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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Biden cannot help Cuomo fend off backlash from within NY's Democratic Party

Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke Wednesday before getting vaccinated

Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke Wednesday before getting vaccinated at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem. Credit: Getty Images/Pool

Sometimes a political dynamic is so simple it goes unnoticed.

Once elected, a president or governor becomes the big boss of his or her national or state party. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo now confronts outright rebellion in the Democratic tent in New York. Joe Biden, as a Democratic president, seems to be in no position to prop him up on the homefront.

Biden avoided predictions or advice when asked on TV about Cuomo's hazy future. ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked Biden if the governor should quit if an investigation validates assertions of sexual harassment by former female associates.

"There should be an investigation to determine whether what she says is true," Biden said. "That's what's going on now … There could be a criminal prosecution that is attached to it. I just don't know."

As for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and House delegation members calling for Cuomo's departure, Biden said: "Well, that's a judgment for them to make."

In day-to-day governance, Biden must ally himself with New York's delegation in Washington, particularly Schumer, whose thin Senate majority is key.

The harassment allegations, combined with the Cuomo administration's gambits to downplay deaths in state nursing homes, are just the most recent scrapes of Cuomo's three terms. Doubts and suspicions about the true impact of his highhanded leadership style that disappeared at the height of the COVID-19 crisis have roared back.

It has been nearly seven years since former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara first pushed probes of the Cuomo administration and legislative leaders in Albany. Before that, Bharara had been a loyal Schumer aide.

Two years ago, Bharara was asked about Cuomo’s comments that Bharara was "scalp-hunting" when he targeted longtime close Cuomo aide Joe Percoco. Bharara then called it "a bizarre and un-self-aware statement on the part of the governor, which is not surprising."

That kind of talk about Cuomo has long been typical behind the scenes.

Leftier-leaning Democrats in New York have broken from the governor from time to time, as have various others. Despite cross-endorsing Cuomo for pragmatic reasons, the Working Families Party, recently demanded his resignation. "He is unfit to serve the people of New York," WFP State Director Sochie Nnaemeka said.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said most of her caucus favors his resignation, which could make impeachment easy.

In the years before Democrats took control of the upper house, Cuomo clashed with party members there.

The governor's war with Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has been fiercer and longer lasting than the friction between other mayors and governors of the same party. Ex-Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner also grew disaffected to the point where she tried to run a third-party campaign against Cuomo.

Still, the governor on Wednesday kept to his schedule and received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a Harlem church equipped as a pop-up site. Former Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, 90, delivered a defense of the governor, and other political veterans greeted Cuomo with positive words.

"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 allegations that you want to make but due process and a hearing is basically what we believe in this country — you go to your family, you go to your friends, because you know that they are going to be with you."

Overall for Cuomo, it has been a particularly nasty season. His poll numbers have skidded. Republican opposition seems to have little to do with it, as the state GOP remains in the electoral wilderness.

No, Cuomo's alienations mount day by day inside the party he heads, the party that aligns with "Me Too." Nobody knows how this one ends up.