Cuomo says he won't resign amid sexual harassment allegations

New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoUniversity of Michigan says all students, faculty, staff must be vaccinated by fall term Cuomo signs legislation making baseball the official sport of New York CNN's Cuomo tells restaurant owner: 'You sound like an idiot' for denying service to vaccinated customers MORE (D) on Wednesday said that he will not resign despite growing pressure to do so after three women leveled sexual harassment allegations against him.

“Some politicians will always play politics. That’s the nature of the beast. I don’t think today is a day for politics. I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I’m not going to resign. I work for the people of the state of New York, they elected me, and I’m going to serve the people of the state of New York,” Cuomo said at a press conference.

The defiant stance comes as pressure mounts on him to leave office over the allegations, as well as over complaints about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in nursing homes last year. 

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Three women have accused Cuomo of inappropriate behavior. One former employee said he kissed her without permission. Another aide accused him of asking inappropriate questions about her sex life. A third woman said he made unwanted sexual advances at a wedding.

Letitia James, New York's Democratic attorney general, has opened up an independent investigation into the claims.

During the press conference, which marked the governor’s first public appearance since the sexual harassment allegations surfaced, he adopted an apologetic tone but maintained he never touched anyone “inappropriately.”

“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward. And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it. And that’s not easy to say. But that’s the truth,” Cuomo said.

“But this is what I want you to know, and I want you to know this from me directly. I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. And I certainly never ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain,” he added.

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When asked about the allegations brought by Anna Ruch, who said Cuomo put his hand on her lower back at a wedding reception before moving it to her cheeks and asking if he could kiss her, the governor chalked up her remarks to his penchant for hugging people he meets.

“I understand the opinion and feelings of Ms. Ruch, and you’re right, you can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people. Women, men, children, etc. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people, men, women. It is my usual and customary way of greeting,” he said.

Cuomo had already committed to cooperating with James’s inquiry and called on New Yorkers to await the release of her report before making any judgements.

“I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts, please, before forming an opinion. And the attorney general is doing that review, I will fully cooperate with it, and then you will have the facts, and make a decision when you know the facts,” he said.

Cuomo's remarks were swiftly met with pushback by a lawyer for Charlotte Bennett, the accuser who said Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life.

"The Governor's press conference was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information, and New Yorkers deserve better," attorney Debra Katz said in a statement. "The Governor repeatedly said he never touched anyone inappropriately. Ms. Ruch's story makes clear that's not accurate. The Governor repeatedly said he had no idea he made anyone uncomfortable. My client, Charlotte Bennett, reported his sexually harassing behavior immediately to his Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel."

Besides the allegations from Ruch, Bennett and Lindsey Boylan, Cuomo is also facing fierce backlash over the revelation that his office undercounted the number of coronavirus deaths in New York nursing homes. As a result, state lawmakers voted to strip him of emergency powers that were granted to fight the pandemic.

Rep. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceSelect committee member thanks officers who responded Jan. 6: 'You were our last line of defense' Overnight Health Care: White House signals new COVID-19 strategy as delta variant spreads | McConnell urges vaccinations | Maryland says all COVID-19 deaths last month were among unvaccinated House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill MORE on Monday became the first Democratic member of Congress from New York to urge Cuomo to quit, though a few Democratic state lawmakers had already indicated their desire for Cuomo’s ouster.

“I firmly believe that the governor’s resignation is for the good of the state at this point,” state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara (D) told The Hill on Monday. “He’s finally getting the hint that he’s not going to get away with this.”

Similar calls only grew Tuesday, when six state legislators aligned with democratic socialists and the Working Families Party said Cuomo should resign.

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The dual controversies have taken a toll on Cuomo’s standing in New York. An Emerson College/WPIX-TV/NewsNation poll released Tuesday found that 64 percent of state voters surveyed said Cuomo should not be reelected in next year's election. In a blaring warning sign for Cuomo, 48 percent of Democrats said he did not deserve another term.

Cuomo’s diminished standing could decrease his negotiating power in what are expected to be tense budget talks with the state legislature. However, the governor said Wednesday that he is confident he’ll still be able to work with lawmakers in Albany.

“I’m going to cooperate with the attorney general’s investigation and do the budget,” he said. "We did a budget last year in the spring in the heat of COVID, where it was the most intense period of my life, of this government’s life, of this state’s life, and we did both, and we’ll do both here.”

--Updated at 3:07 p.m.