never, ever “slipped” and called them honey, sweetheart and darling because it’s wrong, condescending and creepy.
- “I said on national TV to a doctor wearing PPE and giving me a Covid nasal swab, “You make that gown look good.” I was joking, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have said it on national TV. But she found it disrespectful.” Because it was disrespectful. “I was joking” is in the Rationalizations list, and its also the oldest excuse for sexual harassment known to man, along with “I didn’t mean any harm.”
- “I take full responsibility for my actions.” As I explained above: no, he doesn’t.
- “I have been too familiar with people. My sense of humor can be insensitive and off-putting. I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life. It’s who I’ve been since I can remember.” More rationalizations. Doing what Cuomo did, in his position, with subordinates, is against the law and has been for years and years. He doesn’t take the issue seriously, or he would say this garbage. “I’ve robbed banks for as long as I can remember!” He’d never try that excuse, because he knows the crime is serious. He doesn’t think harassment is serious. And “It’s who I am” is as hoary a rationalization as there is.
- “In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate, and I should have. No excuses.” ARGHHH! YOUR mind doesn’t matter, you asshole! (I discussed the ridiculous “Wow, when did these new-fangled rules turn up” excuse earlier.