As Governor Andrew Cuomo faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment, almost all of New York’s congressional delegation is calling for Cuomo to resign. It’s no surprise that Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees. And the leader of the state Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, helped lead the charge that has the governor now teetering on the edge of political oblivion.
But it’s a different story with the state Assembly. While Speaker Carl Heastie said that he thinks the governor should consider resigning, he has stopped short of calling for his ouster. And that may be giving Cuomo valuable time. Instead of saying the governor should be impeached, Heastie has launched a probe – even though State Attorney General Letitia James is already overseeing an investigation of the sexual harassment charges.
Adding to Cuomo’s misery is a federal investigation into whether the governor’s team intentionally undercounted COVID-19 deaths of nursing home patients – something Heastie’s probe may also examine, along with construction questions about the new Mario Cuomo bridge.
To take on the tough task of investigating Cuomo, Heastie picked the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell – sounding alarm bells in the ears of Cuomo critics, who are worried that there may be a conflict of interest.
A former longtime partner of the firm, Dennis Glazer, is married to the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore. Cuomo appointed DiFiore to the court and appointed Glazer to the chairmanship of SUNY Purchase, where he is president. Glazer, who worked at Davis Polk for 31 years, was also appointed to the state’s powerful casino siting board.
Additionally, Cuomo has been accused by party insiders of helping DiFiore and Glazer’s daughter, Alexandra Murphy, win a seat on the state Supreme Court in the Hudson Valley last year.
Pushing back on claims of any connection between DiFiore’s family and Davis Polk, a spokesman for the state’s court system says that the chief judge has no connections with the firm.
But that’s not entirely true. Because of Glazer’s many years of employment there, he draws a hefty pension from the firm, according to DiFiore’s most recent financial disclosure statements.
So how did Heastie end up choosing a firm with ties to a Cuomo ally? It’s unclear because the selection process is shrouded in secrecy. The members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee say they were not informed of the decision to select Davis Polk until moments before it was announced publicly, and they played no role in its selection. We reached out to Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland for further clarification, but he refused to answer any questions about the firm’s selection.
Meanwhile, critics within Heastie’s own Democratic conference have long harbored concerns that Heastie is too close to Cuomo and often protected the governor’s interests above the values of the majority of conference members, who tend to be much more progressive in their policy positions.
When Assembly Democrats met privately on March 11 to discuss the impeachment investigation, many members expressed concerns about the process. Some felt an extended investigation would only buy the governor time, and they should instead move immediately to drafting articles of impeachment.
Even more troubling to some was that during the closed-door conference, Democratic State Chairman Jay Jacobs, a Cuomo defender, issued a statement before the group had even adjourned, saying that he agreed with allowing the Judiciary Committee to conduct the impeachment investigation, leaving the impression that Heastie had briefed both Cuomo and Jacobs on the outcome before trying to sell it to his own members.
But the biggest obstacle for Davis Polk may be Cuomo’s alleged victims themselves. An attorney for one of the women issued a statement criticizing the firm, while another alleged victim, Lindsey Boylan, says she won’t cooperate with the Assembly investigation.
Hiring Davis Polk would likely be subject to approval by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and, so far, the Assembly has not sent a contract over for review, Interestingly, DiNapoli is among the loud chorus already calling for Cuomo’s resignation.
Despite the yellow flags about the firm, there are no indications that Heastie shares any concerns about Davis Polk.
The intrigue could continue on Tuesday morning when the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee is meeting to discuss impeachment.