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Cuomo's fate awaits probe

New York State Attorney General Letitia James appointed

New York State Attorney General Letitia James appointed former U.S. attorney Joon Kim and Anne L. Clark, an employment discrimination lawyer, to conduct the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Cuomo on Monday. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

The unwelcome sexual behavior toward former female staffers that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has acknowledged as inappropriate is not enough to cost him his job, or New York voters their chosen leader.

But the behavior toward female employees that Cuomo is accused of and denies is enough to cost him his job — if proved. The harassment claims have not been corroborated or debunked, however, because Attorney General Letitia James did not appoint former U.S. attorney Joon Kim and Anne L. Clark, an employment discrimination lawyer, to conduct the investigation until Monday afternoon.

That investigation is what Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called for when the allegations against Cuomo first gained traction last month. Now Stewart-Cousins is calling for Cuomo’s resignation and Heastie is saying the governor should consider stepping down, but proof is still the necessary ingredient from which consequences must spring.

The next step is the one that should have already begun: a thorough assessment of the conduct alleged, how those claims were handled by state officials, what documents and communications exist, and what each key player knew and did.

Cuomo has a skill set and a track record of governance that New Yorkers can’t cast aside lightly as the state grapples with the operational challenges of COVID-19 infections, restrictions and vaccine distribution. Complex budget negotiations, including whether taxes will be raised and how education will be funded, are just weeks away from completion. Cuomo's competencies are substantial. The sudden calls for his resignation and threats of impeachment seem like efforts to further political goals on both sides of the aisle, masquerading as pearl-clutching, before an investigation is completed.

To be clear, Cuomo is in serious trouble on numerous fronts, and that trouble is justified. At least some of those accusations by former employees appear to be credible. And how those allegations against the governor were handled by superiors may be nearly as problematic as the allegations themselves.

At the least, the improprieties to which Cuomo has admitted demand a change in conduct. His hectoring and bullying manner toward employees and political rivals and allies alike has to end, too. Cuomo ought to be able to employ "constructive impatience," as he calls it, without resorting to fury and intimidation.

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York is already investigating a separate scandal over the administration’s handling of the record-keeping of COVID-19 death totals of nursing home residents, including charges that information in a report by state health officials was changed to depict the governor in a better light.

Now that James finally has named her investigators, the probe of the sexual harassment allegations can begin. When the facts are established, the path forward will be clear. Given Cuomo’s track record of governance, the challenges New York now faces and the seriousness of the allegations, that clarity is worth waiting for.

— The editorial board