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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo started the year as one of the nation's most powerful governors, a household name who was racing toward a potential fourth term in office.
Now, two months later, he's embroiled in two major scandals and facing a daily onslaught of questions about deaths in nursing homes, accusations of sexual impropriety and growing speculation that his political career may be in jeopardy.
"It appears he's earned himself a primary," said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a frequent critic of the governor and one of the names tossed around as a possible 2022 challenger.
New allegations arrived this week from a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, who says Cuomo kissed her without her consent, suggested a game of strip poker while on a business trip and made other inappropriate comments.
As the governor scrambled to deal with the fallout from that scandal, one of his top cabinet members was in a standoff Thursday with state lawmakers over the other: The revelation that his administration for months failed to report the deaths of thousands of nursing home patients who had been hospitalized with Covid-19.
That controversy mushroomed last week when Assemblymember Ron Kim (D-Queens) said Cuomo called him and threatened to destroy his career over his nursing home criticism, drawing attention to Cuomo's long history of hardball tactics some describe as bullying and abusive.
Cuomo's growing body of detractors now encompasses Republicans, progressives, good government types and women's rights advocates, among others. To his critics, the two controversies are not unrelated.
"Sexual harassment is a form of power abuse, and when you piece it it altogether— the hidden but now public harassment and what we've already seen in broad daylight by Cuomo— you can put together a profile of the kind of power abuser he really is," said Erica Vladimer, a former legislative staffer who accused her then-boss of sexual harassment and co-founded an advocacy group to address a culture of such behavior in Albany.
Unlike questions over his policy decisions, friends and foes alike have called the new attacks on Cuomo's character self-inflicted. His decision to call and berate Kim — and Kim's decision to air it publicly — opened a floodgate for others with similar experiences, said New York's GOP chair Nick Langworthy, during a Thursday discussion the party hosted virtually with his counterpart in California.
"Cuomo made a very big mistake in doing this because Assemblyman Kim took the age old advice on how to handle a bully, which was that he fought back, punched back, and in doing so, inspired many others to recount their own stories of inappropriate and abusive behavior by this governor," Langworthy said.
The allegations were enough to drive Cuomo's Emmy-winning briefings off the air, at least for a day: The governor scrapped a virtual press conference that had been planned for Wednesday as an embattled administration and weary staff pivoted to a new sort of crisis almost exactly a year after the first Covid-19 case was found in the state.
For a governor who has been so much in the public eye over the last year, his silence in recent days has been conspicuous.
"The moment requires something other than hiding back, but he's not there yet," said an administration official.
Cuomo is a self-proclaimed gearhead and fix-it guy, but a sexual misconduct allegation isn't something that can easily be shut down with a political machination or a pivot. ""The car broke down and I'm going to get it going?' Well, that's not the right metaphor [for now]," the official said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, another frequent foe, on Thursday joined calls from both Republicans and fellow Democrats for an independent probe into the sexual harassment allegations.