Opinion: Crisis, investigation and resignation

Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Darren McGee

Machiavelli said, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.”

While Machiavelli’s been dead for nearly 500 years, the sentiment remains true and applicable. Why is it applicable? Because during a time of crisis, people are willing to do and accept things they wouldn’t have before and won’t, after.

It’s why here in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was granted extraordinary powers to handle the COVID crisis. Fortunately, it seems that the legislature will repeal his added powers soon. That’s a welcome return to normalcy. Unlike the pandemic, Cuomo’s latest crisis is self-inflicted, as three different women have no accused him of sexual harassment. 

Based on polling and public statements on whether or not the governor should resign, there is not — at least not yet — a clear consensus about what should be, or what is next for Cuomo. However, there is a consensus that it should be full and independently investigated.

In New York State, no matter how clear the crisis, that isn’t constitutionally guaranteed.

To start the process, it requires an official referral from the governor’s office authorizing Attorney General (and Brooklyn’s own) Tish James to investigate and start the probe. Yes, a governor is required, but not obligated, to greenlight an investigation of himself. From there, the AG’s investigators would compile a report of their findings. They can choose to make a criminal or civil referral for prosecution, ask the legislature to consider sanctions or impeachment, or bring it to the Joint Commission On Public Ethics (JCOPE).

I have confidence in AG James — especially after she reported on the governor’s office’s handling of COVID at nursing homes — to truly investigate these serious allegations. One doesn’t have to be a lawyer, or state constitutional scholar, to recognize that too many hoops have to be jumped through in this process.

Fortunately, the state legislature is moving in that direction. Brooklyn Assemblymember Robert Carroll is the prime sponsor of a constitutional amendment to replace JCOPE and the Legislative Ethics Commission with an Independent Integrity Commission. Those being investigated wouldn’t be choosing the appointees.

New York won’t become an ethical paradise overnight, but the rate of resignations has been problematic for a long time. The current crisis and attention being paid to Cuomo are forcing people to think about this issue anew with an opportunity to get it right, this time with real structural change. Those who abuse their power can and should be held accountable.