Last spring, when the coronavirus outbreak was surging in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s daily briefings became appointment television for many, as he authoritatively ticked through the latest statistics on infections, hospital beds and deaths.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Cuomo was often obsessed with another set of numbers: his ratings. He would sometimes quiz aides as soon as he ended a broadcast about which networks carried him live and exactly when they cut away — data they were expected to have at their fingertips.
For an image-obsessed politician who has long devoured almost everything written about him, it was an intoxicating amount of attention as Mr. Cuomo transformed almost overnight into a national leader of the Democratic Party and a foil for President Donald J. Trump. “To the 59 million viewers who shared in these daily briefings,” Mr. Cuomo said on his 111th and final daily update, “thank you.”
groping, sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior made by six women; an independent investigation into those accusations; an impeachment inquiry by state legislators; a federal investigation into his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic; and collapsing support from leaders in his own party.
Yet for all of that, Mr. Cuomo is now furiously plotting a path to salvage his job, his legacy and even a potential fourth-term re-election run in 2022, according to Democrats familiar with his thinking. In defiant remarks on Friday, Mr. Cuomo accused Democratic leaders of “playing politics” by calling for him to resign and demanded they wait for the “facts” as he impugned the motives of the women who have come forward.
“A lot of people allege a lot of things for a lot of reasons,” Mr. Cuomo said, denying he ever sexually harassed anyone.
Be it his self-regard, his disdain for fellow Democrats or his imperious demeanor, Mr. Cuomo alienated allies and enemies alike on his way up in politics, and now finds himself sliding from hero-level worship to pariah-like status with the kind of astonishing speed that only the friendless suffer. It is a downfall foretold in a decade-long reign of ruthlessness and governance by brute force, according to interviews with more than two dozen lawmakers, elected officials, current and past Cuomo administration officials, political activists and strategists in the state.
top government aides have been tweeting about his polling numbers and Mr. Cuomo believes the impression he made in those virus briefings will outlast any short-term damage, according to people familiar with his thinking. “New Yorkers know me,” as Mr. Cuomo said on Friday.
And if there is a modern playbook for surviving scandal, it begins with one clear rule: Don’t quit.
Mr. Trump ignored calls to step down as the Republican nominee in 2016 after a tape emerged of him bragging about grabbing women’s private parts. Former Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a Republican, finished his term after lying about his adulterous “Appalachian Trail” trip. And Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat, survived widespread resignation calls over a photo that appeared to show him in blackface.
Mr. Cuomo’s advisers have been reaching out to labor and business leaders. And he has been maneuvering to consolidate and burnish support in the Black community, especially after the Legislature’s two top Democrats, both of whom are Black, have taken steps to push him out. His appearance last week flanked by Black clergy leaders, ostensibly to promote vaccine efforts in New York City, struck many as an especially brazen example of constituency politics.
And he is demanding that the attorney general’s investigation proceed, clinging to a possible 2022 run as a bargaining chip to avert resignation or impeachment. His endgame is unclear. More than anything, Andrew Cuomo is now trying to buy himself time.