Governor Hochul, in a startling development, appears to be trying not only to distance herself from Governor Cuomo but also to disqualify him from attempting a political comeback.
Ms. Hochul’s strategy is coming into view with a set of policy proposals that appear to be aimed squarely at her former running mate, who resigned late last year. Changes, spelled out in her state of the state address, include a measure to target workplace harassment in the governor’s office, a ban on outside income, and even a new term limit for state officials.
Over the past year 11 women have come forward with allegations that they were sexually harassed by Mr. Cuomo. In the past month, the three-term governor was ordered to forfeit more than $5 million in earnings related to a book deal.
Mr. Cuomo was recently cleared in both Albany and Westchester counties of sexual harassment charges. It was amid those allegations that Mr. Cuomo resigned as governor.
Coming ahead of the 2022 gubernatorial election, Ms. Hochul’s proposals send a message to voters that her administration will not be like the last, even though she served as lieutenant governor during most of it.
“I want people to believe in their government again. With these bold reforms, we will ensure New Yorkers know their leaders work for them and are focused on serving the people of this state,” Governor Hochul said.
Ms. Hochul proposes a new Independent Ethics Agency that would replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. “It is clear that JCOPE is irreparably broken and has failed to earn the public's trust,” Ms. Hochul said.
The Independent Ethics Agency would “consist of a rotating board of five members made up of the 15 state-accredited law school deans or their designees.” Members of JCOPE, in contrast, are appointed by elected officials.
“It's no secret that recent events have called into question the effectiveness of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics,” Ms. Hochul said, promising to “replace that commission with a new ethics enforcement watchdog. One with real teeth. One that answers to New Yorkers — not to politicians.”
This proposal came shortly after the commission revoked approval, which it had previously granted, for Governor Cuomo’s deal for his memoir, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The commission ordered him to forfeit $5 million in proceeds.
That income would have been banned under the new changes proposed by Ms. Hochul. Another proposed reform putting Mr. Cuomo on the back foot is a term limit for statewide officials.
Although the proposed term limit would require a constitutional amendment and not be in effect for the 2022 election, a two-term limit would prevent Mr. Cuomo, who completed nearly three terms, from running again for governor.
The proposed ban on earned outside income for statewide officials will also require approval by the state legislature. Other reforms, such as the retention of a law firm to address harassment claims, can be enacted by the governor herself.
Ms. Hochul’s announcement that the governor’s office will retain an outside law firm to investigate future harassment claims also appears pointed at the previous administration. “Everyone has the right to a workplace completely free of unlawful discrimination or harassment,” Ms. Hochul said.
A Marist poll found that Mr. Cuomo had a 38 percent approval rating in August 2021, a low point for his popularity. At the time it appeared there was no coming back for the governor.
“This is the end of the Cuomo era in New York State,” Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Poll, said in a prepared statement. With his legal troubles now seemingly behind him, New York could see Mr. Cuomo attempt to recapture the governor’s office.
That same poll showed 62 percent of registered voters in New York “have either never heard of” Ms. Hochul “or are unsure how to rate her.”
Ms. Hochul’s approval rating has since risen to 49 percent, with a 31 percent disapproval rating, according to an October Marist poll. Her approval rating is also solid across the entire state, hovering between 48 and 49 percent.
Marist polling suggests Ms. Hochul successfully distanced herself from Mr. Cuomo, with a double-digit lead over the former governor. The same poll found that 74 percent of New York Democrats “do not want him to run to reclaim the office.”
“Andrew Cuomo needs to substantially redefine voters’ perceptions of him if he wants to run for governor again,” Mr. Miringoff says.
Ms. Hochul has also differentiated herself from Mr. Cuomo through cooperation with Mayor Adams. The latest sign of their comity was a joint press conference today at Fulton Street subway station in Manhattan, marking a stark contrast from the contentious and ultimately dysfunctional relationship between Mr. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio.
Wednesday’s announcements focused on sealing Ms. Hochul’s lead over the former governor. Voters “back Hochul against all comers at this stage — including Andrew Cuomo were he to run again,” Marist reports.
She will still likely face a Democratic primary with Congressman Thomas Suozzi, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and Mayor de Blasio as challengers. Early polling from the New York Republican Party suggests Congressman Lee Zeldin holds an early lead.
In any case, one of the most interesting questions will be whether Mr. Cuomo remains silent after the announcement of a string of reforms pointed squarely at him.
Image: Governor Hochul in the Manhattan borough of New York City, November 10, 2021. Reuters/Carlo Allegri