WATERTOWN — Since Andrew Cuomo announced he would resign as governor effective Aug. 24, many Democrats have been patting themselves on the back.
They point to this as an example of how a truly ethical political party should operate. They know how to police themselves and root out the bad apples when it comes to sexual predators.
I have a message for the Democrats doing this: Please stop! You’ve either deluded yourselves or are trying to delude others, and it’s not working.
Cuomo has behaved abominably for years, and there’s no doubt that many of his colleagues in Albany knew exactly what was going on. The pressure from Democrats for him to resign wasn’t because they suddenly developed a moral compass and would no longer tolerate his belligerence.
It’s a simple matter of Cuomo finally getting caught in the act of abusing his authority. Like other instances where public officials were nudged out of office for sexual scandals, the Democrats knew that the optics were really bad and didn’t want his toxic aura infecting their future prospects.
The other problem with all the self-congratulations is that it’s an attempt to divert attention away from the scandal-plagued Cuomo regime. He created an environment inside the Executive Chamber that was described in the Aug. 3 report issued by the office of state Attorney General Letitia James as “rife with fear and intimidation.”
How in the world did Democratic leaders in Albany allow this to happen? I’ve read accounts from some journalists covering state government who said it was obvious that he was a bully and a control freak. No one is going to persuade me that at least some of Cuomo’s fellow Democrats didn’t have a much greater understanding of what was occurring on the Second Floor.
So Democrats and some of their supporters want to distract members of the public from the horror show that working for Cuomo had become for many staff members. Giving themselves high marks for getting rid of people like Cuomo is a textbook example of what-aboutism.
They want people focused not on the mess that the executive branch of New York state government has become but on the horrible Republicans who refuse to give their accused sexual offenders the heave-ho. This gives Democrats the opportunity to hammer their political rivals in the GOP over their ongoing tolerance of appalling behavior within their ranks.
They are correct that Republicans are utter hypocrites on this issue, and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik is their chief hypocrite. She has been relentlessly critical of Cuomo ever since allegations of sexual harassment became public in December. But she’s not offered similar condemnations against Republican figures — including Donald Trump — for similar accusations.
When asked by the Press-Republican in Plattsburgh if she holds Republicans to the same standards of behavior that she holds Democrats, Stefanik offered this lame excuse Aug. 3 for her glaring inconsistency: “There is no Republican elected official in the country that has faced an independent investigation from a state attorney general finding multiple cases of sexual abuse, harassment, assault on state property against state employees breaking multiple federal and state laws.”
Had Stefanik waited to call for Cuomo to resign until James’s report was issued, her indignation against the Press-Republican’s question would have some merit — but she didn’t. As soon as Lindsey Boylan accused Cuomo of sexual harassment at the end of last year, she demanded he be removed. She has yet to hold any Republican to this same standard, so the hypocrisy that she and others in the GOP are exhibiting is blatant.
The Democrats have a valid point here. But it’s no surprise that politicians apply double standards to their colleagues and their rivals.
Hypocrisy among elected officials is not breaking news, and I’m not sure what the Democrats hope to gain by making an issue of this. They’re not going to change anyone’s minds with their charges. The only thing this will accomplish is to focus the conversation away from their failure to keep Cuomo in check for the 10 years he’s been governor.
In extolling the Democratic Party’s supposed virtue, some people listed former U.S. Sen. Al Franken and former President Bill Clinton as examples of the house-cleaning that has occurred. This made me laugh!
Franken succumbed to pressure from fellow senators in 2017 to resign in light of allegations of inappropriate touching and kissing made by eight women. His decision to leave the Senate came just a few months after accusations of sexual assault made against film producer Harvey Weinstein were made public. This started the #MeToo movement.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the first Democratic senator to call for Franken to resign. Gillibrand has been a strong advocate for women who have endured sexual assault, and I believe she’s sincere in wanting to implement changes to offer them more support.
Gillibrand has long been close to Clinton. Shortly after calling for Franken to resign, she said that Clinton should have stepped down from the presidency over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Her statement caught many people off guard.
The problem is that Clinton has a history of being a sexual predator, and 2017 was the first time Gillibrand criticized him for any behavior. She embraced Clinton in 2016 when the former president campaigned for his wife, Hillary, at an event in Watertown.
Could Gillibrand possibly not have known about Clinton’s reputation as a sexual predator until late 2017? Was she not aware that in 1999 he was publicly accused — and very credibly — of rape by Juanita Broaddrick? Was the growing #MeToo movement merely an opportunity for Gillibrand to look tough on fellow Democrats in the time before she declared her entry into the 2020 presidential race?
It’s true that demands for Franken’s resignation came quickly. But I strongly suspect this was based more on a concern for optics given the momentum behind the #MeToo movement. Democrats didn’t yet know how things would end up, and they couldn’t afford to maintain their ambivalence toward sexual assault in their ranks.
And speaking of Clinton, any suggestion that his 1999 impeachment demonstrated an act of self-policing by Democrats is absurd.
First of all, there was no house-cleaning; he remained in power. Secondly, only a few Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach him and no Democrats in the Senate voted to convict him.
The impeachment was driven by Republicans, not Democrats. They sold their souls to preserve his presidency. Declaring their moral purity based on Clinton’s impeachment is outrageous.
If the Democrats were as good as rooting out the bad apples as some of them claim, they wouldn’t allow people like Cuomo or Clinton to hold office in the first place. It’s only when their offenders get caught that they feign revulsion. A political party committed to supporting victims of sexual abuse stamps out such behavior at its root, not just when it makes headlines.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.