New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he will resign effective in two weeks because of a sexual harassment scandal that has crippled his administration, saying he did not want to distract the state from important work to be done.
Cuomo’s shock announcement in a live stream from his Manhattan office came minutes after his lawyer during her own statement to reporters again flatly denied claims that he had sexually harassed anyone during the Democrat’s three terms in office.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will replace Cuomo, and become the Empire State’s first female governor.
Cuomo’s resignation comes a week after a damning report issued by the state Attorney General’s office found he had sexually harassed current and former staffers, along with a state police trooper assigned to his protective detail, and women outside of government.
It also comes as at least five district attorney’s offices in counties around the state are investigating possible crimes by Cuomo against some of the women, or have requested evidence from the AG’s report.
Cuomo, 63, said he was motivated to step down to avoid months of distraction for the state, which is continuing to deal with the Covid pandemic, from an all-but-certain impeachment of him over allegations he sexually harassed at least 11 women.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government,” Cuomo said.
“And therefore that is what I’ll do, because I work for you, and doing the right thing, is doing the right thing for you.”
While continuing to deny some of the more serious claims against him, Cuomo conceded he had offended some of his accusers with what he considered friendly or incidental physical contact and comments that were normal for men of his generation.
“In my mind, I have never crossed the line with anyone,” he said. “But I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
“Thank you for letting me serve you. It has been the honor of a lifetime,” Cuomo said.
“God bless you.”
Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat who will turn 63 this month, in a tweet, said “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.”
“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 wrote.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at Westchester stands united against anti-semitism and hate rally at Jewish Community Center of Mid-Westchester.
Lev Radin | LightRocket | Getty Images
Attorney General Letitia James, herself a Democrat, last week said that Cuomo had broken state and federal laws with his conduct, which she asserted included unwanted touching and remarks that made the women feel uncomfortable.
In a CBS News interview that aired Monday, Cuomo executive assistant Brittany Commisso described how the governor had groped her breast in one incident, and then rubbed her read end during another encounter in the Executive Mansion in Albany after he suggested they take a selfie photo together.
“What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law,” Commisso said.
Cuomo’s decision to quit follows called by a wave of fellow Democrats, including President Joe Biden and members of the state’s congressional delegation — among them, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — and in New York’s legislature either reiterated or made new calls that he step down.
After the report was issued, Hochul said she believed Cuomo’s accusers, and called the governor’s behavior toward those women “repulsive and unlawful.”
On Tuesday, Cuomo emotionally referred to his own three daughters, saying, “I want them to know, from the bottom of my heart: I never did, and I never would, intentionally disrespect a woman or treat a woman differently than I would want them treated.”
“Your dad made mistakes. And he apologized. And he learned from it. And that’s what life is all about,” Cuomo said.
But the governor’s lawyer Rita Glavin, in a long statement before he resigned, accused the outside lawyers retained by James to investigate Cuomo of bias the infected their work, and of having a preconceived conclusion that Cuomo acted inappropriately as they gathered evidence that supported that view while disregarding other evidence that undercut it.
“I think that women should be believed and treated fairly,” Glavin said. “I also believe that men should be believed and treated fairly. All people should be given that.”
“The governor deserves to be treated fairly. and that did not happen here.”
Cuomo is the latest high-level New York Democratic politician to be felled by a sex scandal.
In 2008, Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned after revelations that had paid for sex from a prostitute.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner went to federal prison in late 2017 for more than a year after pleading guilty to sexting an underage girl. Eric Schneiderman resigned as state attorney general in 2018 after four women accused him of physical abuse. Schneiderman had succeeded Cuomo as attorney general.
Cuomo’s resignation came five months after the harassment allegations against him exploded into public view.
His fall represents a stunning turnaround from his political fortunes in 2020, when his handling of the Covid pandemic was widely praised and he was given a lucrative book deal to write about his management of it.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking August 10, 2021.
Source: The State of New York
The governor also was mentioned as a possible running mate for Biden or a potential attorney general in the new administration.
Cuomo for months had resisted calls to resign, which began after several former aides — Lindsey Boylan, Charlotte Bennett and Karen Hinton — accused him of inappropriate behavior toward them.
Other women described similar conduct by Cuomo.
One of them, an aide, told superiors that Cuomo aggressively groped her in the governor’s mansion last year after summoning her on the pretext of dealing with a mobile phone issue.
The unidentified woman’s account was relayed to the Albany Police Department, which reached out to her representative.
Cuomo is a son of the late three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo.
He previously was New York’s attorney general and as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration.
Cuomo has three daughters with his ex-wife, Kerry Kennedy, whose own father, Robert Kennedy, served as U.S. attorney general under his brother President John Kennedy and was assassinated while running for president in 1968.
Cuomo became a national star last year.
The governor had been lauded for his matter-of-fact press conferences detailing the grim toll of Covid-19, his frequent admonitions to take precautions from becoming infected and his empathetic reaction to the human toll from the pandemic.
Cuomo’s banter-laden interviews about Covid with his own brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, won some gushing reviews, were fodder for late-night comedians and provided grist for criticism from media ethicists.
The governor’s press conferences were frequently contrasted with those of then-President Donald Trump, who was criticized for questioning the guidance of his own medical advisors and repeatedly downplayed the danger of the virus. The New York governor won an Emmy late last year for his televised performances.
But Cuomo’s Covid management — and his aggressive government management style overall — also carried the seeds of his political destruction.
Although he easily won reelection twice, Cuomo long alienated many Democrats and progressives in the state.
Democratic state lawmakers also have been resentful for Cuomo’s past tacit alliance with a small clique Democratic senators who for years effectively handed control of the state Senate to Republicans even though Democrats held a majority of seats.
For his entire political career, Cuomo has had a micromanaging, take-no-prisoners manner in dealing with opponents and would-be allies who are slow to bend to his will.
That style was seen in full effect in Cuomo’s dealing with Assembly member Ron Kim of Queens, a Democrat who said in April the governor loudly lambasted him in a phone call to his home and threatened to “destroy” him over Kim’s criticism about the lack of disclosure on Covid-related death data.
Kim and other lawmakers had been angered after hearing from a top aide to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, that his administration had withheld from data about deaths from Covid of nursing home residents. DeRosa claimed at the time that the data was kept hidden to avoid having it “used against us” by federal prosecutors under the command of Trump‘s attorney general, William Barr.
Even as Cuomo adamantly denied Kim’s account of that call, he accused Kim of “unethical” conduct by supporting the owners of nail salons while the legislature discussed adopting reforms of the industry six years ago.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who himself has long been a whipping boy for the governor, called the phone call “classic Andrew Cuomo.”
“A lot of people in New York state have received those phone calls,” de Blasio said during an MSNBC interview.
“The bullying is nothing new. I believe Ron Kim and it’s very, very sad, no public servant, no person who’s telling the truth, should be treated that way. The threats, the belittling, the demand that someone change their statement right that moment … many, many times I’ve heard that and I know a lot of other people in this state have heard that.”
The controversy over the phone call erupted shortly before former Cuomo aide Boylan resurrected her previous claims that he had sexually harassed her.