Gov. Cuomo resigns in wake of damning sexual harassment accusations
Gov. Cuomo resigned Tuesday in the face of escalating political pressure over a bombshell report corroborating sexual misconduct claims and detailing years of predatory behavior, saying that he no longer wants to be a “distraction” to New Yorkers.
One of the most prominent Democratic governors in the country, Cuomo’s fall from grace was swift as his administration became embroiled in controversy amid the COVID pandemic and multiple women came forward with claims that the 63-year-old politician sexually harassed them.
“Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing. I cannot be the cause of that,” Cuomo said in a live-streamed speech from his Manhattan office.
He continued, “Given the circumstance, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government, and therefore that’s what I’ll do.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will take over as governor in 14 days, becoming the first woman to take over leadership of the state, Cuomo said. He pledged to make it a “seamless” transfer.
Cuomo’s stunning downfall comes as 11 women, the majority of whom were much younger aides and advisers, shared their accounts of inappropriate behavior and harassment with investigators working under Attorney General James.
Calls for Cuomo’s resignation and impeachment mounted as the accusations piled up earlier in the year. But it took a 165-page report released Tuesday following a five month independent investigation to bring an end to the three-term governor’s rule.
Cuomo had remained defiant, resisting calls for his ouster, as he painted the probe as politically-motivated and biased.
His tone changed Wednesday after a week of long-time allies and union backers breaking from the career politician to call for his resignation.
James’ probe, run by former federal prosecutor Joon Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne Clark, details a pattern of creepy conduct that violated state and federal laws — including unwanted advances, touching of “intimate body parts” without consent and comments that accusers called “deeply humiliating, uncomfortable, offensive, or inappropriate.”
Cuomo and his senior staff also fostered a “toxic” workplace that enabled “harassment to occur and created a hostile work environment” and took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for going public with accusations against the powerful Democrat.
Former Cuomo adviser Lindsey Boylan sparked the fire earlier this year when she published an essay detailing a toxic workplace besieged by bullying behavior, sexual harassment accusations against the governor and alleged that Cuomo once kissed her against her will.
Multiple other women followed suit, coming forward with similar claims.
Most damning, an aide claimed the governor reached under her blouse and groped her while at the Executive Mansion, Cuomo’s official residence, late last year.
The staffer who says Cuomo groped her told investigators that she “in no way, shape or form invited that nor did I ask for it. I didn’t want it. I feel like I was being taken advantage of.”
She feared for her job and initially remained resolved to take the incident “to the grave,” but later related her account to co-workers after witnessing Cuomo publicly deny ever touching a woman inappropriately.
At a March briefing, Cuomo apologized for comments he made in the past, claiming he didn’t know he was “making anyone feel uncomfortable.”
Following James’ report, the embattled governor initially remained steadfast in his belief that he should remain in office.
“The facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” Cuomo said in a scripted, pre-recorded response to the report. “I never touched anybody inappropriately… or made inappropriate sexual advances.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) pledged to fast-track his chamber’s impeachment investigation into the governor in the wake of the report.
After meeting with his members on Tuesday, Heastie said that “it is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office.”
The sweeping impeachment investigation was also looking at whether the Cuomo administration obscured COVID deaths in nursing homes, whether the governor’s friends and family received special treatment and access to coronavirus tests and myriad other issues.
In his third term, the governor earned a cult-like following as he became a national star early on in the coronavirus crisis thanks to his daily televised briefing. He spent a decade at the helm of the Empire State, forging a reputation as a ruthless leader with intimate knowledge of the machinations of state government.
The eldest son of late Gov. Mario Cuomo, the Queens native followed his father’s footsteps to the Executive Mansion after serving as state attorney general and head of the federal Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration.
He now becomes the second New York governor to step down in the past two decades. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008 after it came to light that he had repeatedly used the services of a high-priced prostitution ring.
Prior to Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal, the governor was already under fire and facing a federal probe amid accusations his administration grossly under-reported COVID-related nursing home deaths and tried to cover it up.
In January, James’s office released a report that found coronavirus deaths at long-term care facilities appeared to be undercounted by roughly 50%.
Hours after the blistering report was released state officials updated its public count of nursing home deaths, which ballooned from 8,500 to more than 15,000, about a third of all confirmed COVID deaths in the state.
The following week, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa told Democratic lawmakers that state officials “froze” when the Justice Department requested nursing home data last summer. She said that led to the stonewalling of requests for similar information by legislators.
Cuomo, who published a book last year to “provide leadership lessons” as his political star rose to new heights, has denied there was any cover up.