Cut off from power, longtime friends and a political platform, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has struggled for months to salvage a reputation that was all but destroyed when he resigned amid a slew of sexual harassment allegations.
On Monday, Mr. Cuomo tried a new approach: spending his way out of the political wilderness.
According to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm, Mr. Cuomo’s still-active campaign account began spending $369,000 to air a television advertisement across the state — a media blitz designed not to support or attack a political candidate or even to apologize to New Yorkers, but to brazenly recast himself as the victim of politically motivated “attacks.”
The 30-second spot that began running Monday on broadcast and cable splices together recent news snippets in an attempt to misleadingly convince New Yorkers that the entire misconduct case assembled by the state attorney general, Letitia James, against Mr. Cuomo had crumbled since he left office in August.
“Political attacks won,” the advertisement concludes. “And New Yorkers lost a proven leader.”
The unusual decision by a disgraced former politician to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on television immediately led to speculation about whether Mr. Cuomo, who does not speak in the ad, was trying to soften the ground for a political comeback or simply recover his legacy.
Mr. Cuomo and his lawyers have made no secret of his preoccupation with doing the latter, but for now there are no real signs that he is planning a campaign to try to reclaim the governorship or win any other office. Despite the size of his recent ad buy, it was modest compared with the millions often spent on statewide campaigns in New York.
Indeed, reality has been less kind to Mr. Cuomo than the advertisement suggests.
Though a handful of county prosecutors have declined to press criminal charges arising from the report, as the clips in the ad indicate, several of the prosecutors also said they found the allegations that Mr. Cuomo had harassed women or groped them without their consent “credible.”
And while Mr. Cuomo’s lawyer has criticized Ms. James for failing to initially disclose certain information that the lawyer argues raises questions about the credibility of three of his 11 accusers, a separate report by the State Assembly found “overwhelming evidence” that the former governor had committed misconduct.
Broadly speaking, Mr. Cuomo and his lawyers appear to be claiming exoneration based on the lack of criminal charges, while largely sidestepping the fact that Ms. James’s investigators, lawmakers in the former governor’s own party and a majority of New Yorkers believe the accusations were true. When Mr. Cuomo resigned, lawmakers were poised to begin impeachment proceedings based on that belief, as well.
Nor are the governor’s legal problems entirely resolved. In mid-February, a state trooper brought a civil suit accusing the former governor and his top aide of discrimination and retaliation; the trooper had previously accused Mr. Cuomo of touching her inappropriately when she was part of his protective detail.
Mr. Cuomo has also faced state and federal inquiries related to his handling of deaths in nursing homes during the pandemic, and a $5.1 million memoir written with the help of state employees.
Women’s rights organizations and an array of New York politicians across the political spectrum immediately denounced Mr. Cuomo’s public relations campaign as records of his ad buys began surfacing.
“Instead of accepting responsibility, serial sexual harasser Andrew Cuomo continues to challenge the accounts of victims,” nine women’s rights organizations wrote in a joint statement on Monday. “This attempt to claim exoneration won’t work.”
Representative Elise Stefanik, a North Country Republican and longtime critic of the former three-term Democratic governor, called it “desperately deranged.”
The ad does not mention Ms. James by name, but in a statement, Delaney Kempner, a spokeswoman for Ms. James, called it “shameful.”
“The only thing Andrew Cuomo has proven himself to be is a serial sexual harasser and a threat to women in the workplace — no TV ad can change that,” she said. “It’s shameful that after multiple investigations found Cuomo’s victims to be credible, he continues to attack their accounts rather than take responsibility for his own actions.”
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said that it was Ms. James who should take responsibility for what he described as the “craven politics and prosecutorial misconduct that permeated this process.” He said Mr. Cuomo’s team “will not rest” until it has fully shared that message with New Yorkers.
“Accusations fly around the world at the speed of light, but the truth crawls at a snail’s pace,” Mr. Azzopardi said.
The ad, which was paid for by Mr. Cuomo’s longtime campaign committee, now retitled “Friends of Andrew Cuomo,” did begin to answer what has been one of the most vexing questions in New York politics for months: What would Mr. Cuomo do with the millions left in his campaign account when he left office?
As of January, when he was required to file a public financial disclosure report, the only real signs of activity were steep legal bills and payments to his longtime spokesman. The filing showed Mr. Cuomo still had $16.4 million in cash at his disposal.
Since then, Mr. Cuomo, 64, has grown gradually bolder in his defense. His lawyers and aides have grown increasingly caustic in their attacks on Ms. James, whom Mr. Cuomo personally authorized to investigate claims of misconduct against him.
In a rare public interview earlier this month, Mr. Cuomo told Bloomberg News that he had been “vindicated” and that he regretted his decision to resign. And in private conversations, he has indicated that he wants to speak about the case in public.
But one person who has spoken with Mr. Cuomo in recent weeks said they did not get the sense he was planning to run for office this cycle. Another person who spoke with his team this month came away with the same impression.
And amid speculation that Mr. Cuomo might challenge Ms. James on the ballot, his spokesman, Richard Azzopardi, subsequently said that he did not plan to run for attorney general, an office Mr. Cuomo held from 2007 to 2010.
Most New Yorkers do not appear interested in a comeback. A Siena College poll released last week showed that 80 percent of registered voters think Mr. Cuomo was right to resign, and 58 percent believe the allegations that he sexually harassed multiple aides. Only 25 percent of voters said that he had been vindicated by the disclosures that Mr. Cuomo’s lawyers have used to try to undermine several of his accusers.
Many of Mr. Cuomo’s former allies in government, the labor movement and private industry have simply moved on after years of fierce loyalty. Last week at its convention in Manhattan, the New York State Democratic Party overwhelmingly voted to endorse Gov. Kathy Hochul, his successor, for a full term, and she has taken a commanding lead in public opinion polls.
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