Outgoing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to feel like he was railroaded out of his job. During an August 10 news conference where he announced his plan to resign in two weeks, Cuomo acknowledged behaving boorishly but insisted he didn’t sexually harass any of the 11 women who have accused him of that. “I never crossed the line with anyone,” Cuomo said, “but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
Given that he’s finally resigning, maybe it doesn’t matter how the 63-year-old Cuomo rationalizes his actions on his way out the door. But if Cuomo were a CEO instead of a governor, he would have been gone months ago, with far less control over the timing of his departure or the accompanying narrative. And as a politician rather than a businessman, Cuomo may have better luck with the comeback he’s undoubtedly hoping for.
The Cuomo allegations first surfaced last December, when a former aide claimed publicly that Cuomo harassed her and then demoted her when she spurned his advances. Another woman alleged harassment in February, followed by several more. New York Attorney General Letitia James began an investigation in March. Her findings, released August 3, document numerous cases of harassment and claim Cuomo presided over a “toxic” workplace. James said Cuomo’s behavior broke federal and state law.
That adds up to eight months from the time of the first public allegation against Cuomo to his decision to resign. Nobody should be forced out of a job simply because of an allegation. It could be false, and public officials have the same right to defend their behavior and reputation as anybody else. But multiple allegations by credible people who have similar stories and are willing to publicly identify themselves changes things. It doesn’t mean the accused is guilty, but it does mean he (and it’s usually he) can no longer do his job effectively or represent the interests of those he’s accountable to.
CEOs damaging the brand
If Cuomo had been CEO of a public company, the board probably would have fired him around the time of the second or third allegation. A corporate board doesn’t determine guilt or innocence. It determines if the CEO is ably serving the interests of shareholders, employees and customers. If he or she is not, the boss needs to leave. This is hardly a perfect system, and there are plenty of abuses. Yet it seems to work better than dynamics in politics, where you can damage the brand and still keep your job—until behind-the-scenes power brokers finally quit on you.
McDonald’s fired CEO Steve Easterbrook in 2019 for a consensual relationship—not involving harassment—that violated company policy about executives being romantically involved with employees. Intel fired CEO Brian Krzanich for a similar reason in 2018. CEOs fired for harassment or sexual misconduct include Les Moonves of CBS, and Roger Ailes of Fox and the monstrous film producer Harvey Weinstein. The list of harassing CEOs at lesser-known firms is much longer. In 2019, sexual misconduct became the top reason companies canned their CEOs. Before that, it was poor financial performance.
Many of those lecherous CEOs were once titans who exercised iron-fisted control over their firms, which is probably why they figured they could get away with anything. Cuomo ran New York’s executive branch in a similar way, with a reputation for bullying and retaliating against those who crossed him. Yet Cuomo held power longer after scandal broke than those creepy businessmen, because impeaching a governor is even more difficult than firing a CEO.
Disgraced businesspeople do have an ability to resume their careers, provided they don’t end up in jail and they stay out of the limelight. There are many privately owned businesses that don’t necessarily want negative publicity, but are willing to overlook a sullied reputation for execs who can bring in money or boost performance. Cuomo, assuming he survives civil and criminal litigation, could also have a lucrative second act if he put his considerable political skill to work as a consultant working quietly on behalf of clients.
But Cuomo is also an egomaniac who seems to require public attention and the power of being the one in charge. There’s already speculation he may run for New York governor during the next election, just 15 months from now. He’s probably thinking of Bill Clinton’s comeback after Clinton’s 1998 cheating scandal, or Donald Trump’s surprise election as president in 2016 just days after the publication of the lewd Hollywood Access tapes. Clinton and Trump were lucky to be politicians, too.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips, and click here to get Rick’s stories by email.