New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday, bowing to pressure to leave office or face impeachment in the wake of multiple sexual-harassment allegations.
Cuomo said in an appearance in New York City that he would leave office in 14 days and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would take over, becoming New York’s first female governor. Cuomo maintained that he didn’t harass anyone but was “thoughtless” in the way he spoke to and touched women on his staff.
“In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone,” said Cuomo, 63. “But I didn’t realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
The move marks a stunning denouement to a decades-long political career. A year ago, Cuomo was winning praise for his coronavirus response and talked about as a potential presidential candidate. But in recent months, his reputation soured as multiple women made claims that included unsolicited hugs, kisses and touches, questions about their sex lives, even an invitation to play strip poker while on a government plane. The most serious accusation, under criminal investigation by the Albany County sheriff, alleged the governor had groped an aide at his executive mansion.
Both state Attorney General Letitia James and the state Assembly Judiciary Committee had been investigating the harassment claims for months. The Assembly also was looking at claims that Cuomo’s administration covered up Covid nursing-home deaths, provided relatives with virus testing before it was widely available, mishandled construction of the Mario Cuomo Bridge and misused public resources while accepting $5 million to write a book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
The end of Cuomo’s term began when James released her report one week ago, documenting 11 claims of sexual harassment that Cuomo’s lawyer, Rita Glavin, was still disputing to reporters minutes before Cuomo resigned.
Cuomo on Tuesday apologised to the women cited in James’s report and called it “false,” but said his decision to leave was in the best interest of New Yorkers. He said he didn’t intentionally sexually harass anyone and accepts “full responsibility” if he offended anyone.
“The report said I sexually harassed 11 women. That was the headline people heard and saw and reacted to. The reaction was outrage — it should have been — however it was also false,” he said.
Cuomo had released a taped statement after James released her report last Tuesday but has been holed up in the Executive Mansion in Albany, and has resisted calls to resign from President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders around the country.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden had not spoken to Cuomo and he was unaware the governor was going to resign. She also said he has no plans to reach out to Cuomo.
“This is a story about these courageous women who came forward, told their stories, shared their stories and an investigation by the attorney general that of course concluded today in an outcome that the president called for just last week,” Psaki said.
Other Democrats who had called for his resignation, including US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, said he did the right thing.
Cuomo said he chose to resign because the drawn-out impeachment process that was coming would “brutalise people” and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Cuomo’s refusal to leave when the allegations surfaced in the spring had support from several Democrats, but many changed their tune as the number of accusers grew. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie had resisted impeachment, pushing for a less severe Assembly Judiciary Committee review as a first step.
On Monday, Heastie said his members had “no confidence in the governor to remain in office,” and pledged to move fast to complete an impeachment investigation of Cuomo and bring a “sad chapter” of the state’s history to a conclusion.
Just eight governors in US history have been impeached and removed from office, and just one in New York — William Sulzer in 1913. The most recent governor ousted was Illinois’s Rod Blagojevich, in 2009, for attempting to solicit bribes to fill the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.
Cuomo has been under growing scrutiny since James released a damning report in January that found the state undercounted Covid-19 deaths tied to nursing homes by as much as 50%, and issued state guidance that may have put residents at risk. The Department of Justice, the FBI and the US attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York were reported to have launched investigations into his administration, which has been accused of stripping the data from a public report and hiding the true numbers from lawmakers. The governor has acknowledged mistakes in reporting of the data but has defended his decisions.
Then, the allegations of sexual-harassment and other workplace improprieties came crashing down.
In late February, two former aides detailed accusations of sexual harassment, setting off a bipartisan appeal by lawmakers and politicians for an independent investigation into the claims. The first accuser, former economic-development aide Lindsey Boylan, accused Cuomo of giving her an unwanted kiss at his Manhattan office and inviting her to play strip poker on a taxpayer-funded flight. The second, former aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, said that Cuomo asked her numerous questions about her sex life, including whether she had ever been intimate with older men.
In March, three additional women came forward: Anna Ruch described inappropriate behavior by Cuomo at a wedding, and a photo circulated of the governor, who she did not know, cupping her face. Former press aide Karen Hinton, who worked for Cuomo when he was secretary for Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton, said the governor embraced her in a hotel room in 2000. Ana Liss, a former policy and operations aide who worked for Cuomo from 2013 to 2015, said Cuomo asked her if she had a boyfriend, called her sweetheart, touched her on her lower back at a reception, and once kissed her hand when she rose from her desk.
More than 74 000 documents, emails, texts and photos were reviewed as evidence, and 179 people were interviewed.
Cuomo had urged lawmakers and the public to withhold judgment until James’s investigation was complete. But even after James released the report, Cuomo continued to declare his innocence and refuse to budge.
Hochul would serve the remainder of his term through 2022. She plans to hold a news conference in the governor’s Manhattan office Wednesday afternoon.
“I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to step down. It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers,” Hochul said in a statement after Cuomo’s announcement. “As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th Governor.“
Hochul, 62, has been Cuomo’s second-in-command since 2015. She is an attorney and former member of Congress who has mostly stayed out of the limelight.
At one point, Cuomo had planned to run for an unprecedented fourth term as New York’s governor. His father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, served three terms, from 1983 to 1995, and was defeated for a fourth term by Republican George Pataki.