Support Softens Even Among Cuomo Loyalists In Harlem

As Governor Andrew Cuomo is confronting the biggest challenge of his political career, following a five-month probe by the New York Attorney General’s office that found he engaged in a pattern of sex-based harassment and abuse of at least 11 women, some of his staunchest supporters said they are disappointed and heartbroken.

These are the people Cuomo surrounded himself with at public events shortly after allegations emerged earlier this year, while barring access to the press. At one event in March, at the Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, some of the city’s most storied Black leaders made clear they were not ready to abandon the governor.

There were calls for “due process” to play out, the virtues of old friendship were extolled, one person even likened Cuomo to a son.

Now, with the attorney general’s investigation at its end and several others just beginning, some of those same staunch supporters describe being heartbroken, disappointed, and unsure about Cuomo’s future, even if they won’t explicitly call for him to resign, as leaders from the White House to local Democrats have already done.

Former Rep. Charles Rangel, who said at an event in March that Cuomo had gone to Harlem to be with his friends, “because you know that they are going to be with you…when people start piling up on,” stopped short of calling for Cuomo’s resignation on Wednesday.

He did tell Gothamist/WNYC, “The allegations have been proven almost beyond challenge. It’s the reality and the governor has a real serious problem that unfortunately his response did not adequately address.”

Rangel said he had not spoken with Cuomo since the report had been released, but his message for him if he did would be one of sadness, for him and his family, and for the 11 women who came forward. “They are the victims,” he said.

Former Assemblymember Keith Wright, who still leads the Democratic party in Manhattan, said simply that the report speaks for itself. Asked if Cuomo could expect another gathering of support from Black leaders in Harlem like what he received in the spring, Wright was circumspect, “I just don’t know.”

“The allegations in the report are very damaging and serious,” said Hazel Dukes, head of the New York Conference of the NAACP, who referred to Cuomo as her son back in March. As she has done before, she talked about knowing the Cuomo family for decades and watching Andrew Cuomo grow up since he was 12.

Hazel Dukes holds up a black and white photograph while standing next to a lectern

Hazel Dukes, former head of the NAACP, holds up a photograph of herself with Governor Mario Cuomo at the Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, at an event with Governor Andrew Cuomo at the same church in March 2021 Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

“I am shocked, I am heart-sickened, because I don’t even recall seeing Andrew dance,” she said, describing him as a “straight-laced, serious child” until he grew up to be a “serious-minded man.”

Asked repeatedly if she thought he should resign, Dukes would only say she thought that it needed to be his own decision, which is still a significant departure from the full-throated endorsement she gave him earlier this year.

The softening of support from long-time loyalists, particularly prominent leaders in the Black community in Harlem, is yet another sign of Cuomo’s growing isolation. A poll released by Marist College on Wednesday showed that 59% percent of New Yorkers believe the governor should resign, including 49% among non-white respondents.

If there is any hope for the governor, it remains among that segment of voters who remain dubious of the allegations against him. Twenty-four hours after the attorney general’s report was released, Black voters who spoke with Gothamist/WNYC were both troubled by the allegations and dubious about the victims’ motives. Several wondered why many of the victims stepped forward months or years following the incidents.

Andrea Wright, a Harlem resident who works part-time at a food truck, said Cuomo lost her support after she heard more details about his indiscretions. Wright, a mother of two daughters who has voted for Cuomo, said she thought he lacks the proper political influence to accomplish things for New Yorkers.

“He’s not going to be able to get anything done for us anymore,” Wright, sitting in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, said. “He doesn’t have any support. So how can he get anything done?”

Karen Crawford, another Harlem resident who also voted for Cuomo, doubted the accounts made by the 11 women in the report.

“I believe that if he was not the governor, they probably wouldn’t even be making these accusations,” Crawford said. “Sometimes when you get to a certain level or you have a certain position, some people may not agree and they do whatever they can to get you disqualified from your position.”

Ernest Atkins, another Harlem resident waiting on a northbound bus, was able to draw the lines between Cuomo’s leadership and misdeeds. He found that while Cuomo was an effective governor, any inappropriate behavior should be grounds for removal.

“My mother used to tell me, ‘I support you to the day I die, but if you’re wrong, you’re wrong,’” Atkins said.