The Democrats Turned on Cuomo to Protect the Systemic Corruption He Leaves Behind | Opinion

The amazing thing about Andrew Cuomo's announcement this week that he is stepping down as governor of New York is not that he left office, but that it took this long for him to resign. Among the most troubling parts of the interminable saga of Cuomo's demise is how many crimes he and New York politicians normalized in the process.

These officials are complicit. Cuomo resigned in the wake of Attorney General Letitia James' report detailing his sexual misconduct. And there's the ugly truth: If the New York governor had not been a sex pest, he likely would have gotten away with hiding thousands of people's deaths in nursing homes and shielding his health care industry donors from any liability—all while profiting off a $5 million book deal and being venerated by liberals and corporate media outlets as a shining star.

In fact, unless things suddenly change, Cuomo will still get away with those crimes. With U.S. Attorneys so far declining to prosecute Cuomo on those matters and with New York's legislature refusing to begin impeachment proceedings on those issues, the federal and state political systems made sure these crimes weren't considered transgressions at all. Same goes for many New York Democratic voters: A new poll shows that even now, a plurality of them say they approve of the way Cuomo has done his job.

To be sure, Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim's nursing home crusade and his allegation that Cuomo tried to bully him into silence created a singular political earthquake that shook the New York political system and media into finally scrutinizing the gubernatorial monster that had long been rampaging through Albany. But the refusal to prosecute or impeach Cuomo over that epic scandal has only further normalized that kind of corruption.

Indeed, presiding over a massacre of elderly people and shielding the perpetrators all to ingratiate oneself with political financiers is just regular politics these days. That's now what politicians are allowed—even expected—to do. While President Biden's former top aide lobbies the White House on behalf of the nursing home industry, the Biden Justice Department recently said it would not open an investigation into nursing home negligence and COVID-related deaths in New York and other states. Case closed.

The nursing home massacre is just one of many examples of Cuomo lawlessness that should have elicited a law enforcement response but didn't. The Albany Times Union details eight other scandals that Cuomo presided over. And those don't include other corrupt dealings, like giving his book publisher special tax breaks and funneling bond deals to his donors.

On Tuesday, the New Yorker reported that Cuomo tried to strong-arm the Obama White House in 2014 to get the Justice Department to stop probing his decision to shut down an anti-corruption panel. Obama officials said nothing publicly about this for years; it only came out now, after Cuomo had become unpopular and disempowered, when they would be safe from any blowback from MSNBC watchers and #TeamBlue enforcers. They knew their audience well: Until a few months ago, media outlets, Democratic politicians, and Democratic voters averted their eyes from Cuomo's crime spree, instead seeing him as an idol to be worshiped, endorsed and supported as the great "Cuomosexual" future of the party.

In light of his rampage, Cuomo leaving office only because of his grotesque sexual aggressions is not enough. Not even close. It's a good thing and his downfall is well-deserved, especially when sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are so pervasive and perpetrators are rarely punished.

Cuomo Dems
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 1: (L to R) U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) look on after Cuomo signed a gun safety bill at John Jay College, May 1, 2018 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

But the Cuomo misdeeds that remain unpunished also send a message about what we continue to tolerate—and that tolerance isn't passive or accidental. It is deliberate. Punishing Cuomo for his corrupt dealings with nursing home and health care donors would scandalize similarly corrupt ties between these corporate interests and other politicians. Consider that the health care lobby group that donated to Cuomo and drafted his nursing home immunity bill also funneled large sums of cash to New York Democratic legislators who passed that bill. And once that immunity bill was signed into law, Republican politicians then copied and pasted the language into their own state and federal bills, while raking in cash from health care interests.

Prosecuting or impeaching a governor over such corruption could threaten this entire system of legalized bribery, which politicians of both parties benefit from. And so even as brave Democratic legislators such as Kim and state Senator Alessandra Biaggi tried to blow the whistle, that system effectively granted Cuomo the same immunity he gave to his nursing home industry donors, while thousands of elderly people perished.

Impeachment and resignation only entered the discourse in response to his grotesque interpersonal behavior, in part because that could be portrayed as merely a problem of one bad apple in the barrel.

The trouble is, we also have a barrel problem. And Cuomo's departure leaves it intact.

It's great that Cuomo is leaving, but make no mistake: His legacy of lawlessness lives on, arguably stronger than ever—and it will continue to do so until voters start demanding something different.

This essay is co-published with The Daily Poster.

David Sirota is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author living in Denver, Colorado. He is the publisher of The Daily Poster, an editor at large at Jacobin Magazine and a columnist at The Guardian. He served as Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign speechwriter in 2020.

The views in this article are the writer's own.