Hours after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo refused to resign as new allegations of inappropriate behavior arose, a group of the state's top Democratic lawmakers questioned his ability to lead the state.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called on Cuomo, also a Democrat, to resign and said in a statement that the allegations are "drawing away from the business of government."
"We have allegations about sexual harassment, a toxic work environment, the loss of credibility surrounding the Covid-19 nursing home data and questions about the construction of a major infrastructure project," she said.
"New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it," she continued. "We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign."
State Sen. Liz Krueger, a prominent Democrat from Manhattan, also urged Cuomo to step down, saying: "Our state is rightly crying out for truthful, transparent government. The people's business is too pressing to continue to be derailed in this way."
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not explicitly call for Cuomo to step down, but he said he shares Stewart-Cousins' "sentiment" about "the governor's ability to continue to lead this state."
"We have many challenges to address, and I think it is time for the governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York," said Heastie, who said the allegations are "deeply disturbing."
In a conference call with reporters earlier Sunday, Cuomo struck a more defiant tone than in previous weeks, saying demands by politicians that he resign are "anti-democratic." Cuomo said his administration's work helping the state recover from the pandemic is too important for him to step aside now.
"There is no way I resign," he said.
The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post published new claims Saturday by Ana Liss and Karen Hinton, respectively, whose harassment allegations are similar to those made in recent weeks by former Cuomo aides Charlotte Bennett and Lindsey Boylan.
Liss, 35, told The Journal that when she was a policy and operations aide to Cuomo, 63, from 2013 to 2015, he once hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks and grabbed her waist for a photo.
Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi said in a statement Saturday.: Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures. At the public open house mansion reception there are hundreds of people and he poses for hundreds of pictures. That's what people in politics do."
Hinton worked as a press aide to Cuomo when he led the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration. She told The Post that he once summoned her to his hotel room, embraced her and pulled her back to him when she pulled away. She made similar remarks in an interview with NBC New York.
"It was inappropriate. We both were married. I worked for him, and it was too much to make it so personal and intimate," she told NBC New York.
Two people close to Hinton said she had described the episode to them, NBC New York reported. One said Hinton called her shortly after the alleged incident.
Peter Ajemian, Cuomo's director of communications, told The Post, "This did not happen."
"Karen Hinton is a known antagonist of the Governor's who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made up allegations from 21 years ago," he said.
Hinton also told NBC New York that, while he was at HUD, Cuomo made hiring decisions based on looks.
"I sat in on [one] interview and he told me later she wasn't attractive enough for the job, so he didn't hire her," she said.
Liss and Hinton did not respond to NBC News' requests for comment Saturday night.
Responding to Ajemian's remarks, Hinton told The Post, "Attacking the accuser is the classic playbook of powerful men trying to protect themselves."
Speaking Sunday, Cuomo said Hinton's claims are "not true."
"As everybody who has been involved in any level in New York politics knows, she has been a longtime political adversary of mine," he said, claiming that Hinton "has made many accusations" about him.
Responding to Liss, Cuomo said that he did take a photo with her but that it is "commonplace" for politicians to take such pictures.
The Post interviewed other Cuomo subordinates who claimed that he created a hostile and toxic work environment, in which he sometimes demeaned men in front of their co-workers.
Azzopardi said in a written response to the Post report: "The people of this state elected the Governor to represent them four times during the last 14 years and they know he works day and night for them.
"There is no secret these are tough jobs, and the work is demanding, but we have a top tier team with many employees who have been here for years, and many others who have left and returned," he said. "The Governor is direct with employees if their work is sub-par because the people of New York deserve nothing short of excellence."
Bennett, 25, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration, said Cuomo once asked her about her sex life and whether she slept with older men. The New York Times first reported her allegations on Feb. 27.
Boylan, a deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to Cuomo from 2015 to 2018, tweeted in December that Cuomo "sexually harassed me for years."
Yet another woman, Anna Ruch, 33, told The Times in a report published Monday that Cuomo, whom she had just met, placed his hands on her face and asked to kiss her at a wedding in 2019. A photograph appears to show the moment.
Cuomo has denied harassing women and said he was sorry for how his behavior made them feel.
"I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable," he said Wednesday. "It was unintentional. And I truly and deeply apologize for it."
Several other prominent New York lawmakers called on him to step down last week, including U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, but most of his allies have stopped short of saying he should resign.
Cuomo urged people Sunday to wait for the results of state Attorney General Letitia James' investigation. He said that when he was attorney general, he received "all sorts of allegations against politicians all the time" but did not make them public.
"People are free to make allegations," he said. "But then we get the facts."