Cuomo resigns after inquiry finds he harassed women
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Tuesday announced his resignation, an abrupt about-face that capped off six months during which accusations of sexual harassment and bungling his state’s coronavirus pandemic response racked up.
Cuomo said during a press conference he would formally leave office in two weeks and hand the reins to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).
But he remained defiant. Rather than say he was leaving based on the merits of the allegations against him from 11 women, detailed in a report from state Attorney General Letitia James (D), the governor said he didn’t want to be a distraction to ongoing business in Albany.
“This is one of the most challenging times for government in a generation. Government really needs to function today. Government needs to perform. It is a matter of life and death, government operations. And wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing,” Cuomo said.
“I think, given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing. And therefore, that’s what I’ll do.”
The Tuesday announcement marked the culmination of months of scandal surrounding Cuomo and a remarkable fall for the man who in 2020 became one of the leading faces of the nation’s coronavirus response.
Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo aide, first accused the governor of sexually harassing her in December and later detailed the allegations in February, saying Cuomo once said “Let’s play strip poker” in 2017 and kissed her on the lips in 2018.
Charlotte Bennett, another former aide, followed up just days later with allegations that Cuomo repeatedly asked her about her personal life, including noting that he would be open to a relationship with a woman in her 20s and asking her thoughts on age differences in relationships.
Several women later came forward either publicly or anonymously with a range of allegations, including unwanted touching, kissing and groping.
At the same time, Cuomo was facing the fallout from a report from James saying that he and his administration intentionally undercounted the number of deaths in nursing homes from the coronavirus by as much as 50 percent. Those allegations were compounded by claims from state lawmakers casting Cuomo as a bully.
The drip of those two scandals, which continued for months as more women accused Cuomo of an array of misconduct, led to calls for Cuomo to resign.
On top of that, the state Assembly launched an impeachment investigation into Cuomo and James’s office initiated its own independent look into the allegations of sexual misconduct.
However, the governor employed a playbook of doubling down on his response to the coronavirus pandemic while not addressing the mushrooming number of allegations against him. The strategy appeared to temporarily work, as the headlines about the dual scandals faded, particularly amid concerns over the rapid spread of the delta variant.
But that playbook hit a brick wall last week when James rolled out her report, which detailed allegations of misconduct from 11 different women, including current and former aides and at least one state trooper who was on Cuomo’s protective detail.
James presented the report in a blistering press conference, detailing the allegations in excruciating detail and saying that Cuomo not only harassed the women but also looked to retaliate against Boylan.
“The independent investigation has concluded that Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, and in doing so violated federal and state law,” James said at a press conference.
“Specifically, the investigation found that Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women,” she added.
Included in the report were damning details, including alleging that Cuomo subjected one woman, identified as “executive assistant #1,” to “repeated physical violations,” including hugging her and reaching under her blouse to grab her breast. He also grabbed her butt.
That set off a cavalcade of calls for his resignation from top lawmakers in Albany and Washington.
“This report highlights unacceptable behavior by Governor Cuomo and his administration. As I said when these disturbing allegations first came to light, the Governor must resign for the good of the state. Now that the investigation is complete and the allegations have been substantiated, it should be clear to everyone that he can no longer serve as Governor,” said state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins after the report’s release.
“I think he should resign,” President Biden said to reporters. “I’m sure there were some embraces that were totally innocent. But apparently, the attorney general decided there were things that weren’t.”
Still, Cuomo dug in his heels, refusing to heed the calls and maintaining the facts were “much different” than what the report contained.
“First, I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances. I am 63 years old. I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am, and that’s not who I have ever been,” he said hours after James’s press conference.
That defiance continued Tuesday. Prior to his own press conference, his attorney, Rita Glavin, held her own appearance during which she rebutted the allegations in the report point-by-point and attacked the credibility of the investigators and women who came forward with accusations, as well as the media that covered them.
“If I could communicate the facts through the frenzy, New Yorkers would understand,” Cuomo said moments later. “I believe that.”
Cuomo’s resignation was welcome news to many New York Democrats, who feared he would drag them down by staying in office and the limelight heading into the 2022 midterms.
“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,” said Hochul, the lieutenant governor, who will step in to replace Cuomo in two weeks.
“First, I want to commend the brave women who stepped forward and courageously told their stories. There is no place for sexual harassment, and today’s announcement by Governor Cuomo to resign was the right decision for the good of the people of New York,” added Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
However, while Cuomo’s announcement may temporarily alleviate the firestorm surrounding him, he still remains in jeopardy.
It’s unclear what will happen to the impeachment investigation in Albany, which lawmakers ramped up after James’s report was released. And four counties are currently conducting criminal investigations into the sexual misconduct allegations.
State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D), an erstwhile Cuomo ally, offered no hints in a statement on the governor’s resignation, only saying that he looks forward to working with Hochul — who will be the first female governor in New York’s history.
“This has been a tragic chapter in our state’s history. Governor Cuomo’s resignation is the right decision. The brave women who stepped forward were heard. Everyone deserves to work in a harassment free environment,” he said in a statement. “I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Hochul and I look forward to working with her.”