As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) announced his resignation on Tuesday afternoon, he presented New Yorkers with a familiar image — one he’s conjured at dozens of news conferences, on CNN, and in the glossy pages of People magazine: Andrew Cuomo, father of daughters.
“In many ways, I see the world through the eyes of my daughters: Cara, Mariah, and Michaela,” Cuomo said at the Tuesday news conference. As allegations of sexual harassment against him have surfaced, Cuomo said, “I have seen the look in their eyes, and the expression on their faces, and it hurt.”
“I want them to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I never did, and I never would, intentionally disrespect a woman, or treat any woman differently than I would want them treated.”
Speaking directly to his daughters, he said, “Your dad made mistakes, and he apologized, and he learned from it, and that’s what life is all about.”
A 165-page state investigation, published Aug. 3 by New York Attorney General Letitia James, found that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 current and former state employees, violating state and federal law. He touched women without their consent, according to the report, and created a workplace culture where employees felt scared to speak out. Many Democratic leaders, including President Biden, called for Cuomo’s resignation. At the state level, New York legislators made it clear that they planned to impeach Cuomo if he did not resign.
As viewers watched Cuomo’s resignation, many were frustrated to see him invoke his twin daughters, 22, and his elder daughter, 25. Male public figures often lean on women in their family when discussing sexual misconduct and #MeToo allegations, attempting to paint themselves as particularly sympathetic and attuned to the issue. By reminding New Yorkers, again, of his role as a father, Cuomo seemed to be “deflecting,” said 27-year-old New Yorker Elly Belle, and using his daughters “as a shield.”
When male politicians invoke wives and daughters in these kinds of situations, they are trying to “reframe the narrative,” said Melissa Deckman, a politics professor at Washington College who studies the #MeToo movement. With this approach, she said, Cuomo is hoping he can convince viewers to see him in a different way — as a loving family man, rather than a politician who would grope his executive assistant under her blouse.
“He’s saying, ‘Look, I’m a good guy. I’m a dad. I’m not necessarily what these women claim that I am.”
Belle, a writer based in Brooklyn, was not surprised to hear Cuomo reference his daughters on Tuesday. Watching the news conference in their kitchen, they were reminded of the public face Cuomo has projected throughout the pandemic.
“It felt like he really strategically tried to create this picture of himself as a family man,” Belle said.
As New York City hospitals reached capacity in the spring of 2020, with hundreds of New Yorkers dying of covid-19 every day, Cuomo addressed people across the state, and the country, in regular news conferences and conversations with his brother Chris Cuomo on CNN. In these appearances, he frequently discussed his daughters, who quarantined with him in the governor’s mansion. He referenced one daughter’s boyfriend, who also quarantined with the family, so frequently that “the boyfriend” was featured in an official coronavirus map issued by New York state in July.
Amid all the tragedy, Cuomo told People in June 2020, his time with his daughters was “a silver lining.”
“Everyone ate it up,” said Belle, especially older people. “It’s part of his brand.”
But on Tuesday afternoon, many said they were sickened by Cuomo’s decision to call out his daughters, regarding his statements as a political ploy.
By resigning, rather than allowing himself to be impeached, Cuomo leaves the door open to hold public office again in the future. When he crafted his Tuesday remarks, Belle said, he was trying to protect his legacy, reminding New Yorkers of the things they liked about him before 11 women accused him of sexual harassment. (Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
“He wants to build a story,” they said — but Cuomo should not have that power. Instead, they added, the people who have been harmed by Cuomo should decide how he is remembered.
“He is trying to wriggle out of going down a certain way in history,” they said. “I don’t think we should let him.”