In 1913, after only 10 months in office, William Sulzer, otherwise known as “Plain Bill,” was impeached.
Out of New York’s 56 governors, Sulzer is the only one, so far, that holds this distinction.
However, the reasons Sulzer was removed from office are much different than the scandals Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing.
The State Assembly Judiciary Committee has now launched an impeachment investigation as Cuomo is battling calls for his resignation for a growing number of sexual harassment allegations and his administration’s handling of nursing home data.
New York’s Constitution lays out a very broad framework when it comes to grounds for impeachment.
“It really leaves it essentially up to the Assembly to determine what‘s an impeachable offense and what isn’t,” Christopher Bopst, an attorney with Wilder and Linneball and the author of several books on the New York State Constitution. “Given where we are at, given what we have coming out here, there is presumably enough there where the Assembly could find that the conduct of the governor rises to the level of impeachment.”
Assembly Democrats will hold the power to decide whether to introduce articles of impeachment, since they are in the majority.
At least 76 Assembly members have to vote to impeach. While this could include Republicans, it is highly unlikely that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie would bring the resolution to the floor unless he had a majority of his members supporting it.
If the Assembly approves this measure to impeach, the impeachment resolution would head to the Senate.
This is where New York’s process differs from the federal government’s proceedings.
Senators and the seven judges on the Court of Appeals would all act as jurors and have the ability to vote whether to convict Cuomo. An interesting note: All of these judges are also Cuomo appointees.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who also serves as president pro tempore of the Senate, would not be allowed to vote since her office is in the line of succession for governor.
At least 46 jurors, or senators and judges in this case, would have to vote to convict in order to remove the governor from office.
During the impeachment trial, Cuomo would have to temporarily step down and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would preside as acting governor.
“As soon as the governor is impeached, his powers cease until the impeachment proceeding is concluded, so that’s a little different than what we have under the U.S. Constitution,” Bopst explains.
Since both the Senate and Assembly are led by Democrats and the governor is also a Democrat, Bopst says the optics of this is new.
“You don’t normally see impeachments brought by a party against a member of their own party,” Bopst says. “At a certain point, if the governor believes that his support is such that he would not be able to sustain or last through an impeachment proceeding, then at that point, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him resign.”
If Cuomo were to be impeached, he would be banned from holding any state elected offices in the future. However, he could still run for local or federal seats.
The next in line to become governor would be Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat.
She would be not only the first female governor, but also the first governor from Western New York since Grover Cleveland.