By MARSHA MERCER
In Dante’s “Inferno,” hypocrites are found deep in hell, forced to walk in circles while wearing gilded robes that appear dazzling but are heavy with lead.
The eternal punishment reflects hypocrites’ outward profession of virtue, belied by their private corrupt actions.
Dante’s focus was on hypocritical religious leaders, but the punishment could apply to other hypocritical leaders as well.
And that brings us to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the scion of one of America’s great political families, and his stunning descent into political hell.
Just a year ago, as the federal government dithered over how to fight the coronavirus pandemic and New York became its epicenter, Cuomo’s calm leadership was a balm to the nation.
His daily news briefings became must-watch events nationwide, and he was even considered a possible Democratic presidential contender.
Cuomo insisted his sights were set on 2022 and a fourth term as governor, a prize that had eluded his father. Mario Cuomo also served three terms as New York governor but was defeated on his fourth bid in 1994 by Republican George Pataki. Democrats tried twice to persuade Mario Cuomo to run for president, but he declined. He died in 2015.
Son Andrew Cuomo married into political royalty. His ex-wife, Kerry Kennedy, the mother of their three daughters – twins, 26, and a 23 year old -- is a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. The couple divorced in 2005 after 15 years of marriage.
Publicly, Cuomo was a righteous defender of women, saying God told him he was a feminist “when He gave me three daughters.”
In 2018, he tweeted, “Only a political skeptic could find a reason to disbelieve” Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault decades earlier, when they were in high school.
Calling Blasey Ford’s charges against Kavanaugh “disturbing and deeply concerning,” Cuomo signaled his virtue with such tweets as “We owe it to the American people to #BelieveSurvivors.”
In 2019, he signed into law a revision of New York’s sexual harassment law, removing the requirement that harassment needed to be “severe or pervasive,” which made it easier for victims to seek justice.
We now know there was a lot going on behind closed doors in Albany and elsewhere as Cuomo’s inappropriate behavior went unchecked and covered up.
This bad behavior wasn’t decades ago. The first young woman came forward in December to accuse the governor of kissing her without her consent in 2018. Others followed, some telling stories of more recent harassment.
The slow drip of allegations culminated in a flood Tuesday when the New York attorney general reported, after a meticulous investigation, that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women.
“I believe these 11 women,” Attorney General Letitia James, a former ally of Cuomo, said, as she released the report of 165 pages and 1,371 footnotes.
“Specifically, we find that the Governor sexually harassed a number of current and former New York State employees by, among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching, as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women,” the report said, adding that the behavior extended beyond his staff to other state employees and members of the public.
Cuomo is resisting calls to resign by President Joe Biden, once an ally, several Democratic governors and members of Congress. If he stays, he likely faces impeachment and removal from office. Plus, four county district attorneys are weighing criminal charges.
Cuomo thus becomes the latest powerful politician to believe the rules don’t apply to them. They never learn.
Cuomo himself seems confused. He apologized in March for making anyone uncomfortable but denies harassing anyone.
His pathetic defense this week is that he comes from a different “cultural and generational” background, claiming his hugging and kissing the young women reflects his Italian-American roots. That’s offensive to those of us who share Italian heritage. At age 63, he claims he sometimes slips and calls someone “honey” or “sweetheart.”
It’s 2021, and he of all people should know the difference between light banter and sexual harassment.
Cuomo’s fall from grace is shocking, but he brought it on himself. Instead of walking in circles, he should clear out his desk.
©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.