UPDATED, with Joe Biden comment: In the culmination of a remarkable months-long fall from grace, three-term New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he will resign as he faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment and possible impeachment by a State Assembly where has lost most of his support.
In a lengthy and still defiant video statement, Cuomo apologized to his accusers but bemoaned an investigative process that he characterized as overly political. “Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” he said. “And therefore, that is what I will do.”
Kathy Hochul, the state’s lieutenant governor, will assume the office when his resignation takes effect in 14 days, Cuomo said. Hochul will be the state’s first female governor. She is being handed the reins as New York and the nation face down the fast-spreading Covid Delta variant.
In a statement, Hochul said, “I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to step down. It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers. As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th Governor.”
I agree with Governor Cuomo's decision to step down. It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers.
As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th Governor.
— Kathy Hochul (@LtGovHochulNY) August 10, 2021
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, no fan of Cuomo, called the governor’s resignation past time and good for the state.
“Make no mistake, this is the result of survivors bravely telling their stories. It was past time for Andrew Cuomo to resign, and it’s for the good of all New York,” he wrote on Twitter.
Make no mistake, this is the result of survivors bravely telling their stories. It was past time for Andrew Cuomo to resign and it’s for the good of all New York.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) August 10, 2021
President Joe Biden told reporters, “I respect the governor’s decision.” He later said that, outside of his personal conduct, Cuomo did a “one hell of a job” as governor. “That’s why it’s so sad,” he said.
Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with numerous other top Democrats, called on Cuomo to step aside last week, when state Attorney General Leticia James released an investigative report outlining allegations from 11 women. One accuser, Brittany Commisso, appeared on CBS This Morning on Monday to detail her claim that Cuomo groped her twice when she was working as an executive assistant.
Cuomo, 63, has consistently denied all of the most serious allegations like groping and, as he did on Tuesday, called other accusations “generational” misunderstandings. He said that the allegations were a result in part of a touchy-feely Italian heritage that included kissing on the cheeks and outward displays of affections that he never intended to be sexual in nature. “In my mind, I didn’t cross the line with anyone. But I didn’t realize the extent to which the lines had been redrawn,” he said.
But despite the cloud of allegations and his loss of support, Cuomo’s resignation was still a surprise, as he has previously been adamant about remaining in office. In his statement, he apologized to accusers, but also was defiant. He was critical of the AG’s investigative report, and listed grievances over the situation and the nature of coverage of such allegations, particularly over social media. But he then pivoted to his conclusion that an impeachment and further investigation would distract from the business of the state.
“The situation is not about the facts, the truth, thoughtful analysis, about how do we make the system better. This is about politics and our political system today is too often driven by the extremes,” he said. “Rashness has replaced reasonableness, loudness has replaced soundness, Twitter has become the public square for policy debate. There is a conversation to be had on generational and cultural differences… but the political environment is too hot and too reactionary for that now.”
Cuomo’s resignation is a dramatic fall for an official who, just a year ago, was being lauded for his visibility in the way that he kept the state’s residents up to date on the coronavirus response. His daily updates earned him an International Emmy. He wrote a book about New York’s Covid-19 response and was a vocal chair of the National Governor’s Association. He hobnobbed with captains of industry, courted nonprofits and has been outspoken over the importance of fostering a New York City revival by luring workers back to offices and jumpstarting the arts and entertainment.
Cuomo was up for reelection next year. By resigning now he can likely avoid the risk of impeachment, which could have barred him from holding future state office, and it allows him to leave with whatever high ground he can muster.
The fallout over the allegations against Cuomo has extended to Time’s Up, whose cofounder, Roberta Kaplan, resigned from the organization on Monday, after criticism that she was advising the governor’s administration on its response. And the investigative report highlighted the role that Cuomo’s brother, Chris Cuomo, played in sitting in on the governor’s strategy sessions as the allegations first surfaced earlier this year. Chris Cuomo has not addressed the most recent investigative report on his show, and is on vacation this week. But he apologized in May after his role as an informal adviser to his brother was disclosed. A CNN spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Cuomo referred to his three adult daughters in his statement, saying: “I want them to know, from the bottom of my heart: I never did, and I never would, intentionally disrespect a woman or treat a woman differently than I would want them treated. Your dad made mistakes. And he apologized. And he learned from it. And that’s what life is all about.”
Cuomo was married for 15 years through 2005 to Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
He selected Hochul as his running mate in 2014 in a move seen as a play for votes in Erie County, where she had worked as as an official and was elected to Congress in 2011.
A bio on her website calls her “A lifelong New Yorker, she was born and raised in a blue-collar Irish Catholic family in Buffalo that instilled a deep passion for public service and activism. She continued that fighting spirit as a student organizer, as a young attorney and aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and then as a member of her Town Board, Erie County Clerk, and as a Member of Congress.”
Her last public appearance with Cuomo was at a Covid briefing in Buffalo at the end of January. She had distanced herself from the governor and last week after the AG report came out issued a statement saying it “documented repulsive and unlawful behavior by the Governor towards multiple women.”
At today’s briefing, Cuomo said, “Kathy Hochul, my lieutenant governor is smart and competent… This transition must be seamless. We have a lot going on. I’m very worried about the Delta variant and so should you be, but she can come up to speed quickly.”
Cuomo himself came into office in 2011, succeeding David Patterson. Patterson had assumed office after the resignation of Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after it was revealed that he paid a prostitute for sex.
Cuomo was reelected in 2014 and 2018, but he faced a high-profile primary challenge in the last cycle, actress Cynthia Nixon. On Twitter, Nixon called for “prosecuting Cuomo to the full extent of the law” and moving forward with impeachment to bar him from running for statewide office again.
“This is a good day for New York. This is the start of accountability, but more needs to be done to keep women safe,” Nixon wrote.