Cuomo: Hey, I could have beaten the rap

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

“I consider myself a student of history,” Andrew Cuomo told New York Magazine’s reporters, “and I see everything through that lens.” Perhaps Cuomo missed the history lesson on Richard Nixon. In a strange epilogue to his strange resignation, the soon-to-be-former governor of New York explains that he quit because he, er, didn’t want to embarrass the state by beating the impeachment rap.

No, really:

He wanted to talk about his legacy, to solicit a reporter’s opinions. How would his accomplishments compare to those of past governors? How would he be remembered? Implicitly, he was asking, would what he was accused of overshadow the things that got done?

“I feel like I did the right thing. I did the right thing for the state,” he said of his resignation. “I’m not gonna drag the state through the mud, through a three-month, four-month impeachment, and then win, and have made the State Legislature and the state government look like a ship of fools, when everything I’ve done all my life was for the exact opposite. I’m not doing that. I feel good. I’m not a martyr. It’s just, I saw the options, option A, option B.”

He’s two days out from an ignominious resignation brought on by being a sexual serial harasser, not to mention a plethora of other scandals. And Cuomo wants to talk about legacy? Maybe he should have thought of that on his ascent in the political world, because a lot of people want to talk about Cuomo’s “legacy” in much different terms:

In his resignation speech, Cuomo listed what he got done over the past 11 years, but not how: by practicing a style of politics distilled by a then-senior aide: “We operate at two speeds here: Get along and kill.” Cuomo won legislative battles by outsmarting and outworking his opposition and, when the first two tactics didn’t work, bullying them. In 2011, he threatened not to legalize taxis in New York City’s outer-boroughs if the Bloomberg administration didn’t agree to a deal that would potentially cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in health-care expenses for public employees. “He was just a miserable fucker on the taxi thing,” Bloomberg’s former chief Albany negotiator Micah Lasher recalled of Cuomo. “It was just a straight-up shakedown.” Lasher felt especially free to opine on the episode in part because “Saddam has been toppled. These don’t need to be state secrets.” …

“I don’t think he was a bad governor,” said Dick Ravitch. “He’s definitely not a nice human being, though.” And that mattered more than what he was able to deliver. “He has no friends. There was nobody willing to stand up for him and say ‘This is bullshit.’ ”

That’s the crux for Cuomo and his “legacy.” He didn’t deliver anything significantly different than what any Democratic machine politician would have delivered in the same position. In fact, that’s precisely what Cuomo was — a typical machine politician, an heir of a more worthy father who saw politics as his inheritance, and public office as a means to stroke himself … so to speak. His bare-knuckled approach to politics comes straight of Machine Politics 101, a brute-force manner of forcing people to comply for compliance’s sake. The policy? That’s a secondary issue to pols like Cuomo, just a means to extend power.

So what happens when that power gets taken away? What’s left? Cuomo seems to be struggling to answer that question:

“Uh, I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” Cuomo said, when asked about his immediate plans, like where he was going to live. “I’m not disappearing. I have a voice, I have a perspective and that’s not gonna change. And the details aren’t really that important to me to tell you the truth. You know? I’m a New Yorker, I’ve lived here, I’ve lived in Queens, I’ve lived in the city, I’ve lived upstate, I’ve lived everywhere, I came to Washington, so that’s … I don’t really care about that. I’ll figure that out. And I think I did the right thing.”

That sounds as though Cuomo is still considering another run at electoral office. The New York state legislature left that door open by ending their impeachment probe, although Cuomo’s resignation didn’t leave them much choice in the matter. (Remember the debate in January and February about impeachment and removal proceedings against a former office holder?) However, Letitia James is still probing some of Cuomo’s other scandals, and at least one of Cuomo’s alleged victims is pressing criminal charges for sexual assault in Albany. Cuomo still has a number of bullets to dodge even to get started on rebuilding a political career, not to mention having alienated nearly everyone over the last twenty years that he’d need to make a comeback.

If Cuomo really wants to learn from history, he should study Nixon’s example far more closely. Nixon went into seclusion for a few years, refrained from personal justifications — at least not until 1977 when he debated David Frost in a famous series of interviews — and focused on policy and philosophy. He never again became a powerful man, but Nixon did find ways to contribute to governance and political thought. Of course, Nixon didn’t sell his office out by writing a cheap and corrupt auto-hagiography for $5 million in the middle of Watergate either, so Cuomo has a long way to go before he even gets to Nixon’s level.

Addendum: Cuomo isn’t so much a student of history as he is a lecturer in it, the New York Times notes this morning:

And so, early in his governorship, he invited Robert Caro, the Pulitzer-prize winning biographer and historian of power, for a private audience in Albany. The pitch had been for Mr. Caro to share lessons from the legacy of Robert Moses, the master builder who ruthlessly rolled over his opponents to remake New York in the past century.

But over cookies at the Capitol, it quickly became clear that Mr. Cuomo would be doing most of the talking. For close to two hours, he spoke admiringly about Mr. Moses, outlined his own governing philosophy and regaled Mr. Caro with his ambitions to build big — overhauling bridges, airports and more. Then, the governor politely declared the meeting over.

“It was an arrogant and angering thing to do,” Mr. Caro, now 85, recalled in an interview. “To think I had given a day of my life to have him lecture me.”

How convenient that the NYT is telling these stories now, eh? Especially this one:

Mr. Cuomo had confided earlier that year to Alison Hirsh, then a top political adviser to a powerful union, that he did not want to put the Democrats fully in charge of the Senate ahead of that year’s budget. Ms. Hirsh recalled Mr. Cuomo telling her that was because Senator Liz Krueger, a liberal Manhattan Democrat, would push to increase taxes and that another, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader, would “give free breakfast to all Black people.” Ms. Stewart-Cousins is Black.

Two people confirmed that Ms. Hirsh had told them of the governor’s comments at the time; one remembered the verbatim line. Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, denied the governor ever said that.

Good luck with that legacy, Mr. Cuomo.