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Politics | The Atlantic
Politics | The Atlantic
Of Course Andrew Cuomo Isn’t Going to Resign
A tale of hubris and comeuppance is unfolding daily around New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. It’s a tale of a man who bullied colleagues for years and took time out of managing the pandemic to write a book about how well he was managing the pandemic, but is now facing accusations of harassment, incompetence, and fatal mistakes.Thousands more people in New York nursing homes died of COVID-19 last spring than was made public at the time, and over the past two weeks, Cuomo’s administration has slowly admitted to hiding the numbers. Two former aides have also stepped forward to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment, in addition to a third woman who has said he touched her back inappropriately and attempted to give her a kiss that she did not want.But, barring a burst of new allegations, Cuomo absolutely will not resign. “The old resignation playbook is out,” a Cuomo adviser told me, requesting anonymity to discuss the private deliberations that have been going on over the past week. Very much on the minds of Cuomo and his team is Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who refused to resign in 2019 after the discovery of an old racist yearbook page, but who today remains popular with voters. “There’s a new path, and that is to wait it out,” is how the adviser put it to me. Even several of the small number of New York politicians and advocates who have openly called for Cuomo to leave office seem to doubt that he will. But the pressure could scare him out of running for what he wants most: a fourth term, which he is up for next year. And with how Cuomo’s private conversations have been going lately, the anti-Cuomo forces may be getting their way.[Read: Portrait of a leader humblebragging]Throughout his time in office, Cuomo has derided and demeaned. He has told state legislators that they don’t understand anything as well as he does, and that they must fall in line behind him. Over the decade that I covered New York, seeing how he operates made clear again and again why he has no friends among his colleagues, leaving him without anyone to lean on now that he needs the help. Nonetheless, before this latest set of scandals, Cuomo seemed destined to win a fourth term. Being governor of New York is the only thing that he’s ever really wanted to be, and winning a fourth term would mean he’d outdo the three gubernatorial terms of his father, Mario Cuomo, who sits constantly in his head like a spectral Elf on the Shelf. The elder Cuomo lost his bid for a fourth term in 1994, and Andrew, who was Mario’s closest adviser, has never quite stopped thinking about that loss. (“My numbers are higher than my father’s were,” he told me in a 2019 interview.)New York’s ever-larger and ever-bolder progressive contingent has been trying to get rid of Cuomo for years, angry with his Machiavellian approach and his many compromises with moderates and Republicans. In 2014, when he was running for his second term, a then-little-known progressive activist named Zephyr Teachout excited the Democrats who hate Cuomo by primarying him. She lost but earned 34 percent of the vote, enough to convince the anti-Cuomo crowd that a better-known candidate could take him out. In 2018, progressives turned to the actor Cynthia Nixon, hoping to piggyback on her notoriety. Nixon didn’t end up doing any better than Teachout had.Horrified as they are by the allegations, members of the Cuomo-haters club—many of whom are ambitious politicians looking to open up spots in state politics after 12 years of him in charge—are reveling in the governor’s troubles. Last spring, when Cuomo’s popularity soared thanks to his pandemic press conferences turned group-therapy sessions, some political commentators speculated that maybe he’d replace Joe Biden, then facing his own accusations of sexual assault, as the Democratic presidential nominee. Tell me this doesn’t end with Andrew Cuomo being president, one New York progressive pleaded with me in April. The silver lining, the Cuomo haters said, would be that at least moving to Washington would get Cuomo out of New York.[Read: No, COVID-19 is not a metaphor]Gustavo Rivera, a Democratic state senator from the Bronx, told me that Cuomo has always had a “toxic style of leadership, which doesn’t lead to good governance.” He thought Cuomo should have quit even before all the revelations of the past few weeks. He believes it even more now. “These allegations just go to a pattern of his pathology of leadership. He is a bully, he is an abuser, and he does this in his everyday life and his political life,” Rivera said.Cuomo has agreed to turn over the investigation into the accusations about his behavior to New York’s current attorney general, Tish James, and people who have spoken with him can sense that he’s anxious about what could turn up. The investigation is expected to last at least a few months as investigators look for any more women who may be willing to step forward. At the same time, the Department of Justice is looking into the nursing-home deaths.Cuomo the control freak, for the first time in his life, knows that he’s lost control, that winning the fourth term his father didn’t might no longer be possible. “He’s aware this could be an existential moment,” another Cuomo adviser, who was granted anonymity in order to discuss internal conversations, told me. Putting Cuomo even more on edge: James right now looks like the most obvious and strongest challenger if she decides to enter a primary against him next year. She has won statewide, she has progressive credentials and a base in Brooklyn, and she’s a Black woman. All of that would make her a formidable candidate, and if she also issues a report with revelations of more sexual harassment or misconduct by Cuomo, the campaign ads almost write themselves. Some operatives are already speculating that James could face a primary for attorney general if the report isn’t tough enough, or if she doesn’t run against Cuomo. High on the list of expected challengers she could face is Representative Kathleen Rice, who had Cuomo’s support when she lost a primary for attorney general in 2010 but has since fallen out with him. Rice responded to the women’s accusations against him by tweeting, “The time has come. The Governor must resign.” (Rice didn’t respond when I asked her to talk more about the governor.)[David A. Graham: America’s Andrew Cuomo problem]In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon—held over Zoom so that he could keep more control—Cuomo choked up at one point as he talked about being humiliated, and said he realized that how he had spoken and behaved was wrong. He was adamant, though, that he wouldn’t resign. And most New York voters don’t seem keen on pushing him out. A Quinnipiac poll conducted in the days just after the allegations came out showed that 55 percent of voters don’t want him to resign, though 59 percent of voters don’t want him to run for reelection, either. Other polling shows that much of the support for resignation right now is coming from Republicans, who never liked Cuomo and like him even less since the pandemic turned him into a chief antagonist to Donald Trump. “The vultures of the left are not in sync with the voters in New York,” the first Cuomo adviser told me. While the folks who have hated him for years are swirling to try to take him down, the reality is that the appetite from the voters to replace a man who has been successful is just not yet evident.”In a sign of how much power Cuomo still has, few politicians are willing to say publicly that he should resign, even as they count down the days to voting for someone else for governor next year. “At some point, he’s going to wake up looking for an inner circle to protect him and there won’t be anyone left, and he’ll have to say, Can I really go on myself now? And I think he’ll say no,” one Democratic state senator who can’t stand Cuomo told me, after requesting that no name be attached to the comments to avoid potential retribution. “Maybe he can’t allow himself to imagine resigning himself or not winning again, but I got to tell you, there is no way I believe he can win. That may be a painful exercise for him to realize. It won’t be for me.”
theatlantic.com
What It’s Like When Racism Comes for You
Mari was at Taco Bell filling a paper cup with Baja Blast when the man started shouting. White and 30-something, and wearing a bulky winter coat, he lumbered up to the soda fountain and confronted her. His words sounded slightly slurred, Mari thought, like he might be drunk. At first she ignored him; this wasn’t the first time a drunk man had shouted at her at a fast-food place in Chicago. But then her brain focused on his words: “The Oriental touched the dispenser!” the man yelled to the other patrons. “Somebody stop her!” Mari, who is half-Japanese, turned to look at the man, with just her eyes visible above her mask. He poked his index finger at her face. “She started this whole thing!” he said.A few things happened at once. Mari’s friend moved to stand between her and the shouting man. Two workers behind the counter asked the man to leave. He said something about how he was just making a joke—Mari doesn’t remember the specifics. She was still stuck on “Oriental”—how old the word sounded, how it conjured the racist imagery of anti-Japanese World War II propaganda, and how strange she felt to hear it used to describe her. “I had never experienced anything like this,” the 26-year-old told me this week, a month after the encounter. It felt “like a time jump.”Mari does not want her experience to be compared with any of the violent attacks against Asian Americans that have occurred across the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic, she told me. Because she is biracial, she explained, her own experience with racism is notably different from that of other Asian Americans, a category that itself is not monolithic. Last month alone, an 84-year-old man in San Francisco, originally from Thailand, died after being shoved to the ground, a Korean American military veteran was beaten in Los Angeles, and a Filipino American man was slashed with a box cutter on the New York City subway. But the physical attacks are outnumbered by the smaller and sometimes subtler episodes of racism that Asian Americans have experienced. Researchers and hate-watch groups have gathered thousands of examples of these moments; taken together, they are an astonishing collection of viciousness. They also demonstrate that the past year has been doubly hard on many Asian Americans, who go out in public bracing themselves not just against a deadly virus, but against the scourge of racism too.[Read: The other problematic outbreak]For Mari, who asked that I not publish her last name out of privacy concerns as she applies for doctorate programs, the incident at Taco Bell was more surprising than traumatizing. She’d never been harassed or attacked for her race. Actually, her racial identity has always felt a bit uncertain. Mari’s mother is Japanese and her father is white. As a child in Tokyo, where she lived until she was 4 years old, Mari was considered white, she told me. But in Honolulu, where she attended elementary, middle, and high school, she blended in with the many other mixed-race students. Now, in Chicago, where Mari works as a research technician in an immunogenomics lab, most white people view her as Asian.Mari’s firsthand experiences with racism came from watching her fellow Americans interact with her mother, she told me. Her mom, who is in her 60s and works for the Hawaii state government, grew up in Tokyo and has lived in Honolulu for two decades. She moved to the city in part because she liked that it was diverse, and tolerant of many cultures. But discrimination was still common. When Mari was young, white strangers would often address her instead of her mother when the two of them were together, because they assumed that her mother didn’t speak English. Once, in the elevator of their condo building in Honolulu, an older white woman examined Mari’s mom for a moment. “Is this your nanny?” she asked 5-year-old Mari. Interactions like these occurred regularly throughout Mari’s childhood. It didn’t matter that her mother speaks perfect English, or has a Ph.D. “She’s told me that moving through the world with me is a different experience,” Mari said. “It’s almost like I legitimize her.”The recent incidents of anti-Asian harassment are nothing particularly new, Mari’s mom, who requested anonymity because she’s worried about her colleagues and employer identifying her, told me in an email exchange. “Although this pandemic certainly triggered the violence,” she said, “it’s been in this country for a long long time.” But just because encounters with racism are typical doesn’t mean they are forgettable. That’s the difference, she said, between racism’s perpetrators and its victims: “They forget, and we never forget.”As for her daughter, Mari’s mom said, the attack at Taco Bell “unmistakably reminded” Mari that she’s not 100 percent white. “In a sense, I think it was good that she experienced that.” Now Mari will be “more careful”—the way people of color are in order to protect themselves, she said.Moments of national upheaval have historically made anti-Asian harassment worse, from the discrimination against Chinese immigrants during the bubonic-plague epidemic in San Francisco in the early 20th century, to the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II, to the targeting of Asian American autoworkers in the 1980s during a rise in unemployment in that industry. This dark precedent is one reason Asian American advocacy groups protested former President Donald Trump’s repeated use of the phrase “Chinese virus” to rile up his supporters last year. Just as in crises past, the pandemic has clearly exacerbated anti-Asian racism, Melissa Borja, an American-culture professor at the University of Michigan, told me. Borja and a team of researchers have spent the past year compiling a list of more than 700 incidents of anti-Asian harassment reported in local news outlets in places as varied as Martinsville, Indiana, and Bayview, California. Almost all of them involved a direct reference to the pandemic. Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, a civil-rights organization that offers an online tool for self-reporting harassment, in 2020 recorded the highest number of incidents it’s seen in four years. Together with two other organizations, it has captured more than 3,000 incidents since April, a spokesperson told me. [Read: The invisible artistry of Asian actors]But even as the pandemic begins to wane in America, the frequency of anti-Asian discrimination may not, Borja warned. The trope of the “perpetual foreigner” has long kept Asian Americans from being viewed as fully American. Geopolitics can make it worse, Borja said: American politicians now regularly criticize—even villainize—China, admonishing its government on issues related to trade policy, technology, and human rights. When that rhetoric is irresponsible—when it targets regular people, not leaders—even Asian Americans who aren’t Chinese can feel the effects stateside. As long as these tensions continue, Borja said, Asian American people and communities will be vulnerable. Government leaders should speak and act carefully, she added.After leaving Taco Bell that day, Mari went to her friend’s apartment, where she ate her Doritos Locos tacos and watched a few episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Then she went home and called her mother to tell her what the man had said by the soda fountain. When Mari finished the story, her mom let out a long sigh—one that seemed to imply she was sad, but not surprised. “Well,” she told Mari, “unfortunately, it finally came to you.”
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theatlantic.com