New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday publicly addressed the claims of sexual harassment against him, apologizing for remarks he said "made people feel uncomfortable" but rebuffing demands that he resign.
"I was elected by the people of the state of New York," Cuomo said, in his first televised remarks since the multiple claims became public. "I'm not going to resign."
After delivering a lengthy briefing on the state of the pandemic, Cuomo turned his attention to three allegations of harassment he faces.
"I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this. First, I fully support a woman's right to come forward. And I think it should be encouraged in every way," he said. "I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional. And I truly and deeply apologize for it."
"I feel awful about it," Cuomo said. "And frankly, I am embarrassed by it. And that's not easy to say. But that's the truth. But this is what I want you to know, and I want you to know this from me directly. I never touched anyone inappropriately."
He then pleaded with New Yorkers "to wait for the facts from the attorney general's report before forming an opinion."
New York Attorney General Letitia James is undertaking an investigation into the allegations.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone," he added. "I never intended it and I will be the better for this experience."
Cuomo's remarks followed allegations from three women who have said the Democratic governor made them feel uncomfortable.
Last week, Lindsey Boylan, a deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to Cuomo from 2015 to 2018, expanded on a December tweet saying he "sexually harassed me for years." In an essay posted to Medium, Boylan detailed her experience, which she said included an unwanted kiss from Cuomo. In a statement to NBC New York, Cuomo spokesperson Caitlin Girouard said, "There is simply no truth to these claims."
Then former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, told The New York Times last week that he made several inappropriate remarks about her sex life. Cuomo has denied that he was attempting to make an overture.
This week, the Times reported that Anna Ruch, who had not met Cuomo before crossing paths with him at a New York City wedding in 2019, said he touched her lower back with his hand, which Ruch removed. She said Cuomo then placed his hands on her cheeks and asked if he could kiss her.
"I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed," Ruch told the publication, which ran a photo showing Cuomo with his hands on her cheeks at the event.
Cuomo responded to Ruch's account and the photo evidence of it, saying that there are "hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with many people."
"Women, men, children, etcetera," he added. "You can find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. Men, women. It is my customary way of greeting. You know that because you've watched me for more years."
"By the way, it was my father's way of greeting people," he said, pointing to former Gov. Mario Cuomo. "You want people to feel comfortable, you reach out to them."
He said he now understands his "intent" is not relevant.
"What matters is if anyone was offended by it — and I could intend no offense — but if they were offended by it, then it was wrong," he said. "And if they were hurt by it, then I apologize. And if they felt pain from it, then I apologize. I didn't intend it, I didn't mean it that way."
And Debra Katz, an attorney representing Bennett, accused Cuomo of spreading "falsehoods and inaccurate information" about the allegations he faces.
"The governor repeatedly said he had no idea he made anyone uncomfortable," she said. "My client, Charlotte Bennett, reported his sexually harassing behavior immediately to his chief of staff and chief counsel. We are confident that they made him aware of her complaint."