- Son of former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo
- Served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Bill Clinton administration
- Former New York State attorney general
- Was elected governor of New York State in 2010
Andrew Cuomo was born December 6, 1957 in Queens, New York. His father, Mario Cuomo, was an attorney who would later serve as governor of New York State, from 1983-94.
In 1977, Andrew, who was attending Fordham University, managed his father's New York City mayoral campaign against Ed Koch, the eventual winner. After graduating from Fordham in 1979, Cuomo earned a J.D. at Albany Law School in 1982. That same year, he managed his father's winning gubernatorial campaign and subsequently took a job as senior adviser to the governor in the state Capitol.
In 1984 Andrew Cuomo left Albany and became an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. He later joined a private law firm and, in 1986, founded the Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged, a nonprofit group that brought together government agencies and private developers to construct housing for the homeless.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Cuomo to replace Henry Cisneros as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In this role, Cuomo was instrumental in forcing lending institutions—including the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—to dramatically increase their approval rates for mortgage loans to undercapitalized minority applicants who failed to meet traditional borrowing criteria. (Many of these were subprime loans, which ultimately helped trigger the housing-market crisis of 2008.) At a 1998 press conference, Cuomo bragged about having reached a multi-billion-dollar settlement with a major lender, even as he acknowledged that many of the mandated loans would never be paid back.
In 2002 Cuomo returned to New York and made an unsuccessful run for governor. The following year, his bitter separation from his wife, Kerry Kennedy, left Cuomo's political future in doubt.
As he geared up for a return to the world of politics, Cuomo in 2003 publicly laid bare his political values and vision. Lamenting “the widening gulf between the wealthy and everyone else,” he declared that “true Democrats” are “aggressive progressives” who pursue “social justice, economic justice, and racial justice” by contunuously “challeng[ing] the status quo, norms, and biases.” This approach, said Cuomo, was a prerequisite to the creation of “a purely just and compassionate society ... where no child sleeps in poverty, where there are no victims of discrimination, where everyone has clean, decent and affordable housing, where each child receives a high-quality public education, [and] where there is a safety net for people who require assistance.”
Also in 2003, Cuomo, viewing the United States as a nation rife with racism and inequity, said that “our housing stock remains largely segregated, as do our schools,” chiefly because of persistent discrimination.
When New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer ran for governor in 2006, Cuomo won Spitzer's vacated seat by defeating Republican Jeanine Pirro, former Westchester County district attorney. A key supporter of Cuomo's campaign was the Service Employees International Union Local 1199.
In 2010, Cuomo was elected governor of New York State, easily defeating Republican opponent Carl Paladino. While campaigning, Cuomo accepted the endorsement of the Working Families Party, an ACORN front group.
In 2011 Cuomo created a Minority- and Women-Owned Business Task Force, dedicated to doubling the number of state contracts awarded to nonwhite- and female-headed business enterprises. He also hailed the passage of the Marriage Equality Act, which, Cuomo said, would “gran[t] same-sex couples the freedom to marry under the law, and the hundreds of accompanying rights, benefits, and protections that have previously been limited to married couples of the opposite sex.”
In the aftermath of the December 14, 2012 shootings that killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Cuomo urged his state legislature to enact the strictest gun laws in the nation. Among the provisions Cuomo advocated were: “close the private sale loophole by requiring federal background checks”; “enact tougher penalties for illegal gun use”; and “create a state check on all ammunition purchases.”
Demanding also a “ban high-capacity magazines,” Cuomo sought to outlaw any magazines holding more than 7 rounds. “No one hunts with an assault rifle,” the governor shouted. “No one needs ten bullets to kill a deer! Too many innocent people have died already! End the madness now!” Cuomo's legislation (known as the Safe Act) subsequently had to be revised, however, when the governor learned that seven-round magazines did not exist; thus he consented to making ten-round magazines legal in New York. He stipulated, however, that gun owners would not be permitted to load more than seven rounds into those magazines. Magazines holding more than ten rounds would have to be modified, discarded, or sold to an out-of-state dealer by January 15, 2014.
Cuomo's Positions on Various Key Issues
By Cuomo's reckoning, “economic justice” requires that “anyone who works full-time should live above poverty.” Thus has the governor long decried “a system that is stacked in favor of the privileged few who have the wherewithal and access to put their narrow interests above the public's interest.” As a means of serving that interest, Cuomo in 2013 proposed raising the state's minimum wage from an “unlivable” $7.25-per-hour to $8.75-per-hour, because “it's the right thing to do, it's the fair thing to do, [and] it is long overdue.” Later that year, the governor called for a $9.00-per-hour minimum wage, coupled with a “minimum wage reimbursement credit” that would use public funds to cover more than three-fourths of the pay increase. By February 2015, he was advocating an "anti-poverty plan" that featured a statewide minimum wage of $10.50-per-hour, and $11.50 in New York City. “The New York City market is arguably the most expensive in the United States of America,” said Cuomo, “and it is a much more expensive market than other parts of the state, so it makes sense to me to have a two-tiered minimum wage.”
In July 2015, Cuomo praised the New York Wage Board's unanimous decision to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15-per-hour by the end of 2018 in New York City, and by 2021 in the rest of the state. The three-member board had been formed two months earlier at Cuomo's behest, after the state legislature had rejected the governor's proposals for minimum wage increases for most workers. Lauding the decision as an "inspirational" and "progressive" move, Cuomo said at a rally celebrating the vote: "This is going to help hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, but this is going to do something else. Because when New York acts, the rest of the states follow.... This is one of the really great days of my administration." He later posted the following message on Twitter: "You cannot live and support a family on $18,000 in the State of NY, period. That's why we have to raise the minimum wage."
In 2013 Cuomo called for the passage of a Women's Equality Act which would “shatter the glass ceiling by passing a real equal pay law—treble damages for underpayment or discrimination”; “end family status discrimination”; and “protect a woman's freedom of choice.” That same year, the governor—who supports federal funding for abortion services—sought to pass a bill that would have: (a) radically expanded abortion-on-demand for reasons of “health”; (b) overturned a law barring abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother's life was at risk; and (c) authorized licensed healthcare practitioners, and not only physicians, to perform abortions. The bill died in the state senate.
Complaining that “stop-and-frisk” police policies routinely “stigmatize” and “criminalize” young, “predominately black and Hispanic males,” Cuomo maintains that the practice “must end now.” Calling for “newer and more effective [criminal-justice] methods” that place “a greater emphasis on prevention and on community-based alternatives to incarceration,” Cuomo in 2012 boasted that New York had “eliminated over 3,800 prison beds and 370 juvenile facility beds—because we finally accepted that prisons are not an economic development program.” “Incarcerating low- to medium-risk juveniles actually increases the likelihood of future offending,” he added.
Echoing the positions of the National Education Association and other pro-Democrat teachers unions, Cuomo favors universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. He also believes that private-school voucher programs—which permit parents to divert a portion of their tax liabilities away from the public-school system, and to use those funds instead to help cover the tuition costs for private schools to which they might prefer to send their children—“threaten to undermine our existing public schools” by siphoning money away from them.
On the business/environmental front, Cuomo believes that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human industrial activity contribute to potentially catastrophic global warming. To address this issue, he advocates the implementation of a cap-and-trade system that would impose taxes on companies whose emissions are deemed excessive. Cuomo also champions the principles of “environmental justice”—i.e., the elimination of sources of pollution (such as large bus depots or hazardous-waste landfills) from neighborhoods where they “have a disproportionate impact” on “racial and ethnic minority and low-income populations.”
Cuomo favors “a system of public funding of elections” that would “set limits on campaign spending and increase participation by candidates who otherwise would lack the means or connections to raise campaign funds.”
He also supports a single-payer, government-run healthcare system, and emphasizes government's duty to “provide social safety net services, such as food and shelter, to those in need.” In 2012, for instance, Cuomo said: “We must increase participation in the food stamp program, remove barriers to participation, and eliminate the stigma associated with this program. And we must stop fingerprinting for food”—a reference to the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients as a means of preventing fraud.
The Moreland Commission Scandal
With New York's state government in Albany rocked by what The New York Times described as “a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests,” Governor Cuomo in July 2013 ceremoniously appointed a high-powered panel known as the Moreland Commission to root out corruption in state politics over the next 18 months. Cuomo pledged that the commission would be “totally independent” and unhindered in its investigation: “Anything they want to look at, they can look at—me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.”
But barely two months into their probe, the commission's investigators, while looking for possible violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to Buying Time, a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party. At the time, the commission members did not realize that Cuomo himself was a client of Buying Time, which had produced ads for his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
When the governor's most senior aide, Lawrence Schwartz, learned of the subpoena soon after it had been issued, he called one of the Moreland Commission's three co-chairs, Syracuse district attorney William Fitzpatrick, and ordered him withdraw the subpoena. Fitzpatrick complied with Schwartz's demand, but others on the commission were outraged by what they perceived as an egregious level of interference with their work.
“The pulled-back subpoena was the most flagrant example of how the commission ... was hobbled almost from the outset by demands from the governor’s office,” said the Times. Indeed, a three-month investigation by the newspaper—wherein hundreds of emails, subpoenas and internal documents were reviewed, and dozens of commission members, employees, legislative staff members and other officials were interviewed—found that: “[T]he governor’s office [had] deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.... Mr. Cuomo’s aides repeatedly pressured the commission.”
On one occasion, said the Times, “Schwartz specifically told the commission’s co-chairs that the governor himself was off limits” to their investigation. And “never far from the action was Mr. Cuomo himself,” the paper emphasized, “making the most of the levers of power at his disposal and operating behind closed doors in ways that sometimes appeared at odds with his public statements.”
These intrusions into the commission's work caused a great deal of dissension and animosity among its members, some of whom were convinced that a Cuomo appointee was secretly monitoring their communications. Notably, few of the individuals interviewed by the Times agreed to be quoted by name, for fear of retribution by the governor or his aides.
Ultimately, Cuomo abruptly disbanded the commission after just 9 months. “The thing that bothered me the most is we were created with all this fanfare and the governor was going to clean up Albany,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters of New York State and a special adviser to the commission. “And it became purely a vehicle for the governor to get legislation. Another notch for his re-election campaign. That was it.”
A highly noteworthy individual who influenced Cuomo's decision to shut down the Moreland Commission was Sheldon Silver, the powerful and notoriously corrupt Speaker of the New York State Assembly. According to the Daily Mail: "[The commission] was investigating Silver's financial dealings and those of his colleagues. Silver had fought the commission's subpoenas and refused to provide information about his outside legal work." On January 22, 2015—just a day after Silver had shared the stage with Cuomo during the governor's annual State of the State address, Silver was arrested and charged in federal court with having taken more than $6 million in bribes and kickbacks disguised as legal fees.
Cuomo Orders State Government Emails to Be Purged After 3 Months
In June 2013 — a month before Cuomo created the aforementioned, short-lived Moreland Commission to investigate the corruption in which Albany was engulfed — the governor's administration had quietly instituted a policy whereby state workers’ e-mails were to be automatically deleted from the government's digital archives 90 days after they were transmitted, even though the state’s e-mail software was capable of storing approximately 30 years’ worth of messages for every state employee. Critics pointed out that such a policy could cause important or even incriminating information to be prematurely and permanently erased.
Dick Dadey, head of the civic watchdog group Citizens Union, was one of 20 advocates who condemned the policy in a letter to Cuomo. Said Dadey: “A 90-day e-mail retention policy flies in the face of [Gov. Cuomo’s] promise to have the most transparent and accountable state government in history. It can result in hiding a lot of state-government activity that should be known to the public.” Similarly, John Kaehny of the government-transparency group Reinvent Albany said: “Whether intentional or not, the 90-day deletion policy creates a new loophole: State employees can ‘forget’ to save potentially embarrassing e-mails knowing they will be automatically destroyed. A state employee doesn’t have to actively destroy an e-mail — and risk potential charges of destroying evidence or obstruction of justice — they can just forget to save that e-mail, which is not a crime.”
Following some 20 months of inconsistent compliance with Cuomo's email-deletion mandate, in February 2015 New York's chief information officer, Maggie Miller, issued a memo demanding that the governor's policy be followed strictly. In response to this directive, thousands of rank-and-file workers’ e-mail messages were purged from the state's computer system.
Smearing "Extreme Conservatives"
In a January 17, 2014 radio interview, Cuomo stated that conservative Republicans were in the midst of a schism against moderate members of their own party. Said Cuomo:
"Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are."
Funding College Education for Prison Inmates
On February 16, 2014, Cuomo announced the launch of a new statewide program to fund college-level courses at ten New York State prisons, giving inmates an opportunity to earn college degrees while serving their sentences. Said the governor in a press release:
“Giving men and women in prison the opportunity to earn a college degree costs our state less and benefits our society more. New York State currently spends $60,000 per year on every prisoner in our system, and those who leave have a 40 percent chance of ending up back behind bars. Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results.”
Cutting a Deal with the Working Families Party
As Cuomo prepared for his re-election bid in 2014, he aggressively pursued -- and received -- the endorsement of the politically influential Working Families Party. To achieve that result, Cuomo cut a deal with WFP in which, as The New York Times put it, the governor “promis[ed] to pursue a raft of progressive goals” that were important to WFP. In exchange for that pledge, WFP agreed to give its spot on the upcoming November ballot to Cuomo, rather than field another candidate of its own and thereby siphon many potential votes away from Cuomo.
Honoring Al Sharpton
Cuomo spent approximately 30 minutes at Al Sharpton's 60th birthday celebration at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City on October 1, 2014. “He [Sharpton] has grown immensely over the years,” Cuomo told the crowd. “And he’s no longer just New York’s Al Sharpton. He’s the nation’s Rev. Sharpton—and the nation is better for it.”
On November 4, 2014, Cuomo was reelected as governor of New York State, defeating Republican challenger Rob Astorino by a 54-to-41 percent margin.
Just a few days later, it was revealed that the state’s Senate Republican leader, Dean Skelos, had spent months secretly working to help Cuomo win re-election — in part by persuading Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a key influential Republican, to endorse Cuomo in October. In exchange for Skelos's help, Cuomo agreed to refrain from campaigning on behalf of Democratic state senate candidates on Long Island. As the New York Post reported: "If the governor made any appearance on behalf of a Democratic candidate on Long Island, it was a token in-and-out visit, with no follow-up and virtually no financial support, observers said."
Meeting With Jay Z Regarding NYPD Law Enforcement
On December 10, 2014, Cuomo held a policy meeting in his midtown Manhattan office with music mogul Jay Z on the subject of how New York police should enforce the laws. The governor’s spokeswoman, Melissa DeRosa, described the meeting as “a top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and how we can all work together to pass a reform package.”
Cuomo Orders Insurance Companies to Pay for Gender Reassignment Surgeries
In December 2014, Cuomo announced that healthcare insurers could no longer deny coverage of gender reassignment surgery or other sex-change procedures for transgender New Yorkers. At the governor's direction, the state Department of Financial Services (DFS) informed insurers that they "may not deny medically necessary treatment otherwise covered by a health insurance policy solely on the basis that the treatment is for gender dysphoria." Classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is a condition in which a person identifies with a gender that conflicts with the physical gender he or she was born with. Because New York state law requires insurance companies to cover the treatment of psychological disorders, said the DFS, patients with gender dysphoria were entitled to coverage for treatments such as surgery or hormone therapy. “Respecting the rights and dignity of all New Yorkers is paramount,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By taking this action, we are ensuring that principle rightfully extends to transgender people across our state."
Cuomo Proposes That Almost All Offenders Under 17 Be Tried As Juveniles
In March 2015, Cuomo proposed that among 16- and 17-year-old offenders, all but the most violent should be tried as juveniles rather than as adults. To justify his position, the governor cited research indicating that adolescents lack the decision-making abilities of adults, and other research suggesting that young people are more likely to give up their criminal activity if treated as juveniles.
New York State's Enormous Tax Burden under Cuomo
In April 2015, it was reported that according to the annual survey by TaxFoundation.org, New York ranked 50th—dead last among all U.S. states—in terms of the tax burden borne by its residents. This included rankings of 45th in unemployment-insurance taxes, 49th in individual income taxes, and 45th in property taxes.
A separate survey, completed in 2013 by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, ranked New York 50th in terms of the personal and economic freedom enjoyed by its residents. And a third study—the Thumbtack Survey of over 12,000 small businesses conducted in 2014—gave New York a grade of D+ on small-business friendliness, and a D on the difficulty of starting a business.
Praising Al Sharpton
In early December 2015, Cuomo called in to Al Sharpton’s radio program, recited the latter's famous slogan of “no justice, no peace,” and praised Sharpton for having allegedly helped to “calm the waters” in the aftermath of a grand jury's decision not to indict anyone in the case of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black New Yorker who died in a July 2014 confrontation with several NYPD officers. (For details of that incident, click here.) In fact, the Garner grand jury decision led to a massive protest movement in cities across the United States, and Sharpton himself participated in a number of the demonstrations. On August 24, 2014, for instance, he led at least 2,500 marchers in a rally condemning “a society where police are automatically excused” for wrongdoing.
Banning "Non-Essential" State Travel to North Carolina, As Protest Regarding LGBT Rights
In March 2016, Cuomo took exception to a North Carolina law that directed all public institutions in that state to offer only men's and women's restrooms (or alternatively, single-occupancy restrooms or family restrooms), but not the so-called gender-neutral restrooms that transgender advocates were demanding across the country. Thus the governor issued an executive order banning all "non-essential" government travel to North Carolina. Said Cuomo's order: "In New York, we believe that all people—regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation—deserve the same rights and protections under the law. From Stonewall to marriage equality, our state has been a beacon of hope and equality for the LGBT community, and we will not stand idly by as misguided legislation replicates the discrimination of the past. As long as there is a law in North Carolina that creates the grounds for discrimination against LGBT people, I am barring non-essential state travel to that state."
Cuomo Signs Minimum Wage & Paid Leave Bill
On April 4, 2016, Cuomo signed legislation enacting a statewide $15 minimum wage plan and a 12-week paid family leave policy. Said the governor: “By moving to a $15 statewide minimum wage and enacting the strongest paid family leave policy in the nation, New York is showing the way forward on economic justice. These policies will not only lift up the current generation of low-wage workers and their families, but ensure fairness for future generations and enable them to climb the ladder of opportunity. I am proud to sign these programs into law, because they will ensure a stronger, fairer and brighter future for all New Yorkers.”
Cuomo Commutes Prison Sentence of Radical Who Participated in Deadly Robbery
On December 30, 2016, Governor Cuomo commuted the 75-years-to-life prison sentence of former Weather Underground terrorist Judith Clark, who, on October 20, 1981, had driven a getaway car during the deadly $1.6 million Brink's armored-car robbery that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a security guard. Due to the commutation, Clark would become eligible for parole in early 2017, rather than in 2056 as her sentence stipulated. In announcing the decision, Cuomo's office noted that Clark had: (a) "received one of the longest sentences of her six co-defendants, the majority of whom are either deceased or no longer in custody," and (b) "received the same sentence as one of the known shooters." Moreover, the governor's office said that Clark had been a model prisoner during the preceding 35 years.
On January 3, 2017, Cuomo proposed that all students who have been accepted to any state or city college or university in New York State should be eligible for free tuition (funded entirely by tax dollars), provided they or their families do not earn more then $125,000 per year. Regarding the high levels of debt with which many students leave college, Cuomo said: “It’s like starting a race with an anchor tied to your leg.” “This society should say, ‘We’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful,’” he added. “And New York State — New York State is going to do something about it.”
 Anonymous posters declaring “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo”—a reference to Koch's suspected homosexuality—began appearing in many places around the city during the campaign. Some in the Koch camp, including the candidate himself, blamed Andrew Cuomo for authorizing—or at least countenancing—the smears, though Cuomo denied any involvement.