ALBANY — In ads, speeches and trial balloons, disgraced ex-governor Andrew M. Cuomo is attempting a political resurrection that seeks to recast his fall but comes off as Trump-like, experts said.
Cuomo, who resigned in August while facing likely impeachment amid sexual harassment allegations, is using campaign money to produce ads touting his tenure. He’s delivering speeches blaming "cancel culture," bashing Democrats and prescribing what Albany should do this year. There's speculation that he’s contemplating running for office again.
It’s truly not a "rehab tour" because it lacks humility, political analysts said. It’s more of a staging tour for some type of comeback Cuomo envisions, casting his highly publicized troubles as unfair political attacks.
"To me, it’s another way in which (Donald) Trump and Cuomo strike me as similar. Similar in style, similar in ego, similar in aggressiveness, similar in chutzpah," said Grant Reeher, a Syracuse University political scientist, referring to the former Republican president.
"He’s not trying to deflect. He’s trying to insert a different way of seeing him in people’s minds," Reeher said. "Which is why I’m flummoxed by this because he’s showing no humility."
Cuomo's latest step came Thursday, when he delivered a roughly 40-minute speech to a Hispanic clergy organization in the Bronx. It came one day after a state comptroller's audit reported the Cuomo administration "misled the public" about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes — one of the several issues that had sparked the State Assembly impeachment inquiry last year.
In tone, Cuomo's address sounded like one of the Democrat’s many speeches at campaign rallies, political conventions or State of the State addresses during his nearly 11 years as governor.
He criticized fellow Democrats on crime issues, saying extremists are driving the party. He prescribed what lawmakers should do in the state budget. He suggested they would try to reward campaign donors — a claim made just days after the last defendant in an upstate economic development scandal during Cuomo’s administration reported to federal prison.
Cuomo touted infrastructure projects completed under his watch. Finally, the former governor, known for his bullying style, issued his own three-point guidance for New York that included standing up to bullies.
He didn’t spend much time on his own downfall, though he likened "cancel culture" to stonings in the Bible. He told the crowd: "I’m trying to cross the bridge from resentment to reconciliation."
Asked by the Rev. Reuben Diaz Sr., the host of the event, if he wants to run for governor, Cuomo told reporters: "I have a lot of options. I’m open to all of them."
Cuomo resigned in August facing likely impeachment over several matters: Multiple allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching by women, including then-state staffers; his handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic, including allegations his administration underreported COVID-19 deaths to make the state’s performance appear better than it was; and his use of state personnel and materials to help him write a lucrative pandemic memoir that netted him a $5 million book deal.
Cuomo aides have said any staff that assisted with the memoir did so on a voluntary basis. He said he didn’t undercount overall pandemic deaths, just accounted for them in a different way.
He has denied the sexual harassment allegations and his lawyer has said the decision by five county district attorneys not to press charges amounts to exoneration, although prosecutors actually said they found, in the cases they individually handled, the accusers were credible but the actions didn’t rise to the level of criminal charges.
Lisa Parshall, a political scientist at Daemen College in suburban Buffalo, said she also sees the Trump-like approach in Cuomo’s actions, including blaming "cancel culture" and being aggressive. But she doesn’t believe Cuomo has a "real strong chance" of trying to mount a campaign this year.
"There was such a consensus for him to step down," Parshall said. "You think of how many Democrats called for him to step down. And you think about how many others were brought down with him."
She added: "Right now, he’s trying to lay the foundation for what a comeback this is going to be … This is staging to position himself to say it’s possible for me to come back."
Bruce Gyory, a Democratic strategist and adviser to two governors — Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson — said a campaign is unlikely this year in part because the deadline is coming soon to file the thousands of signatures on petitions that Cuomo would need to get on the ballot. And because he’d "totally burn his bridges" in the Democratic Party.
Gyory said it was "rich" that Cuomo, in his latest address, hammered Democrats "for a bail reform he signed into law." He also said polling — showing a majority of voters saying resignation was the right thing to do — shows Cuomo faces difficulty "getting back in the game."
"I understand what he wants to do. He wants be seen as a respected voice in the public square," Gyory said. "Whether the public sees him that way, and the timing of it, is the larger and more difficult question."