One of the most common questions we got around this time last year was whether there was some way for the then-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, to be replaced as the nominee by… Andrew Cuomo, the three-term Democratic governor of New York who had become an omnipresent figure in the nation’s struggle with COVID-19.
A year later, Cuomo is resigning following several credible accusations that he sexually harassed state employees. His resignation will be effective in two weeks, and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) will take over and become New York’s first woman governor.
Cuomo’s resignation comes several days after state Attorney General Tish James (D) released the results of an investigation that concluded Cuomo “engaged in conduct constituting sexual harassment under federal and New York State law.” Cuomo had lost the support of the nation’s top Democrats: President Biden called for his resignation following the release of the report, as did many others. The Democratic-controlled state legislature was prepared to impeach and remove Cuomo if he did not resign.
From a political standpoint, Cuomo’s exit might make it easier for Democrats to defend the New York governorship, which they have won for four consecutive elections. Eliot Spitzer (D) won the office following the retirement of three-term Gov. George Pataki (R) in 2006. Spitzer later resigned over a prostitution scandal, leading to the short-term governorship of David Paterson (D), New York’s first Black governor. Cuomo then won the office as an open seat in 2010 and won reelection in 2014 and 2018. Hochul, who is from western New York, entered the national political consciousness with a surprising victory in a 2011 U.S. House special election necessitated by the resignation of another male Empire State politician who behaved badly, former Rep. Christopher Lee (R, NY-26). Hochul lost a close race in 2012 — to a Republican, Chris Collins, who was later convicted of insider trading and pardoned by then-President Trump — in a reconfigured and more Republican-leaning version of the district. Two years later, Hochul won an open-seat primary for lieutenant governor with Cuomo’s endorsement (in New York, gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates run in separate primaries and then are united on a ticket for the general election).
Even though Hochul has been in the No. 2 job for several years, it likely will be difficult to tie her to Cuomo’s misdeeds. That said, and assuming Hochul runs for the governorship next year, she very well may not be strong enough to prevent other notable Democrats from running in next year’s Democratic primary: James is one possibility, and there may be many other contenders. Outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) didn’t rule out a gubernatorial bid several days ago, although he has become so unpopular that we doubt he’d have much of a chance even if he ran. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who lost by a respectable seven-point margin to Hochul in the Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial primary in 2018, is another potential candidate, as is state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D).
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) has emerged as the likeliest Republican nominee, but his chances of being the next governor have taken a hit now that the damaged Cuomo is apparently going to be out of the picture. Republicans have had a number of notable successes in the otherwise Democratic Northeast Corridor in recent years, winning impressive victories in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont. But Zeldin is not nearly as moderate as the region’s blue state Republicans.
We have rated the New York gubernatorial race as Likely Democratic, and we are going to keep it there for now as we watch how the field develops Meanwhile, the fall of Andrew Cuomo is a reminder of the old Latin phrase that some may remember from the movie Patton: “all glory is fleeting.” The now-disgraced outgoing governor replacing Biden as the Democratic nominee was always a pipe dream last year — which ended up being a blessing in disguise for those who lionized Cuomo.