Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) announced his resignation just two weeks following an investigation that found he sexually harassed multiple women.
“The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in a noon press conference.
Cuomo thanked “the women who came forward with sincere complaints” and said that “In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone. But I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
“You taught me, and you taught others an important lesson,” he concluded.
The move came after an investigation in which New York’s attorney general released the results finding Cuomo had sexually harassed at least 11 women.
Investigators found women were subjected to unwanted kisses; their breasts or buttocks were grouped or otherwise touched inappropriately; insulting remarks were made about their looks and their sex lives; a work environment was created “rife with fear and intimidation.”
Lt. Gov Kathy Hochul will be the first woman to hold the post of governor; the 62-year-old Democrat and former member of Congress from the Buffalo area will be the state’s 57th governor.
“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 tweeted.
The scandal cut short the Cuomo dynasty: Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, was governor in the 1980s and ’90s, often mentioning the younger Cuomo as a potential candidate for president, an office his father famously contemplated seeking. As the scandal erupted, Cuomo was preparing for a reelection run in 2022.
There is still a possibility that Cuomo will face criminal charges, as prosecutors state-wide are moving to investigate him. A criminal complaint against him has been filed by at least one of his accusers.
Accusations began last December in news reports and went on for months.
Cuomo called some of the allegations fabricated as the scandal grew. He denied any inappropriately touching; however, he acknowledged some aides were made uncomfortable with comments he intended to be playful; he apologized for some of his behavior.
Some of the misunderstandings or encounters were attributable to “generational or cultural” differences, referring to his upbringing in an affectionate Italian American family.
Cuomo was defiant as he clung to office, state lawmakers launched an impeachment investigation, his loyal allies deserted him – not only over accusations but also because of the discovery his administration had hidden thousands of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home patients.
The attorney general ordered the harassment investigation while two outside lawyers corroborated the accounts of the women. Investatorters also stated one of his accusers was retaliated by the governor’s staff as confidential personnel files were leaked.
Since taking office in 2011, Cuomo helped push legislation legalizing gay marriage, he began raising the minimum wage to $15 and expanded family leave benefits. He backed big infrastructure projects, including a new bridge over the Hudson River named after his father.
Cuomo publicly championed the #MeToo movement at the same time his behavior got him into trouble. He was surrounding himself with women’s rights activists. He signed into law new protections against sexual harassment and lengthened the statute of limitations on rape cases.
His popularity soared as New York became the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak in the spring of 2020. His warnings to people to stay home and wear masks contrasted with President Trump’s response to the virus. He won an International Emmy Award for his briefings and wrote a book on leadership in a crisis.
However, his accomplishments were tarnished as it was learned the state’s official count of nursing home deaths had excluded many patients who had been transferred to hospitals before they died. A Cuomo aide acknowledged the administration feared the actual numbers would be “used against us” by the Trump White House.
Cuomo’s administration was also criticized for forcing nursing homes to accept coronavirus recovering patients.
The state’s handling of data on nursing homes deaths is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. Additionally, the state attorney general is looking into whether Cuomo broke the law using members of his staff to help write and promote his book, from which he stood to make more than $5 million.
As aides told stories of brutal work environment, the governor had been under fire over his harsh and sometimes vindictive treatment of his staff and fellow politicians.
Cuomo was divorced in 2005 from author and activist Kerry Kennedy; up until 2019, he had been romantically involved with TV personality Sandra Lee. He has three adult daughters.
He directly addressed his daughters in his resignation speech, 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 gained political experience as his father’s campaign manager. He later became New York attorney general and U.S. housing secretary under President Bill Clinton before being elected to governor in 2010.
New York has seen many disgraced high-level political figures brought down in recent years.
Gov. Eliot Spritzer resigned in a prostitution scandal in 2008. Rep Anthony Weiner was sent to prison for sexting with a 15-year old girl. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stepped down in 2018 after four women accused him of abuse. And the top two leaders in the Legislature were convicted of corruption.