New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned from office Tuesday. The timing of the resignation is all too coincidental after an investigation concluded that he had sexually harassed 11 women and retaliated against his accusers.
At a press conference Tuesday, Cuomo put on his best acting skills, and announced that he would step down from the office, effective in 14 days.
“The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing, and therefore, thats what I’ll do, because I work for you, and doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you,” Cuomo said.
The decision to resign spared Cuomo, the son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who has been governor since 2011, a potentially lengthy impeachment trial in the New York Assembly that was likely to have ousted him from power.
On Aug. 3, State Attorney General Letitia James announced the results of an investigation into allegations made against the governor by women who worked for or alongside Cuomo. According to James, the report revealed “a deeply disturbing yet clear picture” in which the governor “sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging, and by making inappropriate comments.”
The 165-page report also found that the governor’s conduct created “a hostile work environment for women” and that Cuomo staffers had retaliated against at least one of his accusers, who included gubernatorial aides and a New York state trooper assigned to protect him. The investigation took nearly five months and included interviews with 179 people.
Initially, Cuomo insisted that he would not leave office because of the investigation, saying in a taped recording that he “never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” the Associated Press reported.
As more women came forward to detail their claims against the governor, Cuomo had repeatedly claimed his innocence, stating that his touching and kissing represented a generational and cultural divide between him and his accusers. In a much-maligned video statement released after James’s press conference, Cuomo portrayed himself as a misunderstood champion for sexual harassment victims. He also released numerous photos showing other politicians touching people, including one of former President Barack Obama hugging a Hurricane Sandy Victim.
At the Tuesday press conference, Cuomo continued to remain defiant against the claims. “My instinct is to fight through this controversy, because I truly believe that it is politically motivated. I believe it is unfair and it is untruthful.”
“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. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate, and I should have — no excuses,” he continued.
Even as he shifted tone, getting teary-eyed before announcing his resignation, Cuomo did not admit any wrongdoing. “Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing state government should be doing, and I cannot be the cause of that,” he said, calling the controversy a “distraction” for government.
Prosecutors in Manhattan and Albany have already opened criminal investigations into the governor’s actions, and at least three counties have asked James’s office for material as they pursue their own inquiries.
The first public allegation against Cuomo was made in late February, and over the ensuing weeks, a half-dozen more women stepped forward to accuse him of harassment and misconduct. Many prominent New York Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Reps. Jerry Nadler and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called for Cuomo to step down in March. Following James’s report, that number grew to include President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a number of union leaders and the New York Times editorial board.
“I do not believe I have ever done anything in my public career that I am ashamed of,” Cuomo said at a briefing in March as the scandal escalated. At the time, Cuomo said those calling on him to step down were “playing politics and bowing to cancel culture.”
“Politicians who don’t know a single fact but yet form a conclusion and then an opinion are, in my opinion, reckless and dangerous,” he said. “The people of New York should not have confidence in a politician who takes a position without knowing any facts or substance. That, my friends, is politics at its worst.”
It was a dramatic fall from grace after Cuomo was lauded for his COVID-19 briefings last spring, winning an Emmy and publishing a book in October titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic.” He was first elected governor in 2010. Prior to holding his current position, he served as the state’s attorney general and as secretary of housing and urban development in the Clinton administration. Cuomo’s father, Mario, was also a three-term governor of New York. His brother, Chris, is a CNN anchor who has been criticized for privately helping the governor manage the scandal.
Lt. Kathy Hochul is now preparing to step in as governor. A native of Buffalo, Hochul will be the first female governor of New York. She had been serving under Cuomo since 2014 and has a long history of working in New York state politics, having served in Congress and as a county clerk.
Hochul wouldn’t be the first lieutenant governor to assume the gubernatorial position. In 2008, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned following a prostitution scandal and was succeeded by his lieutenant governor, David Paterson.