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Embattled Cuomo gets support from African American leaders 

Governor Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo forged ahead with a normal schedule Wednesday, leading a campaign-style rally and publicly receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a Harlem church.

Cuomo’s actions come amid stronger statements from President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about his political future and a sexual harassment scandal.

The governor said he wanted to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a pop-up site at a Black church in Harlem to help combat vaccine hesitancy among some in the African American community.  

“Today, I’m going to take the vaccine,” he said.

The carefully staged event was not open to the media. Cuomo was surrounded by supporters from the African American community, including former Rep. Charlie Rangel and Hazel Dukes, the NAACP president and Cuomo family friend whom Cuomo referred to as his “second mother.” The governor also marked Duke’s birthday, leading the others in the traditional “Happy Birthday” song.

Dukes, in a campaign-style speech, praised Cuomo for legislative accomplishments, such as working with Democrats in the State Legislature on the “Raise the Age” measure, which stopped incarcerating 16- and 17-year-olds who are convicted of crimes in adult prisons.

Dukes did not directly mention the sexual harassment allegations from multiple women against Cuomo or the scandal over charges that the governor and his aides covered up the actual number of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. But she alluded to the controversies when she called out the news media, saying they need to “tell the truth” about vaccines. And she said the focus should be on approving the state budget, due in two weeks.

“Me and the governor’s talking about getting the budget passed by April 1,” Dukes said. “No other nonsense.”

Rangel addressed the accusations more directly, saying Cuomo deserves a fair defense.

“When people start piling up on you, and you are trying to figure out, is this the same country that says that you can make any allegations that you want to make, but due process and a hearing is basically what we believe in, in this country,” Rangel said. “You go to your family, you go to your friends, because you know that they are going to be with you.”

Cuomo has defiantly fought the accusations, saying he’s a victim of “cancel culture,” and he’s cast doubt on the motivations of his accusers. He spoke of how strong advocacy is important in many situations.

“Every one of them is a fight,” Cuomo said. “And if you are not willing to make the fight, then you lose. It’s that simple.”

The governor did not address remarks from President Joe Biden, who said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that if the allegations against Cuomo are proven to be true, then the governor needs to step down.

“If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Yes,” Biden said. “I think he’d probably end up being prosecuted, too.”

Biden is a longtime ally of the governor’s.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another Cuomo ally,said Wednesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that there should be “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment, and she thinks Cuomo shares that belief.

“I think he is a supporter of zero tolerance, in terms of sexual harassment,” Pelosi said.  “So it would follow, that if you have zero tolerance, then again, that would be a decision that we hope the governor would make.” 

U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have said Cuomo needs to resign, as have most of the Democratic New York members of the House of Representatives and dozens of state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans.  

Late in the day, Cuomo held a conference call with reporters and was asked about Biden’s remarks. Cuomo said he agrees that if anyone did something illegal, then they should leave office.

“If you committed a crime, you can be prosecuted, that’s true,” Cuomo said with a chuckle. “But what President Biden said was we should do an investigation.”

The governor, who said previously that he does not believe he ever acted inappropriately toward any of his accusers, refused to comment further. He said he wants to wait until an investigation by the state’s attorney general and an impeachment inquiry by the state Assembly gather all the “facts.” But he repeated that he has no plans to resign.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.