Photo: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Photo Credit: Diana Robinson / CC
Published August 11, 2021
By Steve Bittenbender [The Center Square contributor] –
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying he did not want to be a distraction, announced Tuesday afternoon that he will resign as governor. He will officially step down on Aug. 24.
At that time, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will become New York’s 57th governor and the first woman to lead the state.
The decision to step down comes one week after a five-month investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James that found 11 women made credible claims that Cuomo sexually harassed them.
Even in the moments before he announced his resignation, the three-term Democrat fought back against the accusations, but he said that it was ultimately in the best interests of the state that he step down.
“It has been the honor of my life,” Cuomo said about serving as the state’s governor.
Cuomo faced more investigations than just the sexual harassment inquiry. He also was facing an impeachment investigation in the state Assembly that was looking at several allegations, including ones related to his administration’s management of nursing homes during the COVID-19 emergency, a $5 million book deal he received on leadership during the coronavirus crisis, and allegations of safety concerns being covered up regarding the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
In addition, federal investigators have also been reviewing the nursing home policies, and in the wake of the attorney general’s review, several district attorneys announced their offices were starting investigations as well into harassment claims.
On Monday, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine said that it would take several weeks before lawmakers would vote on possible impeachment charges, laying out a scenario that would have taken months to conclude.
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Cuomo said that he believed the accusations made against him were politically motivated, but – as his voice started breaking with some emotion during his nearly 22-minute address – said that process would consume time and energy that’s needed to address the COVID-19 crisis, gun violence and other issues.
“I would never want to be unhelpful in any way,” he said. “And I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let the government get back to governing, and therefore that’s what I’ll do.”
Before Tuesday’s announcement, Cuomo had faced months of calls for his resignation from state and national elected officials. President Joe Biden last week called on him to step down after the attorney general’s report was released.
Moments after his announcement, other state officials issued statements supporting the governor’s decision.
“Today closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it’s an important step towards justice,” James said.
“It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers,” said Hochul, adding she was ready to become the new leader.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, a fellow Queens Democrat like Cuomo, said in a statement that he agreed with the decision.
“Now, for the sake of the 19 million people of this state, we must come together as New Yorkers and continue to move forward in improving the lives of our residents and maintain government services,” the senator said. “There is still work to be done, and we will rise to this occasion as we always do in the face of challenging times.”
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said Cuomo’s resignation was welcome but overdue and that the three-term Democrat tarnished his reputation for good.
Ortt added that while he hoped it brought some justice for the women who accuse Cuomo of harassment, he said the resignation should not be the final act in this case.
“The FBI, the State Attorney General, and other proper authorities must also be allowed to continue their work investigating all of the possible crimes related to our state’s nursing homes crisis and the Governor’s questionable book deal,” he said. “The Legislature must examine the Cuomo administration’s many failings in public forums as soon as possible so that these abuses of power will never happen under another administration.”
Just prior to Cuomo’s announcement, Rita Glavin, a former U.S. attorney representing the governor in the harassment case, again lashed out at the investigation that, moments later, would lead to Cuomo’s downfall. She complained about a lack of access to documents needed to help respond to lawmakers’ requests for information, and the deadline to respond to those requests was just days away.
Glavin said there were inconsistencies in some accusers’ accounts and that investigators added claims from other women that were not harassment.
“What happened was that from day one, it became building a case against Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” she said. “They started with a presumption that he had done some terrible things, and it went from there.”
Cuomo also talked about some of the allegations, including those from a female state trooper who alleged he touched her inappropriately on a couple occasions. He said he didn’t recall those instances, but he believed her, explaining that he has done that with other members of his security detail, including men.
“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 see you. I appreciate you, and I thank you. I’m not comfortable just walking past and ignoring them.”
He said there was a line between acting improperly and actually harassing, but then admitted there were “11 women who I truly offended.” He then apologized to them.
As he was wrapping up his remarks, he said that he has seen the toll the harassment investigation has had on his three daughters and that he wanted them to know he would never purposefully treat a woman in a way he would not want them treated.
“Your dad made mistakes, and he apologized and he learned from it,” he said.
The resignation comes nearly a year and a half after Cuomo enjoyed soaring poll numbers, a result of his daily COVID-19 briefings that ultimately attracted a national audience.
But questions about the Cuomo administration’s nursing home policies and whether officials tried to downplay the role those policies had in increasing death rates began eating away at those numbers. So, too, did questions about the $5 million book deal the governor received, with concerns that state resources may have been used to write the book on managing the COVID-19 crisis.
In December, former staffer Lindsey Boylan tweeted that Cuomo harassed her, and she followed up with more detailed allegations, including claims he kissed her on the lips, two months later. After that, more women came forward, including Brittany Commisso, a former executive assistant who claimed the governor groped her.
As the harassment claims mounted, Cuomo was forced to refer the case to James in early March. James then appointed Joon Kim and Anne Clark, two independent lawyers working outside of state government, to conduct the investigation that wrapped up last week.
About the Author:
Steve Bittenbender is an award-winning reporter, who has worked as a freelance writer for two decades. His work has appeared in such outlets as The Louisville Courier-Journal, USA Today Special Publications, The Tampa Bay Times, Cincinnati.com and several other newspapers and magazines.
Follow Bittenbender on Twitter @freelancehack.