Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday he would resign in 14 days, after investigators found he sexually harassed 11 women.
Cuomo’s announcement came a week after Attorney General Letitia James released a report that found he sexually harassed multiple women on his staff and created a toxic workplace. Cuomo denied those allegations again when announcing his resignation.
“The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in a press conference. “Therefore, that’s what I’ll do, because I work for you, and doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you.”
State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement after the report was released his office would look to conclude his impeachment investigation “as quickly as possible.” But Cuomo said the impeachment process and legal debate to follow would take up too much time and government resources the state needs to combat the coronavirus pandemic and the more-contagious delta variant.
As a result, Cuomo is skipping the impeachment process in favor of resignation. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will take over in his place, he said. Hochul will become the first female governor of New York state and will remain until Cuomo’s term ends in November 2022.
“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 said in a statement on Twitter. “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.”
The release of the attorney general’s report caused age-old allies of the governor to turn against him. The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) called for an “impeachment process” and unions of teachers, health care workers, and retail workers called for his resignation or impeachment.
The contents of the report itself outline a culture at the governor’s office of “fear and intimidation” that normalized frequent flirtations and gender-based comments. It detailed several incidents, including one where Cuomo grabbed the breast of an executive assistant, and another where he inappropriately touched a New York state trooper in an elevator.
It also substantiated former aide Lindsey Boylan’s claims that the governor made inappropriate comments; touched and kissed her, including once on the lips; and found that the governor and his office released internal documents to the press and drafted one op-ed in an effort to discredit her.
Cuomo denied the allegations in a press conference after the report was released, saying he kisses and touches people of all genders, sexual orientations and ethnicities, and that he never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.
He did, however, apologize to former aide Charlotte Bennett, who accused the governor of inappropriate conduct earlier this year. He said that while Bennett and her lawyers misunderstood his motivations and actions, he was sorry for how she felt.
The reversal in support for the governor was swift. Several key leaders in the Democratic Party turned their backs on Cuomo after the results of the report were made public, with President Joseph Biden, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand all calling on Cuomo to resign.
But the governor’s unpopularity is a recent one. Just last year, Cuomo was hailed as a national hero for his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic and even won an Emmy for his daily briefings.
His accomplishments in his more than a decade-long term included passing gay marriage, raising the minimum wage and passing gun control measures. Just last month, he declared gun violence a disaster emergency, assigning $138.7 million to intervention and prevention programs, including a new state police unit.
As the state attorney general, a position Cuomo held after he was elected in 2006, he investigated two other New York governors: Eliot Spitzer and his handling of state police travel records and David Paterson for illegally contacting a woman who accused one of Paterson’s aides of domestic violence.
After Cuomo was first elected governor in 2010, following in his father Mario Cuomo’s footsteps, he passed stricter gun control laws and secured paid family leave, even as he abruptly closed an anti-corruption panel, the Moreland Commission, in 2014. He may have made “potentially illegal” calls to the White House about investigations into the shut down of the commission, The New Yorker reported.
Cuomo also enjoyed massive financial support from real estate developers, including RXR Realty CEO Scott Rechler, the Fisher Brothers, the Durst Organization, SL Green Realty Corp., Brookfield Properties and Triangle Equities, CO reported. But developers were also wary of crossing the governor, known for his more aggressive governing style.
And it wasn’t just the sexual harassment scandals that tarnished Cuomo’s reputation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing how his administration handled nursing home deaths in the state during COVID-19 as well as an Albany Times Union investigation that the state may have committed fraud by concealing the fact that large numbers of bolts have been breaking at the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge due to improper installation, defects or both.
His resignation also comes after Brittany Commisso, who came forward over the weekend after only being known as “executive assistant #1” in the attorney general’s report, filed a criminal complaint against Cuomo with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office last week. She said the governor grabbed her butt and breast in two incidents, according to the report.
Cuomo’s decision to resign means that he won’t be impeached — a process that would have been a certainty, Gerald Benjamin, professor emeritus of the State University of New York at New Paltz, previously told Commercial Observer. Avoiding impeachment also means avoiding a political risk, as it could have barred him from serving public office in New York again, The Washington Post reported.
Celia Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.