Crisis-hit Cuomo Faces Loss of Pandemic Emergency Powers

Demonstrators hold signs as they gather outside the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office calling for his resignation, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Jonathan Allen

The New York legislature plans to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of coronavirus emergency powers, lawmakers said on Tuesday, following admissions the governor‘s office withheld data about the Covid-19 death toll among nursing home residents.

Cuomo faces mounting crises and investigations both over the nursing home scandal and accusations of sexual harassment by two women who worked for him.

A senior aide to Cuomo last month admitted the governor‘s office withheld requested death toll data, angering state lawmakers over what they perceived as a cover-up. The aide said Cuomo feared the revelation would prompt then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, to launch a federal investigation.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a joint statement they were close to passing legislation to end powers granted Cuomo at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year.

Passage could come as soon as Friday, said Jonathan Heppner, a spokesman for the state Senate majority.

FILE PHOTO: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers remarks on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., November 15, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

According to the statement, which made no mention of the scandals facing Cuomo, many existing measures regarding vaccination distribution and social distancing would remain in place, but the governor would no longer have the power to modify rules unilaterally. Instead, he must consult with lawmakers.

“These temporary emergency powers were granted as New York was devastated by a virus we knew nothing about,” Heastie said. “Now it is time for our government to return to regular order.”

Cuomo‘s office did not respond to a request for comment. The governor, who normally holds news conferences multiple times a week, has not taken questions from the press since Feb. 22 and has not made public appearances since Thursday.

One of the nation’s best-known Democratic politicians, Cuomo rose to national stardom for his leadership at the start of the pandemic, when New York was the country’s COVID-19 epicenter.

Democratic lawmakers in the state have complained that Cuomo governs using threats and intimidation.

In January, the state attorney general’s office said the health department may have undercounted the COVID-19 death toll among state nursing home residents by as much as 50%.

Cuomo has also been accused by two former aides of engaging in a series of unwanted, sexually suggestive comments, and in one case an unsolicited kiss.

On Sunday, he apologized if any of his remarks or behavior were misinterpreted as flirtatious and said he never tried to make anyone feel uncomfortable. He said he never physically touched anyone.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has promised an independent investigation into the accusations.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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