He marked his relationships with each leader in his speech, reminded New Yorkers of the state’s lengthy fight with the coronavirus and even sang “Happy Birthday” to NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes, a woman he referred to as his second mother. All of this happened before Cuomo got the coronavirus vaccine with a big smile and thumbs up.
The subtext of the Harlem visit on Wednesday was not lost on many in Albany. As Cuomo faces a flurry of investigations for allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted touching, as well as his mishandling of reporting nursing home deaths during the coronavirus crisis, the governor is turning his attention to Black civil and elected leaders, many of whom have known his family for decades. And those same leaders are repaying that attention by not only standing by Cuomo, but loudly backing the “due process” and time that the governor is now asking for.
Those calls for due process stand in stark contrast with the barrage of statements from a majority of Democrats in New York’s congressional delegation, including from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, which demanded Cuomo step down from office.
Notably, two of the few Democrats in New York’s congressional delegation who have waited to call on Cuomo to resign are Reps. Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries, two of the highest ranking Black politicians in the state.
“He’s had a relationship with a lot of my predecessors and community members that has not changed,” said Alicia Hyndman, the assistant majority leader in the state Assembly who represents parts of Queens. “I don’t believe he’s placating or playing to an audience. I know, sometimes when people are troubled and go to areas of support and maybe that’s what he thinks he’s doing.”
With that in mind, the event at Mount Neboh Baptist Church became a dual-purpose affair, one where Cuomo looked to urge Black New Yorkers to get vaccinated — while he also received the backing of many notable Black leaders.
Appearing alongside Cuomo was Urban League President Marc Morial. The two have known each other for decades; their work together dates back to when Cuomo was the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under then-President Bill Clinton and Morial was mayor of New Orleans.
Former Rep. Charles Rangel also appeared with Cuomo on Wednesday. The former congressman, who was one of the longest serving members of the House when he retired in 2016, described Cuomo’s decision to come to Harlem at this moment as one where “you go to your family and you go to your friends because you know they are going to be with you.”
“If he is leaning (on Black leaders) now,” Rangel told CNN after the event, “then he has been leaning for a long damn time.”
Rangel used his speech at the church to laud Cuomo and tout the need for due process in all investigations, a not-so-subtle nod to the cloud swirling above the governor. Speaking of state Assemblywoman Inez Dickens’ decision to vocally stand by Cuomo until the investigations into his actions are complete, Rangel said, “She didn’t just speak for an assembly person, she spoke for our community.”
“(She said) back off, until you’ve got some facts,” Rangel recalled.
Dickens, who represents Harlem in the state assembly, told CNN after the event that her decision to give Cuomo the time he is asking for was a reflection of what her largely Black constituents wanted.
“Due process is very important to the Black community and the reason is it important is for years we have been subjected to accusations and we have then found out after years in jail that they were innocent,” Dickens said. She added that while she didn’t want to “undermine the seriousness” of allegations against Cuomo, she noted that her office “has not received one call from my constituents to complain” about the allegations against Cuomo.
Cuomo’s activities on Wednesday represent the public strategy the governor is employing — highlighting his work on the coronavirus, leaning on longtime supporters and declining to answer questions on the allegations against him, as he did multiple times on Wednesday. The goal is to remind New Yorkers of all the work the governor did during the coronavirus fight — when the Democrat was at his most popular.
Privately, however, the governor is mounting a fervent fight.
The New York Times reported this week that shortly after Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment, tweeted her allegations in December, people close to the governor began to circulate an open letter that attacked the former Cuomo aide and delved into her personnel file. The letter was never released, and Cuomo’s office gave a no comment to the paper — and did not respond to CNN’s request for comment — but the strategy represents how Cuomo is looking to subvert the allegations against in in private.
That fight has done little to uplift the mood in Cuomo’s office, however. A source familiar with Cuomo’s office described the mood inside the executive chamber as “completely demoralized.”
“The feeling there is it’s just a matter of time before the clock runs out,” the source said, meaning that Cuomo could be forced out of office; or that he may not be able to run for a fourth term.
Cuomo has also stopped answering questions on the allegations.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, Cuomo was asked multiple times about specific allegations and each time he demurred, arguing that he cannot answer the questions because of the two ongoing probes.
On Thursday, the governor held a briefing, flanked by former stars of the New York Mets and Yankees to announce that a plan to re-open outdoor entertainment venues to fans. A smiling Cuomo laughed about a possible Subway Series featuring the Mets and Yankees and did not address the controversies. He also did not take any questions from the media.
As Cuomo left the stage on Thursday, it was clear his strategy for combatting the allegations was to change the conversation.
Back in Harlem, after Cuomo finished singing to Dukes and presented her with a cake, the civil rights leader took the microphone and held up a photo of herself with Cuomo’s father, Mario.
“I come today to thank my son,” she said, holding up the photo. “I want to thank my son for his leadership. Somebody called me and said, ‘I didn’t know you have a White son,’ and I said, ‘He ain’t White.'”
To laughs, she added: “I always like when you call me your second mom.”
“You wonder why I am the way I am,” Cuomo said after Dukes’ speech. “You see how I was raised.”