New York State

Black and Latino faith leaders are key to any Cuomo comeback

The disgraced governor and his successor Gov. Kathy Hochul are battling for the endorsements of religious leaders.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo an appearance at a Brooklyn church earlier this month and another one today in the Bronx following an invitation from the Rev. Rubén Díaz, Sr.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo an appearance at a Brooklyn church earlier this month and another one today in the Bronx following an invitation from the Rev. Rubén Díaz, Sr. Rebecca C. Lewis

Ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been leveraging ties to churches in communities of color as he continues to reenter public life following his resignation last year. This includes an appearance at a Brooklyn church earlier this month and another one today in the Bronx following an invitation from the Rev. Rubén Díaz, Sr., the controversial former member of the New York City Council. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Cuomo are battling for the endorsements of faith leaders in the Black and Latino communities as speculation continues about Cuomo’s political future. Shortly before Cuomo spoke on Thursday, Hochul released a list of hundreds of religious leaders endorsing her for a full term in office.

But at least one of the clergy members endorsing Hochul said he might back Cuomo if he were to campaign to get his old job back this year.  “I would consider (it),” Troy Decohen, senior pastor at Mt. Vernon Heights Congregational Church, told City & State Thursday of potentially supporting Cuomo. “Gov. Kathy Hochul, she's currently in so, right now, my support is behind her.”

Cuomo did not clarify Thursday whether he would run for governor or anything else this year despite ongoing rumors. A recent poll by Emerson College found that 59% of Black Democratic voters would support him if he were to enter the Democratic primary. Cuomo could also run as a third party candidate – he does have experience with that – or as an independent, which would give him until the end of May to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot. The former governor still has somewhere around $16 million in his campaign account as he continues running ads touting past accomplishments in office.  That is less than Hochul has raised so far, but she might have to spend a lot of it just to win the Democratic nomination.   

Decohen was among two dozen clergy members who signed a letter last year pushing back at calls for Cuomo’s resignation amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, which some of them argued was depriving the embattled governor of due process. Ten of those faith leaders, including Decohen, were among the people whose endorsements Hochul announced Thursday. “As long as Gov. Cuomo was in office, the door was open to the African American community,” Decohen told City & State. “That's why you called me, because he allowed me to participate.”

Hochul has made numerous appearances at churches and before religious groups more generally since she officially took over as the first female governor in state history last August. “This is the largest faith-based endorsement in state history,” campaign spokesperson Jerrel Harvey said in a text when asked about the danger of any endorsements switching to Cuomo if he ran against his former lieutenant governor. “We’re focused on meeting voters where they are and building on the governor’s long standing relationships in the faith community and beyond.” Harvey declined to comment on Cuomo’s appearance in the Bronx on Thursday.

The ex-governor emphasized his support for rolling back bail reform during his speech before the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church in the Bronx. “We want you back,” one audience member yelled back at one point. Other members of the audience said they were keeping their options open when it comes to supporting a candidate for governor whether Cuomo runs or not. “We support him as a person, but nothing yet concrete because we have other candidates, and we have our doors open for the other candidates,” the Rev. Oswald Denis of St. Athanasius Church in the South Bronx told City & State. 

Other Democrats running for governor like New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island might also be eyeing Black and Latino faith leaders as potential influencers for their own campaigns. Representatives for Williams and Suozzi did not respond to requests for comment by publication time about their own outreach efforts, and it remains unclear to what extent they factor into their own campaign strategies – especially considering how some Black clergy are criticizing Hochul’s performance as governor. “Kathy Hochul has not done the job for Black people,” the Rev. Kevin McCall told City & State. “She has not done anything, from my perspective, in dealing with the Black issues, such as (lifting) the eviction moratorium.” McCall added that Cuomo has not exhibited a level of contrition that McCall believes is necessary for the former governor to reenter public life.

Multiple faith leaders said Thursday that the Black and Latino members of their congregations are focused on a few key issues like rising crime, COVID-19 and helping tenants catch up on back rent accrued during the pandemic. Cuomo had a large role in creating current conditions on issues like bail reform. He is now seeking to tap into a backlash to many of the policies he helped create. He is also casting himself as a victim despite resigning to avoid impeachment and removal from office amid allegations of sexual misconduct, a cover-up of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and more. 

His Thursday appearance highlights how such grievances might become the rallying call of a future Cuomo campaign. “Cancel cancel culture – it’s catchy," Bronx County Democratic Committee member Dion Powell, who attended Cuomo’s Thursday speech, told City & State of how Cuomo could translate his Thursday speech into a new party line for office. “Put it on a T-shirt.”