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Embattled Cuomo Gets Support From African-American Leaders

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, presents Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State chapter of the NAACP, with a cake to celebrate her birthday on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in New York.
Seth Wenig
Associated Press
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, presents Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State chapter of the NAACP, with a cake to celebrate her birthday on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo forged ahead with a normal schedule Wednesday — he led a campaign style rally and publicly received the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at church in Harlem. His actions come amid stronger statements from President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the governor’s political future, and a sexual harassment scandal.

Cuomo said he wanted to receive the Johnson and Johnson vaccine at a popup site at a Black church in Harlem, to help combat vaccine hesitancy among some in the African-American community.

“Today, I’m going to take the vaccine,” he said.

The carefully staged event was not open to the media. The governor was surrounded by supporters from the African-American community, including former Congressman Charlie Rangel, and NAACP President and Cuomo family friend Hazel Dukes, whom Cuomo referred to as his “second mother.” The governor also marked Duke’s birthday, leading the others in the traditional “happy birthday” song.

Dukes, in a campaign style speech, praised Cuomo for legislative accomplishments, like working with Democrats in the state Legislature to end incarcerating in adult prisons 16- and 17-year-olds who are convicted of crimes, known as Raise the Age.

Dukes did not directly mention the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo from multiple women, and a scandal over charges that the governor and his aides covered up the actual number of nursing home deaths. But she made allusions to the controversies, when she called out the news media, saying they need to “tell the truth” about vaccines. And she said the focus should be on approving the state budget, due in two weeks.

“Me and the governor are talking about getting the budget passed by April 1,” Dukes said. “No other nonsense.”

Former Congressman Rangel addressed the accusations more directly, saying Cuomo deserves a fair defense.

“When people start piling up on you and you are trying to figure out, is this the same country that says that you can make any allegations that you want to make but due process and a hearing is basically what we believe in this country,” Rangel said. “You go to your family, you go to your friends, because you know that they are going to be with you.”

Cuomo has defiantly fought the accusations, saying he’s a victim of “cancel culture,” and he’s cast doubt on the motivations of his accusers. He spoke of how strong advocacy is important, in many situations.

“Every one of them is a fight,” Cuomo said. “And if you are not willing to make the fight, then you lose. It’s that simple.”

The governor did not address remarks from President Joe Biden, who said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, that if the allegations against Cuomo are proven to be true, then the governor needs to step down.

“If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Yes,” Biden said. “And I think he’d end up being prosecuted, too.”

Biden is a long time ally of the governor’s.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another Cuomo ally, said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Wednesday morning that there should be “zero tolerance” for sexually harassing behavior, and Pelosi said she thinks that the governor shares that belief.

“I think he is a supporter of zero tolerance, in terms of sexual harassment, ” Pelosi said. “So it would follow, that if you have zero tolerance, then again that would be a decision that we hope the governor would make.”

New York’s Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said Cuomo needs to resign, as do most of the Democratic New York members of the House of Representatives, and dozens of state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans.

Late in the day, Cuomo held a conference call with reporters, where he was asked about Biden’s remarks. Cuomo said he agrees that if anyone did something illegal, then they should leave office.

“If you committed a crime, you can be prosecuted, that’s true,” Cuomo said with a chuckle. “But what President Biden said is that we should do an investigation.”

The governor, who has said previously he does not believe he ever acted inappropriately towards any of his accusers, refused to comment further, saying he wants to wait until an investigation by the state’s Attorney General and an impeachment inquiry by the state Assembly gather all the “facts.” But he repeated that he has no plans to resign.

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.