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“Unfit to Lead”: NY State Sen. Biaggi Says Gov. Cuomo Impeachment Proceedings Should Start Now

StoryAugust 10, 2021
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Lawmakers in New York are preparing impeachment proceedings against Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo after the state attorney general found Cuomo harassed at least 11 women in violation of the law — including unwanted touching and kissing, and inappropriate remarks. Cuomo’s former executive assistant, Brittany Commisso, has filed a criminal complaint against him, and other cases are expected to follow. “The governor is unfit to lead,” says New York state Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who first called on Cuomo to resign in February. She says the damage Cuomo has inflicted goes beyond sexual harassment and includes the state’s COVID relief programs, nursing homes deaths, transit funding and more. “It is very important that we act with a serious sense of urgency.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

New York state lawmakers are moving ahead with preparations for impeachment proceedings against Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo after the explosive report from the New York Attorney General’s Office found Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women in violation of the law, including unwanted touching, kissing, inappropriate remarks. The New York state Judiciary Committee is wrapping up its own impeachment investigation. Last week, Cuomo’s former executive assistant, Brittany Commisso, filed a criminal complaint against him. Other lawsuits are expected.

We’re joined now by Alessandra Biaggi, New York state senator representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester. She first called on Cuomo to resign in February. Now his top assistant has just resigned.

The circle is closing very quickly, state Senator Biaggi. Can you talk about what’s happening in the state Legislature and what you’re demanding of Governor Cuomo now?

SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: Sure. So, thank you very much for having me on, Amy. I really appreciate being here.

I think that the most important thing for your viewers and also especially for New Yorkers to know is that right now the governor of New York, who has been found to have violated both state and federal laws, not only for sexual harassment, but also for retaliation, amongst other things, including a toxic workplace environment, is in a position where those around him, those closest to him are starting to resign. He has not resigned, as I just mentioned. So that means that myself and many other lawmakers are calling on impeachment to begin immediately.

Why do I say immediately? Because the moment upon which the Assembly begins the impeachment process — the impeachment process, by the way, begins in the Assembly, who votes on the articles of impeachment — the moment that they do that and hand those articles of impeachment to the Senate is the moment that Governor Cuomo has to step aside, and the Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul has to step in, until the end of the proceedings. And so, that is a very important process to begin, because, as evidenced by probably not only this report by the AG, but probably many other things that New Yorkers and your viewers know, the governor is unfit to lead.

And so, the delay in the impeachment proceedings, which we are seeing happen in the Assembly right now, is just delaying the accountability of Governor Cuomo, because the AG’s report is not a full accountability. It is simply a set of findings. It’s a very substantiated, credible and important set of findings, but it is only that. It is only findings. It is not a method of accountability.

And so, it is our job as legislators in New York to move forward as quickly as possible, because the harm that Governor Cuomo is causing every single day that he’s in office does go beyond the 11 women that he’s sexually harassed. It extends into things like COVID relief. It extends into things like our MTA. It extends into things like accountability, again, for nursing home deaths. There are so many things that this governor has been involved with that lead us to understand that he is no longer fit for office. And so, that is why it is very important that we act with a serious sense of urgency.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Senator, I wanted to ask you about the issue — you worked in the governor’s executive chamber at times, and you’ve described it as, quote, “the most dark period I have lived through in a workplace setting.” Could you talk about that? And also, you mentioned resignations. The importance of Melissa DeRosa, the top aide to the governor, suddenly resigning over the weekend? Could you comment on both of those?

SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: I would be happy to. So, I think I would like to begin just by commenting on the resignation of Melissa DeRosa, who I’m sure you both know, but maybe your viewers don’t know, is somebody who has really been an enabler of the governor. The governor has not acted alone. He has acted with impunity, with the help of the people who are closest to him. And Melissa DeRosa is absolutely one of those people. In fact, her name appears in the AG’s report many times. And you see her trying to not only make efforts to retaliate against Lindsey Boylan, one of the 11 accusers, but what you see her do also is make comments that are not only outside of the realm of public service or outside of the ethos of public service, but are absolutely antithetical to public service.

And so, through my experience in the chamber, which I, again, have talked about many times — my experience, almost from day one, was one where it was very clear to me that the executive chamber was run solely to serve the needs of Andrew Cuomo. It was not to serve the needs of New Yorkers. And so, this was carried out in a way that was undermining of staff, yelling at staff. It was what felt like, in so many ways, a whiplash between you have value, but you are valueless. And that experience of really what was gaslighting made many people live in a constant state of fear, a fear that maybe you would lose your job, a fear that you would be embarrassed, a fear that you did something wrong and would be sidelined and no longer included on projects. And that collective experience, of course, is what is part of the toxic workplace environment. But really what it lends itself to is the point that the executive chamber is run where the loyalty to the governor is the currency that is the most important currency in the chamber.

AMY GOODMAN: You have your own experience with Governor Cuomo outside of working for him, when you saw him after you worked for him. And you talk about his actions to you as continually trying to show who has power. Can you describe that very briefly?

SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: Absolutely. So, I saw Governor Cuomo during the 2018 election cycle at a wedding. When I went to go say hello to him, he pulled me into him. He kissed my forehead twice. He kissed my eye twice. And he turned — while he was still holding onto me, turned to my fiancé, who is now my husband — and at the time — and he said to him, “Are you jealous?” That was not him, in my opinion, sexualizing me. That was him asserting power over me and trying to make it very clear, not only to me, but to my fiancé, that he was in control and that he was in charge.

And that kind of behavior is exactly the kind of behavior that we see described amongst the 11 women, amongst other people who have been inside of his executive chamber, and beyond. And so, I think what this is very clearly demonstrating is that this pattern of abuse of power is something that has been going on not just now, not just in 2019, ’18 or ’17, but for decades. And so, this is the thing that I believe not only will lend itself to accountability, but it is important because if we do not hold this person accountable, effectively, what we are saying is that there are no standards for sexual harassment in the state of New York. And that is an absolutely unacceptable conclusion to make.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have said, if he goes through these impeachment proceedings and doesn’t resign before — by the way, he has three daughters in their twenties — they will widen the investigation to include, for example, covering up nursing home deaths. We have 30 seconds.

SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: Yes. And so, you know, there are things beyond, again, just the sexual harassment claims, which are serious and sufficient in their own right to begin impeachment proceedings, but the nursing home deaths, where he covered up the deaths, the number of deaths, so that he could make it seem as if he had done a better job than he did. Why? So that he could get a book deal, a book deal that allowed him to make $5 million and profit during a time when the state of New York not only was the state with the largest number of deaths, but the state that had the greatest amount of need, with a leader who was more concerned, again, with serving his own needs rather than the needs of New Yorkers and protecting the most vulnerable, those who were in nursing homes. And the result of that was that we lost 15,000 elderly because of decisions that he made that were uninformed and irresponsible.

AMY GOODMAN: Alessandra Biaggi, we want to thank you for being with us, New York state senator representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester, called on Andrew Cuomo to resign since February. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.

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