After the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt against the U.S. Capitol, the House of Representatives wasted no time filing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump for a second time, even though they knew the U.S. Senate wouldn’t start the trial until after the Republican executive returned home to Florida.
There is even less time before Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to vacate his own executive chamber, with his resignation effective next week. Yet some lawmakers’ plans to impeach that embattled leader is not expected to make it out of the gate. And not just because some legislators want to move on — but because they don’t even believe they legally can.
Assemblyman Charles Levine, who leads the lower chamber’s judiciary committee, told Speaker Carl Heastie in a memo that unlike what might be found in the U.S. Constitution, New York’s own governing document simply doesn’t allow Albany to move forward with impeachment and a trial if the elected official facing trial resigns.
“We did not find any New York impeachment proceedings or trial of an impeached official that continued after the official accused of wrongdoing had resigned at any stage,” Lavine wrote in his memo, “whether articles of impeachment were pending or adopted, or trial had begun.”
Existing law allows an elected no longer in office to face both civil and criminal cases, the Assemblyman added, limiting impeachment itself “to remove public officials who corrupt their office.”
New York’s constitution allows impeachment to put penalties like removal from office and disqualification from running again on the table. However, the problem with the way this section is worded, Lavine says, is that the state senate doesn’t have an option of simply barring someone from seeking office without also removing him.
With no impeachment and no trial, Cuomo can’t be barred from running again — including for his old job — in future elections. That has created a war of press statements, at least locally, between a state senator who doesn’t want Cuomo running again, and an Assemblyman ready to move past all this.
“The Assembly’s decision not to impeach Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shameful and an affront to survivors and all New Yorkers,” state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said, in a statement. “The attorney general’s report confirmed Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, engaged in retaliation, and violated state and federal law. Refusing to hold him responsible and move forward with impeachment is a dereliction of duty, and sends a message that those in power are above the law.”
Yet, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz says that’s not quite how he sees all of it.
“I am satisfied with the decision to issue a final report of their findings, and look forward to the incoming governor Kathy Hochul hitting the ground running,” Dinowitz said. “We have a lot of important issues to address — including the impending expiration of my eviction moratorium law, and the horrendous handling of (Emergency Rental Assistant Program) rent-relief funds, as well as school reopenings and the rise of COVID rates in New York.
“I believe it is in the best interest of New Yorkers at large to prioritize these pressing matters ahead of politics, and that’s where my attention will be over the next weeks and months.”
That doesn’t work for Biaggi, who believes Cuomo never admitted fault in response to the claims made against him, and that no legislative body will hold him accountable for his actions while working in the state’s top job.
“It is the duty of the legislature to hold him responsible and ensure he is unable to hold public office again,” the senator said. “Additionally, it is the duty of the Assembly to release any new information that they may have found in their impeachment investigation. New Yorkers deserve transparency, and no longer can be kept in the dark about the governor’s many offenses.”
In his own statement in the wake of Cuomo’s resignation, Heastie admitted the Assembly uncovered “credible evidence in relation to allegations that have been made in reference to the governor.”
“Underscoring the depth of this investigation, this evidence concerned not only sexual harassment and misconduct, but also the misuse of state resources in relation to the publication of the governor’s memoir,” the Speaker said, “as well as improper and misleading disclosure of nursing home data during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Cuomo released a book last year about his work during the public health situation called “America’s Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which reports suggest will net the governor more than $5 million. On top of that, Cuomo remains under fire over allegations the state significantly under-reported nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus last year as a way to avoid being targeted by a Trump administration already hostile to Democratic-led states.
Although the Assembly won’t take a vote on impeachment, Heastie did say Lavine’s committee will turn over all of its evidence against Cuomo to the “relevant investigatory authorities.”
NYCD16-Indivisible here closer to home says the Speaker is wrong for taking this approach.
“Real accountability for Andrew Cuomo had only just begun,” the progressive political group said, in a statement. “By not impeaching the governor, the Assembly has neglected its responsibility as a co-equal branch of government. It has also lost its opportunity to demonstrate what good governance looks like.”
Biaggi has been rumored for months to be building her own campaign for New York’s top job, and some have even suggested incoming Gov. Hochul could tap her as the state’s new lieutenant governor.
But at least when it comes to the fate of the current — and outgoing — governor, the senator describes what happened as a disservice to the entire state.
“Choosing to suspend the impeachment investigation allows Andrew Cuomo to write his own history,” Biaggi said. “More importantly, it prohibits New York from effectively holding standards against sexual harassment, and moving past this dark chapter of corrupt and inefficient governing.
“Abuse of power in Albany did not begin and will not end with Andrew Cuomo. And until we hold him accountable and address the systems that upheld his behavior for so long, nothing will change.”