Some donors sticking with Cuomo after harassment allegations
Albany, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's political star was dimmed by allegations he sexually harassed women and misled the public about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
But will that hurt him with campaign donors?
Some of the Democrat's most reliable political contributors — including unions, wealthy executives and Democratic Party officials — say they still plan to give money to his expected campaign for a fourth term in office.
The governor is planning a $10,000 per-person fundraiser for June 29 in New York City. It will be one of his first big, in-person events to raise money for his campaign since the coronavirus pandemic began. He’s also hosting a $25 per-person virtual fundraiser in July.
The full picture of whether the allegations hurt Cuomo with contributors might become clearer on July 15, when his campaign has to disclose donations made since January.
At least some donors say they are sticking with him.
“Yes I am,” said Larry Rockefeller, the Republican nephew of former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and great-grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller. He has donated nearly $166,000 to Cuomo since 2009. Rockefeller cited Cuomo's leadership during the pandemic, on the environment and on public works like the redevelopment of Penn Station, and LaGuardia Airport.
“We have due process in this country,” Rockefeller said, referring to allegations made against Cuomo.
State and federal investigators are probing allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed employees and other women, groped a current female aide, unlawfully used state resources for a $5.1 million book deal and minimized the state’s toll of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents to suggest that New York’s crisis wasn’t as bad as other states.
Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing. He’s questioned the motives of his accusers and some of his investigators, including Attorney General Letitia James.
A request for comment was left with his campaign.
Polling suggests Cuomo lost some support from Democrats this year but he resisted numerous calls for his resignation last March from a majority of state and federal Democratic lawmakers.
Many Democratic politicians and the leaders of New York institutions and companies have continued to appear with him at events.
Ed Christian, business manager of Local 1414B, a Flushing chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers, said Cuomo has been a “tremendous advocate" who the union would continue to support financially.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Christian said, citing, like Rockefeller, the rebuilding of Penn Station and LaGuardia Airport.
“It’s construction projects that will allow for us to feed our families,” he said. Chapters of the union, whose members operate heavy equipment at construction sites, have donated over $145,000 to Cuomo's campaigns in past years.
Scott Rechler, a donor who was appointed by Cuomo to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and as vice chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, plans to give again, too, according to his spokesperson David Garten.
He didn't know if Rechler would withdraw support if the investigations of Cuomo substantiate wrongdoing.
“That’s a bit of a hypothetical,” Garten said. “We have no idea what the report says. We’ll see what it says and go from there.”
Cuomo had a campaign war chest of $16.8 million going into 2021, built over the years from donors like real estate titan Dan Tishman, hedge fund manager James Simons, Walmart heir Jim Walton, fertilizer tycoon-turned-investor Alexander Rovt and Estee Lauder magnates William and Leonard Lauder.
Simons, Walton, Rovt and both Lauders didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment on whether they would keep giving. Tishman — whose construction company won a $35 million state contract last year — declined comment through a spokesperson.
James, the attorney general, hasn't said when she expects her team of investigators to complete their investigation of Cuomo's treatment of women. She has vowed to issue a public report when their work is done.
The state Assembly's committee is also investigating whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, meanwhile, are examining how the Cuomo administration mishandled data related to deaths in New York nursing homes.
Longtime Cuomo ally and state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs in early March called sexual misconduct allegations against Cuomo “upsetting,” but he has also called for party members to withhold judgment until James' office completes its probe.
“With the assumption that these results don’t cause a cataclysmic result, and if the governor then chooses to run for re-election, my guess is that most if not all of the people who’ve been with him before will be with him again,” Jacobs said in an interview this week.
The nation’s largest labor union for property service workers, SEIU 32BJ, which has contributed $95,000 to Cuomo through its American Dream Fund in the past five years, hasn’t ruled out contributing to Cuomo’s reelection campaign.
Union spokesperson Carolina González said it has been focused on New York City's mayoral primary and doesn’t plan to make a decision on the governor’s race until later this year.
“Cuomo’s still the governor, and he will continue to be the governor until he’s not by whatever reason,” she said. “The investigations that are happening still haven’t finished. There’s really nothing for us to say until that process is done.”