Faced with mounting legal pressures and demands for his departure from President Joe Biden and others, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned on Tuesday (Aug 10) following an inquiry that found he sexually harassed 11 women.
In a televised, 20-minute address, Cuomo, 63, said his resignation would take effect in 14 days, a startling downfall for a man once seen as a possible US presidential contender.
A Democrat who had served since 2011 as governor of the fourth most-populous US state, Cuomo made the announcement a week after New York Attorney General Letitia James released the results of a five-month independent investigation that concluded he had engaged in conduct that violated US and state laws.
Cuomo again denied any wrongdoing, though he said he accepted “full responsibility” for offending the women through what he characterised as ill-conceived attempts to be affectionate or humorous.
He said he had concluded that fighting the accusations while remaining in office would paralyse state government and cost taxpayers millions of dollars at a time when the coronavirus pandemic still poses a major threat.
“I think, given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let the government get back to government — and therefore that‘s what I’ll do,” he said.
The investigation, detailed in a 168-page report, found that Cuomo groped, kissed or made suggestive comments to women including current and former government workers — one a state trooper — and retaliated against at least one woman who accused him of sexual misconduct.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat from western New York, will take over as governor of the state of more than 19 million people until the end of Cuomo’s term in December 2022 as outlined in the state’s constitution, becoming the first woman to hold the post.
Cuomo’s resignation marks the second time in 13 years that a New York governor has stepped down in scandal after Eliot Spitzer quit in 2008 over his patronage of prostitutes.
Cuomo also became the latest powerful man taken down in recent years following the rise of the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment that has shaken politics, Hollywood, the business world and the workplace.
His resignation spared Cuomo from possible removal from office through impeachment proceedings in the state legislature.
An ongoing impeachment investigation had only promised to intensify.
Cuomo, 63, was elected to three terms as governor, as was his late father, Mario Cuomo.
He previously served as US Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary from 1997 to 2001 under former president Bill Clinton.
Like his father, Andrew Cuomo never ran for president despite speculation about his possible national ambitions.
He gained national prominence last year early in the Covid-19 pandemic after delivering daily news conferences as his state became the US epicentre of the public health crisis.
The civil investigation found that the actions of Cuomo and his senior advisers violated multiple state and federal laws, but James did not pursue criminal charges.
Local prosecutors are free to do so, meaning Cuomo still could face legal jeopardy.
Local prosecutors in Manhattan, Nassau County, Albany County and Westchester County said after the report’s release that they are looking into the matter and have requested evidence from the independent inquiry.
New York’s mayor said Cuomo should face criminal charges.
Cuomo had for months denied mounting allegations of sexual harassment – and renewed those denials after the investigative report was issued. But what was left of his political support crumbled after the findings were made public.
Hours later, Biden — a friend of the governor for years — told reporters at the White House: “I think he should resign.”
Other prominent Democrats including the state’s two US senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi also lined up in calling on the party’s one-time star to resign.
Investigators concluded that Cuomo and his aides created a “toxic” and “hostile” workplace in an office gripped by bullying, fear and intimidation.
The complaints about sexual harassment emerged after broader criticism by Democratic politicians in New York that Cuomo governed through intimidation.
Cuomo last year appeared to be a politician in ascent, presenting himself as an authoritative figure in televised news conferences on the pandemic.
His image was burnished by television interviews with his younger brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo.
In Tuesday‘s address, Cuomo flatly denied sexually harassing anyone and called the most serious allegations false.
But he acknowledged that some of his behaviour — including giving hugs and kisses, calling women “honey” and clumsy attempts at humour — may have made some women feel uncomfortable.
“In my mind, I‘ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” he said. “There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate.”
Cuomo also sought to defend his record as governor, touting his efforts to battle the pandemic as well as laws safeguarding gay rights and addressing gun violence.
A Marist Poll released a day after the report was issued showed that 59 per cent of New Yorkers wanted Cuomo to resign, compared to 32 per cent who said he should serve out his term and 9 per cent who were unsure.
Among Democrats, however, only 52 per cent favoured resignation.