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New York Legislature Curbs Cuomo's Power As Calls For Resignation Grow

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a Feb. 22, 2021, press briefing.
Seth Wenig
Associated Press
N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a Feb. 22, 2021, press briefing.

The New York state Legislature is voting to end Governor Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers granted to him during COVID-19 as the governor faces new developments on two controversies: sexual harassment charges and his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.

Under the measure, many of the current rules and restrictions enacted by Cuomo — like requiring the wearing of masks, how to distribute the vaccine and how many people can eat indoors in a restaurant — will stay in place. But they will need to be reviewed by the Legislature every 30 days going forward. The governor cannot issue any new directives without first getting lawmakers’ permission.

Republicans, who are in the minority in both houses, said the bill does not go far enough. They said Cuomo’s current authority was set to sunset on April 30. The new measure will extend the governor’s emergency powers, though in more limited way, beyond that date.

Senate Deputy Minority Leader Andrew Lanza said rules that restrict nearly every aspect of New Yorkers’ lives will continue indefinitely.

“Everything that matters, concerning the pandemic, all the things that are bothering people,” said Lanza who said the concerns range from whether their children can play on a sports team or whether their barbershop can open.

“He continues to have the same unilateral power on all these matters that he has enjoyed under the old bill,” Lanza said.

Democratic Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris said many of the governor’s directives need to stay in place because there is still a deadly pandemic going on.

“This is still a public health crisis that we’re in. That’s why there are very few of us in this chamber and we are all wearing masks,” Gianaris said. “Maybe some of my colleagues prefer that this all go away and we could become Texas.”

The Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, ended all mask mandates and restrictions on businesses in his state.

“That’s not what the people of this state want,” Gianaris said. “We are being responsible.”

Cuomo on Wednesday said that he negotiated the bill with the Legislature, and agrees to its terms, causing Republicans to pan it as a “backroom deal.” Gianaris said the governor was not involved.

“The governor lied,” Gianaris said. “There was no agreement.”

There are also developments in two growing scandals concerning the governor.

One of the women who has accused the governor of sexual harassment, Charlotte Bennett, appeared on CBS, where she told anchor Norah O’Donnell that she felt the 63-year-old governor was grooming her to be a potential sex partner. It culminated in a private meeting in his office last June.

“He asked me if age difference mattered,” Bennett told O’Donnell. “He also explained that he was fine with anyone over 22.”

Bennett, who is 25, was asked by O’Donnell what she was thinking while the governor asked those questions.

“I thought, he’s trying to sleep with me,” Bennett answered.

Cuomo on Wednesday apologized if his actions were harmful to anyone, saying he did not intend for them to be.

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said on March 3. “It was unintentional.”

Bennett, in the CBS interview said she did not misinterpret the governor’s intentions.

“I understood him loud and clear,” she said. “It just didn’t go the way he planned.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal report more evidence of Cuomo’s top aides covering up the number of nursing home residents who died of the coronavirus in hospitals. The hospital death numbers have been a subject of controversy. They were withheld by the Cuomo Administration for months, until the State Attorney General, in a report in January, found that the nursing home deaths were undercounted by 50%. Both papers said last June state health experts wanted to include the hospital deaths in a public report, but the governor’s top aides took the numbers out.

In a statement, a health department spokesman said the numbers were taken out because they could not yet be accurately verified.

The news led more members of Cuomo’s own party to call for him to leave.

Senate Aging Committee Chair Rachel May, a Democrat, said she was “angered beyond measure” over the reports.

“Well, I was furious,” said May. “To discover that they had (the numbers) all along and were deliberately withholding them takes it to a whole other level.”

Senator May said if the reports are true, then everyone involved in “lying” to the public and the Legislature must resign immediately.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.