New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday he will resign after a withering report from the state’s attorney general documented multiple accusations of sexual harassment against women.
The decision heads off his almost certain impeachment and conviction in the state Legislature.
"Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government, and therefore that is what I'll do, because I work for you, and doing the right thing, is doing the right thing for you," Cuomo said in a televised address, at which he took no questions.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat, will serve the rest of his term when the resignation becomes effective in 14 days. She will become the state's first female governor.
Though Cuomo, 63, apologized to his accusers, he made it clear he did not believe he stepped over a red line requiring removal from office. Instead, he framed his decision as one necessary to avoid protracted argument and divisiveness that would bring the state's government to a halt.
"It is a matter of life and death," he said, referring to the immediate need to combat Covid. "Government operations and wasting energy on distraction is the last thing government should be. I cannot be the cause. New York tough means New York loving. And I love New York and I love you. Everything I have ever done has been motivated by that love and I would never want to be unhelpful in any way."
Speaking to his three daughters, Cuomo said, "I want them to know from the bottom of my heart that I never did and I never would intentionally disrespect a woman, treat any woman differently than I would want them treated, and that is the God's honest truth."
"Your dad made mistakes. And he apologized, and he learned from it and that's what life is all about."
After he was first hit with sexual harassment allegations this year, Cuomo ignored bipartisan demands that he resign, and predicted the investigation that he authorized state Attorney General Letitia James to carry out would exonerate him. Instead, the report alleged that he'd harassed 11 women — nine of whom were state employees — and subjected some of them to unwelcome touching and groping. His office also retaliated against one of the women after she spoke out about how she was treated, the report alleged.
"Today, closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it’s an important step towards justice," James, via her office's official Twitter account, said in a series of tweets following Cuomo's resignation. She added that the ascension of Hochul will help New York enter a "new day."
In the wake of the report, the state Assembly began to organize impeachment proceedings. Local law enforcement officials also announced they were investigating whether criminal charges were appropriate.
On Tuesday, Cuomo apologized for his behavior, thanked the women who came forward, but insisted that he had not intended to harass any of his accusers.
"I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life. It's who I've been since I can remember," Cuomo said. "In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn't realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn't fully appreciate."
'For all of New York'
The resignation caps a remarkable fall from grace for the third-term governor, who was riding high in public opinion polls last year after his public briefings about the coronavirus pandemic in his hard-hit state were lauded.
Cuomo intended to run for a fourth term next year, a feat his three-term governor father, Mario, was not able to achieve.
"I respect the governor's decision and I respect the decision he made," President Joe Biden, who called on Cuomo to resign, told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Asked what the impact his resignation will have on the Democratic Party, Biden responded, "I think that impact is all on Andrew Cuomo," and reiterated his respect for Cuomo's decision.
A number of fellow Democratic lawmakers lauded his resignation.
"I think the Governor did the right thing, and I just want to commend the brave and courageous women who came forward. That was not an easy thing to do," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., following the announcement.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he's already spoken with Hochul and has full confidence that she will "establish a professional and capable administration."
"There is no place for sexual harassment, and today’s announcement by Governor Cuomo to resign was the right decision for the good of the people of New York," he said in a statement.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had a long-running public feud with Cuomo, said it was "past time" for the governor to resign.
"Make no mistake, this is the result of survivors bravely telling their stories," de Blasio said. "It was past time for Andrew Cuomo to resign and it’s for the good of all New York.”
'It was disrespectful'
Cuomo's reputation took a major blow in January when James's office issued a report that found that the state Health Department had underreported the Covid-19 death toll in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. A top Cuomo aide was then caught on tape telling Democratic legislators that the administration took months to release the full data about nursing home residents in part because of worries that the information was "going to be used against us" by the Trump administration.
The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and the FBI began a preliminary investigation into how the Cuomo administration handled the data.
Cuomo was then accused in mid-February of having threatened to "destroy" a Democratic lawmaker who alleged that the administration "covered up" the nursing home numbers. Cuomo denied there had been any cover-up.
That was followed by a string of sexual harassment allegations, including by some former aides. The first to speak out was Lindsey Boylan, who wrote an essay on the website Medium that described being subjected to "pervasive harassment" in her years of working for the governor.
Boylan said Cuomo made numerous inappropriate comments to her in front of other people, including once asking her to play "strip poker," and said he once kissed her on the lips when they were alone.
Cuomo's office called Boylan's claims "quite simply false," but they led to numerous other women stepping forward to say they'd been mistreated and to a flood of Democratic lawmakers calling for his resignation, including the vast majority of New York's congressional delegation.
Fighting for his political survival, Cuomo authorized James to investigate the harassment claims and predicted the probe would exonerate him — but it wound up substantiating all the claims against him in a blistering 165-page report.
In one case, he allegedly groped an executive assistant under her shirt, and in another, he fondled a state trooper, the report alleged. The governor "sexually harassed a number of current and former New York state employees by, among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching, as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women," the report alleged.
Cuomo addressed the accusations from the female trooper, who accused him of touching her inappropriately while they were in an elevator.
"I didn't do it consciously with a female trooper," Cuomo said. "I did not mean any sexual connotation, I did not mean any intimacy by it. It was embarrassing to her, and it was disrespectful."