ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - Less than 24 hours after a third woman came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment, leaders of the state legislature moved Tuesday to roll back the extraordinary powers they granted Governor Cuomo to deal with the COVID pandemic.
The agreement to curb Cuomo’s power is a clear rebuke to a governor from legislators who believe he has grown far too powerful and too arrogant for too long.
The full legislature is expected to vote on the bill by the end of the week.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie outlined how Cuomo’s powers will be curtailed.
- Cuomo’s ability to issue new executive orders under the broader emergency powers he was granted are repealed immediately.
- Executive orders dealing with COVID and related matters - like mask mandates and vaccinations - remain in effect for an additional 30 days. They can be extended or modified by Cuomo, but only after he notifies state legislators, justifies his action and gives legislators a chance to comment.
- Executive orders can still be modified “to revise the number of individuals, businesses or entities impacted” - for example, the seating capacity of a business - but they “will not be continuously modified or extended unless the governor has responded to comments provided by the chairs of relevant committees.”
State assembly member Carrie Woerner tweeted a further provision of the changes, that local governments can issue their own executive orders without seeking state approval.
“These temporary emergency powers were granted as New York was devastated by a virus we knew nothing about,” Heastie said in the statement.
“Now it is time for our government to return to regular order.”
The legislature’s agreement comes as fresh questions arise about Cuomo’s ability to survive his two controversies.
The Department of Justice is looking into the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing home deaths at the start of the pandemic. By itself, the nursing home issue had turned into a major distraction for Cuomo; there were accusations his administration intentionally undercounted the number of nursing home deaths.
But the sexual harassment allegations from two former aides and a woman he met at a wedding have ignited a fire storm, with many Republicans and Democrats calling for Cuomo to be investigated, and some Democrats calling for him to resign now.
“I think the three allegations in concert with the nursing home debacle paint a pretty grim picture. A lot of people in the state and outside of the state have been looking to take Cuomo down,” said Alexander Cohen, assistant professor of political science at Clarkson University.
“I think it would be difficult to survive something like this,” Cohen told 7 News Tuesday.
In particular, a photograph obtained by the New York Times showing Cuomo - at a wedding - close to Anna Ruch, who says Cuomo touched her lower back, told her she seemed aggressive and asked if he could kiss her could pose political problems for the governor, Cohen said.
“You have this image of the governor essentially leering over a much younger woman who looks very uncomfortable - and granted, pictures can be deceiving based on when they’re taken - but that picture is a knockout blow.”
Members of the state legislature from the north country continued to say Tuesday they believe Cuomo should be investigated, stopping short of saying he should resign. But both state senator Joe Griffo and assemblyman Mark Walczyk said Cuomo should step aside temporarily while the investigation goes forward, and state senator Patty Ritchie said “If the allegations made thus far are confirmed, I do not see how he can continue as our Governor.”