The end seems near for Andrew Cuomo, as a swirl of scandals threatens to overwhelm the New York Governor. The most prominent of which is a steady stream of claims from multiple women that Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed them.
Yet Cuomo is adamant that he will not resign. On Friday he took some pointed shots at those who called for him to step down, asserting that they were just “playing politics” and “bowing to cancel culture”.
The Governor is reportedly determined to hang on and at least equal the three terms his father Mario served in Albany. It is even believed that he hasn’t abandoned his dream of surpassing his Dad by winning a fourth term.
Why does Cuomo think he can survive? Most likely because even a cursory glance at recent political history will reveal that numerous men (they’re almost always men) have weathered sex scandals by simply refusing the pleas of those who begged them to quit.
A classic case occurred back in 1991, when Senator Chuck Robb found himself in hot water after a former Miss Virginia accused him of carrying on an affair with her. The Senator asserted that he had merely got “close to the edge” by letting her give him a massage in his hotel room. Robb stayed the course and narrowly won re-election over Oliver North (yes, that Oliver North) three years later. He went on to lose in 2000 to (pre-racial slur) George Allen.
Of course, the most notable case of a politician enmeshed in a sex scandal refusing to step down was President Bill Clinton. This experience is especially relevant as Cuomo, who was serving in the cabinet as HUD Secretary at the time, considers the 42nd President a mentor.
When Clinton at last admitted to an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, dozens of major newspapers called for his resignation. Despite this pressure campaign, Pres. Clinton firmly refused to resign. Decades later, there is still vehement debate about whether he made the right decision.
At the same time, it was revealed that several of the Congressional Republicans investigating Clinton had extramarital affairs of their own. Two of whom, Reps. Dan Burton and Henry Hyde, refused to follow their own advice when the press uncovered their past instances of adultery.
This trend of obstinacy carried on into the 21st century, when it was revealed in 2007 that Senator David Vitter had solicited prostitutes. The Louisiana Senator gave a public mea culpa but insisted on staying in office. Since Louisiana had a Democratic Governor at the time, Vitter was likely saved by GOP fears that they’d lose the seat if he stepped down. This decision paid off when Vitter won re-election in 2010, but came back to bite the party when he lost a winnable Gubernatorial contest in 2015.
Much like Vitter, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was able to weather his own publicity storm when news of his extramarital affair forever changed the meaning of the phrase “hiking the Appalachian trail”. This episode will likely be studied by Cuomo’s team, since the state legislature’s impeachment effort eventually collapsed due to apathy. Sanford even made a Congressional comeback, until his feud with Donald Trump led to him getting primaried.
Frankly, there are far too many examples for me to ever present an exhaustive chronicle of politicians who endured a sex scandal. The most meaningful precedent for this Cuomo case, however, involves an official who actually did end up resigning. When Al Franken was pressed to resign after multiple women accused him of groping them, we reached a potential turning point. Instead of excusing questionable behavior by pointing to past examples, we may be developing a higher standard for the nation’s elected representatives.
If the public finally decides that character truly is a vital issue, Andrew Cuomo’s fate will be swiftly sealed.