The Cuomo scandal and the Jewish community - comment

Having already butted heads with New York’s Orthodox Jews over pandemic regulations, will the governor be able to retain Jewish support amid the sexual misconduct allegations?

GOVERNOR ANDREW M. Cuomo gestures as he announces the start of the statewide ‘Vaccinate NY’ campaign on April 6. (photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/POOL/REUTERS)
GOVERNOR ANDREW M. Cuomo gestures as he announces the start of the statewide ‘Vaccinate NY’ campaign on April 6.
Democrats across the United States saluted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the face of governing competence throughout the early months of the pandemic. But beginning last month, when allegations of sexual misconduct and his attempt to obscure the virus-related death toll in nursing homes surfaced, calls accumulated for the disgraced governor to step down.
As a New York State Assembly committee conducts an impeachment investigation into the matters, Cuomo maintains refusal to resign, even as few Democrats have come to his rescue. Jewish groups remain divided on whether to take a public stance.
Matt Nosanchuk, president and co-founder of the progressive advocacy group New York Jewish Agenda (NYJA) and former Jewish outreach director in the Obama White House, told The Jerusalem Post that the allegations have frayed the normally strong ties between the governor and the Jewish community.
His group joined the call for Cuomo’s removal, citing Jewish values the organization was founded on.
“NYJA was created to amplify the voices of Jewish leaders in New York State. We’re guided by core Jewish values, which include dignity, equality, justice, responsibility and unity,” Nosanchuk told the Post. “When you think about those values, there’s the implication that elected officials should live up to those values, which are not only Jewish values but core democratic and American values. So we felt it was incumbent upon us to speak out.”
“Cuomo has lost public trust in his leadership and he should take responsibility and act accordingly,” he continued. “We recognize that this is an issue with a divergence of views, but when we balanced that against our need for public trust and confidence, that’s how we decided speaking up was the right thing to do.”
Nosanchuk noted that he doesn’t want to dwell on the matter beyond the already released statement. “There are critical issues to be addressed in New York, chief among them the response to COVID, but also a lot of legislative activity going on. We continue to engage with leaders on these issues. All of that work has and needs to continue. At this point, we’ve said what we’ve said and moved on.”
A Siena College poll last month, reported by, found that Jewish voters in New York overwhelmingly said that Cuomo should not resign (57-24%), compared to Catholic voters (44%) and Protestant voters (53%)
Cuomo, the 63-year-old son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo, is in the midst of his third four-year-term as the state’s chief executive. The 40-year veteran of New York politics is expected to seek another term next year; New York has no term limits for governors.
ON MARCH 12, 16 of the state’s 19 House Democrats issued a joint statement calling on Cuomo to resign. The state’s two Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have also demanded he step down.
“Due to the multiple, credible sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York. Governor Cuomo should resign,” the joint statement said.
Cuomo shot back, telling reporters that he will not bow to “cancel culture.”
“I did not do what was alleged, period,” Cuomo reportedly said.
Orthodox groups, who throughout the pandemic expressed a large share of criticism to Cuomo’s public health policies, have for the most part stayed mum since the allegations surfaced.
But, according to the HuffPost, some ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders are still reeling from comments Cuomo made in October singling out ultra-Orthodox communities in Rockland County as COVID-19 hot spots in need of stricter lockdowns and tougher enforcement of public health rules.
Last October, three Rockland County Jewish congregations sued Cuomo, saying he engaged in a “streak of antisemitic discrimination” with the state crackdown on religious gatherings to reduce the state’s coronavirus infection rate. The lawsuit said Cuomo’s order was “blatantly antisemitic, creating religious-observance based color coded ‘hot-spot’ zones directed towards particular Jewish communities.”
Agudath Israel of America, the largest ultra-Orthodox advocacy organization in the United States, has not released a statement on the allegations. The organization was at the forefront of a Supreme Court lawsuit against the governor’s executive order limiting religious gatherings at houses of worship due to coronavirus spread in November.
A spokesperson for the group who was reached for comment declined to weigh in.
Yossi Gestetner, executive director of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council (OJPAC), a civil rights organization, expressed belief that calling on someone to resign is “a pile on rather than a standalone position.”
“So I don’t think it’s a call for charitable organizations to make; especially that from a Jewish values standpoint. You don’t throw proverbial stones onto someone who already tripped. Indeed, I don’t think OJPAC has ever called for anyone’s resignation no matter how bigoted said elected official may have been to Orthodox Jews,” he told the Post.
“Having said this, Orthodox Jews don’t shy away from deploying legal moves, impactful voting and overall advocacy to get policy things done. Those items are merit-based; have an orderly process and are not tactics where pressure of the few will essentially overthrow a democratically-elected government,” Gestetner continued.
Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine, a Democrat, reportedly told committee members and lawyers that the impeachment investigation will likely take “months, rather than weeks” and has no set deadline.
But Gestetner echoed Nosanchuk’s hope that the scandal will conclude as soon as possible one way or another. “Because the current state of affairs has frozen out pressing policy issues and it’s unfair to New Yorkers,” he said.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.