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Embattled Cuomo Gets Support From African American Leaders

Governor Andrew Cuomo receives the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine from Dr. Jacqueline Delmont of SOMOS Healthcare at a pop-up vaccination site in Harlem in March.
Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo receives the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine from Dr. Jacqueline Delmont of SOMOS Healthcare at a pop-up vaccination site in Harlem.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo forged ahead with a normal schedule Wednesday, leading a campaign-style rally and publicly receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a church in Harlem. His actions come amid stronger statements from President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the governor’s political future amid a sexual harassment scandal.Cuomo says he wanted to receive the vaccine at a pop-up site at a black church in Harlem, to help combat vaccine hesitancy among some in the African American community.  

“Today, I’m going to take the vaccine,” he said.

The carefully staged event was not open to the media. The governor was surrounded by supporters from the African American community, including former Congressman Charlie Rangel and NAACP President and Cuomo family friend Hazel Dukes, whom Cuomo referred to as his “second mother.”  The Democratic governor also marked Duke’s birthday, leading the others in the traditional “happy birthday” song.

Dukes, in a campaign-style speech, praised Cuomo for legislative accomplishments, like working with democrats in the state legislature to end incarcerating in adult prisons 16 and 17-year-olds who are convicted of crimes, known as Raise the Age.

Dukes did not directly mention the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo from multiple women or a scandal over charges that the governor and his aides covered up the actual number of nursing home deaths during the pandemic. But she made allusions to the controversies, when she called out the news media, saying they need to “tell the truth” about vaccines. And she says the focus should be on approving the state budget, due in two weeks.

“Me and the governor’s talking about getting the budget passed by April 1st,” Dukes said. “No other nonsense.”

Former Congressman Rangel addressed the accusations more directly, saying Cuomo deserves a fair defense.

“When people start piling up on you and you are trying to figure out, is this the same country that says that you can make any allegation that you want to make but due process and a hearing is basically what we believe in in this country,” Rangel said. “You go to your family, you go to your friends, because you know that they are going to be with you.”

Cuomo has defiantly fought the accusations, saying he’s a victim of “cancel culture,” and he’s cast doubt on the motivations of his accusers. He spoke of how strong advocacy is important, in many situations.

“Every one of them is a fight,” Cuomo said. “And if you are not willing to make the fight, then you lose. It’s that simple.”

The governor did not address remarks from President Joe Biden, who said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, that if the allegations against Cuomo are proven to be true, then the governor needs to step down.

“If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Yes,” Biden said. “I think he’d probably end up being prosecuted, too.”

Biden is a longtime ally of the governor’s.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another Cuomo ally,said on MSNBC’s morning Joe Wednesday morning that there should be “zero tolerance” for sexually harassing behavior, and Pelosi says she thinks that the governor shares that belief.

“I think he is a supporter of zero tolerance, in terms of sexual harassment,” Pelosi said.  “So it would follow, that if you have zero tolerance, then that would be a decision that we hope the governor would make.”  

New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand say Cuomo needs to resign, as do most of the Democratic New York members of the House of Representatives, and dozens of state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans.  

Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo held a conference call with reporters, where he was asked about Biden’s remarks. Cuomo says he agrees that if anyone did something illegal, then they should leave office. 

“If you committed a crime, you can be prosecuted, that’s true,” Cuomo said, with a chuckle. “But what President Biden said is that we should do an investigation.” 

The governor, who has said previously he does not believe he ever acted inappropriately towards any of his accusers, refused to comment further, saying he wants to wait until an investigation by the state’s Attorney General and an impeachment inquiry by the state Assembly gather all the “facts.” But he repeated that he has no plans to resign.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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