BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's official now that the investigation into the sexual harassment claims against Governor Cuomo from two of his administration's former female staffers can begin with the state attorney general's office receiving a formal referral from the governor's legal counsel and aide Beth Garvey. That means the attorney general can hire a special deputy and deputize other lawyers to use subpoena power in an independent investigation as many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for in this case.
But some on the Republican side are going further including the Senate Minority leader from Western New York Robert Ortt of Niagara County. Ortt held a press conference with other GOP members of the Senate and Assembly on Monday.
"This is about what is the right thing for New Yorkers," he said. "The right thing is for the State Senate and Assembly - Democrats to rescind his powers today, last week. The right thing is for these investigations to go forward to get to the truth. And I believe the right thing is for the governor to step aside."
Ortt contends he is not being political because Democrat Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, who is from Western New York as well, would presumably replace Cuomo if he stepped down. Ortt was also asked about his support of former President Donald Trump as Ortt was seeking the GOP nod for a Congressional seat. Ortt told reporters he just supported Trump's policies, but not his alleged behavior involving women.
A ranking Assembly Democrat also from Western New York disagrees about talk of resignation for the governor. 2 On Your Side asked Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes on Sunday if she felt Cuomo could govern effectively with the scandals impacting him and his administration. That includes the previously reported Federal Department of Justice probe of the governor's office and its handling of nursing homes policies in the pandemic. Peoples-Stokes replied, "I don't think he should turn over his powers unless he know internally in his heart that he has done something wrong. That's his call. And he should make that decision."
She also stressed there should not be a rush to judgement under the system, which allows a person to be regarded innocent until proven guilty.
Another regional Democratic Assemblywoman recognizes the legislature faces a very difficult budget process with the projected $15 billion deficit, which may be eased by a COVID relief bill now in Congress. But Monica Wallace acknowledged the serious impact on the governor and pushed for a real investigation of him with other female Assembly Democratic members.
"The reason I and some of my colleagues came out so quickly on this is that we need to get back to the really difficult work of deciding where money should be allocated in the budget," Wallace said.
In the meantime we were told there would be a Republican minority push Monday with a potential vote in the full legislature to take back the executive orders power granted to the governor a year ago to handle the pandemic. As Republican Assemblyman Andy Goodell of Jamestown put it, "Our constitution doesn't envision a monarch or a dictator. It envisions a system of checks and balances."
As it turns out the State Assembly session set to start at 3 p.m. Monday was suddenly cancelled by the Democratic leadership. And while the State Senate did go into session, a vote on a measure aimed at the executive orders power did not happen as Democrat leaders did not bring it up for a floor vote. Some GOP lawmakers said this was the 18th time such an effort has not succeeded.
Peoples-Stokes also told 2 On Your Side on Sunday about the governor's executive orders, "Pretty much that's kind of already been decided. The executive powers that were given that are not part of his natural constitutional abilities will expire at the end of April. After that any new directives and or executive orders that he issues we're gonna be looking at trying to provide oversight for that."
There was talk of the State Senate Democrats setting up a commission to review any such orders from the governor, but we were not able to find out anything more about that plan on Monday.
All this is happening as the state budget is usually required to be passed by March 31 for the start of the state's new fiscal year. It appears chances for any on-time state budget could be limited by circumstances in Albany.