New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, embroiled for the last few months in several high-profile scandals—including accusations by nearly a dozen women, many of them government staffers, who say he sexually harassed them or touched them without consent—announced Tuesday that he was resigning from the state’s highest office, effective in two weeks.
In announcing his plans to step down, Cuomo admitted to crossing “personal boundaries” with those who’ve accused him of misconduct but continued to deny the most egregious allegations of groping and assault lodged against him, laid out in detail in a damning report released last week by State Attorney General Letitia James.
“The most serious allegations made against me had no factual basis in the report,” the governor said in a more than 20-minute press conference just after noon on Tuesday. “This is not to say that there are not 11 women who I truly offended. There are. And for that, I truly, truly apologize.”
Cuomo—who has also faced accusations that his administration misled the public about COVID nursing home deaths, used state resources to pen his memoir as part of multi-million dollar book deal and helped friends and family get preferential access to coronavirus tests at the height of the pandemic—continued to paint the attorney general’s investigation as politically motivated.
But the continuing fallout from those and the ongoing impeachment inquiry being conducted by the State Assembly, which is expected to wrap up soon, “will generate months of political and legal controversy,” and make it impossible for him to govern, Cuomo said Tuesday.
“It is a matter of life and death, government operations. And wasting energy on distractions is the last thing state government should be doing,” he said. “The best way I can help now is to step aside and let government get back to governing.”
Cuomo said his resignation would be effective in 14 days, at which point his second in command, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, would take the reins. Her ascension would be a milestone for the state, which has never had a woman serve as governor.
“Kathy Hochul, my lieutenant governor, is smart and competent,” Cuomo said, adding he is “very worried” about state’s ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic as the Delta variant continues to fuel a rise in cases. “This transition must be seamless. We have a lot going on.”
Hochul, in her own statement, called the governor’s resignation the “right thing to do.”
“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,” she said.
It was not immediately clear what the governor’s pending resignation will mean for the Assembly’s impeachment inquiry, which has been underway since March and is examining not only the sexual abuse allegations against Cuomo but the other scandals enveloping his office. Members of the Assembly’s judiciary committee said Monday that they expected to make their findings in that investigation public in the coming weeks, potentially as soon as the end of August.
State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie released a statement Tuesday calling Cuomo’s resignation “the right decision” and a “tragic chapter in our state’s history,” but did not directly address whether impeachment proceedings could or would still move forward. If convicted in impeachment court, Cuomo could potentially be barred from holding future public office under state rules.
The soon-to-depart governor could also be facing more serious consequences: Both the Westchester and Albany district attorneys offices are reportedly investigating some of the allegations made in James’ report.
These include that the governor groped an executive assistant’s butt and breast on two different occasions (which he has denied) and that he allegedly harassed a state trooper assigned to his protective detail, including by “running his hand across her stomach, from her belly button to her right hip, while she held a door open for him at an event.”
Cuomo publicly addressed the state trooper’s allegations for the first time on Tuesday, saying he did not recall the interactions she relayed to the attorney general’s office but conceded that “if she said it, I believe her.”
“At public events, troopers will often hold doors open or guard the doorways. When I walk past them I often will give them a grip of the arm, a pat on the face, a touch on the stomach, a slap on the back,” Cuomo said. “It’s my way of saying, ‘I appreciate you. I thank you.’ I’m not comfortable just walking past.”
In response to the trooper’s allegation that Cuomo once asked her why she was getting married “when marriage means ‘your sex drive goes down,’” the governor insisted he was joking. His admissions Tuesday were akin to earlier, repeated attempts by the governor and his team to cast his behavior as that of someone from an older generation who’s clueless to the evolving norms of what’s appropriate in the workplace.
“I have been too familiar with people,” Cuomo told the public Tuesday. “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.”
The attorney general’s report, however, characterized the governor’s behavior as more malicious and repetitive, concluding that it created a culture of “fear and intimidation, while at the same time normalizing the Governor’s frequent flirtations and gender-based comments.” Members of Cuomo’s staff also sought to retaliate against some of the women who came forward with accusations against him, the AG report says, including leaking confidential personnel files of one complainant to the press.
Cuomo’s personal attorney, Rita Glavin, held a press conference Tuesday ahead of the governor’s resignation announcement reiterating her characterization of the report as biased and incomplete.
In a statement Tuesday, AG James called Cuomo’s resignation “an important step towards justice.”
“Today closes a sad chapter for all of New York,” she said. “The ascension of our Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, will help New York enter a new day.”