New York Governor Cuomo resigns in sexual harassment scandal
NEW YORK, Aug. 10 (Reuters) – Faced with mounting legal pressure and demands for his departure from President Joe Biden and others, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned on Tuesday following an investigation that has revealed he sexually harassed 11 women, ending a surprising fall for one of America’s most prominent politicians.
A Democrat who had served as governor of the fourth most populous state since 2011, Cuomo made the announcement a week after New York Attorney General Letitia James released the results of a five-month independent investigation that concluded that he had engaged in conduct that violated the United States. and state laws.
In a 20-minute televised speech, Cuomo, 63, said his resignation would take effect in 14 days, derailing a long political career that once seemed to be heading towards a possible U.S. presidential campaign.
Cuomo again denied any wrongdoing, although he said he accepts “full responsibility” for offending women by what he called ill-conceived attempts to be affectionate or humorous.
He said he concluded that fighting the charges while remaining in power would cripple the state government and cost taxpayers millions of dollars at a time when the coronavirus pandemic remains a major threat.
“I think, given the circumstances, the best way for me to help now is to step back and let the government come back to government – and so that’s what I will do,” he said.
His resignation spared Cuomo an eventual removal from office through impeachment proceedings in the Democratic-controlled state legislature, which seemed extremely likely as lawmakers dropped him en masse.
The investigation, detailed in a 168-page report, found that Cuomo had groped, kissed, or made suggestive comments to women, including current and former officials – a state soldier – and retaliated against at least one woman who had accused him of sexual misconduct.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, 62 and Democrat of Western New York, will serve as governor of the state of more than 19 million people until the end of Cuomo’s term in December 2022, as reported in the state constitution, becoming the first woman to hold the post.
“I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to resign,” Hochul said in a statement. “It’s the right thing to do and in the best interests of New Yorkers.”
Cuomo is the latest New York politician to be part of the scandal. Eliot Spitzer stepped down as governor in 2008 because of his patronage of prostitutes. His successor, David Paterson, aborted his 2010 re-election campaign amid allegations of witness tampering and other offenses and was later fined for lying under oath. U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 in a sexting scandal. In 2018, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned after four women accused him of abuse.
Cuomo also became the last powerful man to be shot in recent years following the rise of the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment that rocked politics, Hollywood, the business world and the workplace.
Cuomo was elected to three terms as governor, as was his late father, Mario Cuomo. He previously served as Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1997 to 2001 under former President Bill Clinton.
Like his father, Andrew Cuomo was never a presidential candidate despite speculation about his possible ambitions. He was hailed as a national leader last year at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic after holding daily press conferences as his state became the US epicenter of the public health crisis.
The civil investigation found that the actions of Cuomo and his senior advisers violated several federal and state laws, but James did not pursue criminal charges.
Local prosecutors in Manhattan, Nassau County, Albany County and Westchester County, however, said after the report was released that they were investigating the case and seeking evidence from the independent inquiry.
Last week, one of Cuomo’s accusers, Brittany Commisso, filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, alleging the governor groped his chest at the Albany Executive Mansion last November. The sheriff told reporters his office would conduct a full investigation.
Cuomo had denied for months escalating sexual harassment accusations – and renewed those denials after the investigative report was released. But what was left of his political support collapsed after the findings were made public. Hours later, Biden – a friend of the governor for years – told reporters at the White House: “I think he should resign.”
Other prominent Democrats, including the two U.S. state senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have also lined up to call on Cuomo to step down.
Investigators concluded that Cuomo and his associates had created a “toxic” and “hostile” workplace in an office plagued by bullying, fear and intimidation. The sexual harassment complaints emerged after broader criticism from Democratic politicians in New York City that Cuomo was ruling through intimidation.
In a statement, Prosecutor James said Cuomo’s resignation “closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it is an important step towards justice.”
Last year Cuomo appeared to be a rising politician, presenting himself as an authoritative figure in televised press conferences about the pandemic. His image has been tarnished by television interviews with his younger brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo.
In Tuesday’s speech, Cuomo categorically denied sexually harassing anyone and called the more serious allegations false. But he acknowledged that some of his behaviors – including hugging and kissing, calling women “honey” and clumsy attempts at humor – may have made some women uncomfortable.
“In my mind, I never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize how much the line has been redrawn,” he said. “There are generational and cultural changes that I just haven’t fully appreciated.”
He also addressed his three daughters.
“I want them to know from the bottom of my heart that I have never failed, and I never would, intentionally disrespecting a woman,” he said. “Your father made mistakes, he apologized and he learned from them.”
Cuomo’s speech immediately followed a briefing from his lawyer, Rita Glavin, who sat at a table under the seal of the governor’s office and sought to refute each woman’s allegations point by point.
Cuomo’s abrupt departure also muddies next year’s gubernatorial race, in which he had been widely seen as the frontrunner before the scandal erupted. Among Democrats, Hochul could run for a full term as incumbent; James was also presented as a potential candidate, following in the footsteps of Spitzer and Cuomo, who rose from attorney general to governor.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Howard Goller and Grant McCool
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