End game: Top Cuomo aide resigns

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The ongoing soap opera of Andrew Cuomo’s reign as governor of New York has officially reached the stage of rats fleeing a sinking ship. While his own party members have been increasingly vocal in distancing themselves from the Governor, last night we saw what is probably the clearest sign of the end times. Melissa DeRosa, the top aide to the Governor and the person widely regarded as being the second most powerful person in New York politics, resigned from her position. DeRosa, 37, has been with the Cuomo administration in various roles starting from nearly the first days in 2013. She’s been working in politics since taking a position as an intern for the state’s largest labor organization at the age of 16. But now she’s obviously seen the writing on the wall and isn’t going to go down with the ship. (NY Times)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, said late Sunday that she had resigned, a move that came as the governor fought for political survival after a report from the New York State attorney general concluded he had sexually harassed nearly a dozen women.

Her resignation meant that Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, lost one of his most loyal aides and trusted strategists while facing an imminent threat of impeachment in the State Legislature and calls to step down from a constellation of top officials in his party, including President Biden and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

Ms. DeRosa had stood by the governor’s side for years even as his inner circle shrank in size and many of the top staffers who had helped first elect him in 2010 left the administration.

In the early days of the pandemic, the Grey Lady wrote a glowing tribute to DeRosa, describing her as one of the most formidable presences in Empire State politics. She was also known for being loyal to Cuomo to a fault, acting as the muscle in the administration when someone needed to be brought into line. But now she’s been identified as one of the people who organized a smear campaign against some of Cuomo’s accusers. This might spell the end of what looked to be a political career that would eventually lead her to higher office.

As for Cuomo himself, it’s difficult to see what’s keeping him from following DeRosa out the door. He spent most of this weekend with someone who the NY Post described as “possibly his only friend left in Albany.” That would be his dog Captain, a three-year-old Siberian-shepherd-Malamute mix. Cuomo had already split with his long-time girlfriend last year.

The legislature in Albany has already reached the stage of deciding when – not if – they’re going to impeach him if he doesn’t step down voluntarily. A head-count of the legislators done by the largest newspaper in Albany last week showed that a very solid majority (including most of the Democrats) are prepared to vote to give him the boot. Most of them would far prefer that he save them the trouble (and even more scandal and bad headlines) by simply seeing himself to the door.

The calls for Cuomo’s resignation have been coming from both sides of the aisle. Both Democratic Senators from New York have said it. Most of the members of the state’s congressional delegation have done the same, as has New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. But the demands for Cuomo’s departure have long since expanded beyond New York State. President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have both called on him to resign.

So what is Cuomo waiting for? Does he somehow think that the impeachment talk is a bluff and this will all somehow still blow over? Far more likely is the possibility that his ego is simply so vast that he can’t believe he could ever lose in a political battle or a court case. He’s been treated like the Teflon Don for so long now that he probably believes his own press coverage.

Assuming Andrew Cuomo winds up out of office (one way or the other), there will be an interesting shuffle in the Democratic power structure in New York. Kathleen Courtney Hochul, the Deputy Governor, would step in to fill the office, but it’s unclear how well she would do running for a term of her own. She’s managed to keep her distance from the Governor for the most part and her name doesn’t generally show up in the many scandals that have defined much of her boss’s governorship. But she also doesn’t have much in the way of name recognition. Conveniently enough, the name being mentioned most often as a possible replacement is state Attorney General Letitia James. And wouldn’t it be an interesting turn of events if the person who released the report that appears to have done Cuomo in was the one to take over his office?