Susan Estrich: No feeling sorry for Andrew Cuomo
Summary: Andrew Cuomo had 11 women making painfully similar complaints. He tried to discredit the women, a big mistake; the "nuts and sluts" defense doesn't work on a minyan, as Harvey Weinstein discovered. Cuomo's lawyer was still trying, in the moments before his announcement, to discredit and deny, clearly at her client's direction.
According to The New York Times, the soon-to-be former governor of New York is sitting on $18 million in campaign cash — with nothing to run for, a first in his life.
Of this I am sure: The guy does not know what hit him. Can it be that a series of meaningless encounters has cost him everything? It can be. Remember, the governor welcomed the inquiry. He continued the same behavior. Clearly, it meant nothing to him.
His first instinct, in defending himself, was that video of him hugging and kissing all manner of people, the point being that what the young women were complaining about was no different, and no more meaningful, than the casual encounters of an old-fashioned politician.
No more meaningful to him, that is. Like kissing babies. Wrong. It was very meaningful to the young women less than half his age who have refused to lean in to the grabby governor.
Politicians, like other powerful men, have been crossing lines for decades. We put up with it. Our daughters aren't. I say, here's to them.
I first met Andrew Cuomo back in 1988, when I was young and he was even younger. He was doing his father's politics, first promising an endorsement, then pulling it back and then leaking the whole drama to Tim Russert and accusing me and my candidate, Michael Dukakis, of the leak. Whew.
The Cuomos played by their own set of rules, and for decades, it worked. Mario Cuomo did at the 1984 convention what Barack Obama did at the 2004 convention. Except Obama was straightforward about running. Mario Cuomo left his would-be campaign manager stranded at an airport in New Hampshire with the nomination papers ready to file. It was high drama, the whole country watching; only Cuomo could have pulled it off.
The next generation followed suit. Not since John F. Kennedy whispered to the waiting press corps that it was his brother who would be attorney general have we seen such a fraternal act play out. I plead guilty: I loved Andrew Cuomo's press conferences during the pandemic, and of course, I ate up the shots of his brother interviewing him from the basement. It was the political version of "Property Brothers."
All of it was working. He made big money on the book; he had big money in the bank; and other than the nursing home business, he was coasting. Until these meaningless encounters that he can't even remember caught him.
In the 1980s, when he and I started out, he would have gotten away with all of that and more. It's not that the line has moved. It was offensive then. It was just that you'd be called a whiner if you stood up, especially if you stood up alone.
The "nuts and sluts" defense, I called it, and it applied almost equally to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The Anita Hill hearings were in 1991. The senators hit her with both. An old boyfriend was allowed to testify.
So, I invented my own rule of three: one might be a "nut," and two might be a "slut," but when you get to three, you have a caucus. The difference between Bill Cosby's first and second trials was that additional victims were permitted to testify in the second.
Andrew Cuomo had 11 women making painfully similar complaints. He tried to discredit the women, a big mistake; the "nuts and sluts" defense doesn't work on a minyan, as Harvey Weinstein discovered. Cuomo's lawyer was still trying, in the moments before his announcement, to discredit and deny, clearly at her client's direction.
The obvious question you ask is why someone didn't sit him down, years ago, and tell him that he had to stop.
I remember the people who would give me an earful, and then with the candidate, it was all roses. I remember feeling as if my loyalty was being tested. His closest aide was 38 and had been working for him since her 20s. The power relationship, the age difference, the first woman business — she wasn't the one to stand up to the governor.
To stand up, you have to be able to walk away. Or to be someone who is there, no matter what.
Like, say, a brother.
Susan Estrich can be reached at email@example.com.