NY Gov. Cuomo resigns amid scandals, ending decadelong run in disgrace
By Luis Ferré-Sadurní
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said Tuesday he would resign from office, succumbing to a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that fueled an astonishing reversal of fortune for one of the nation’s best-known leaders.
Cuomo said his resignation would take effect in 14 days. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, will be sworn in to replace him.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said from his office in New York City. “And therefore that’s what I’ll do.”
The resignation of Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, came one week after a report from the New York state attorney general concluded that the governor sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, including current and former government workers, by engaging in unwanted touching and making inappropriate comments.
The 165-page report also found that Cuomo and his aides unlawfully retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public and fostered a toxic work environment.
The report put increased pressure on Cuomo to resign, leading to new calls to do so from President Joe Biden, a longtime friend of the governor, and other Democratic leaders who had withheld judgment until the report’s findings were made public, and leaving Cuomo with few, if any, defenders.
The report’s fallout had left Cuomo increasingly isolated: His top aide, Melissa DeRosa, resigned Sunday after concluding that the governor had no path to remain in office, according to a person familiar with her thinking.
In the end, Cuomo followed through on the advice his top advisers and onetime allies had been offering: leave office voluntarily.
Cuomo stepped down as he faced the specter of forced removal from office through impeachment and was poised to become only the second NewYork governor to be impeached.
Following the report’s release, the leaders of the state Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, began moving to draft articles of impeachment and appeared to have enough support to pass them.
The dramatic fall of Cuomo, 63, was shocking in its velocity and vertical drop: A year ago, the governor was being hailed as a national hero for his steady leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic. His political demise stunned Albany, where Cuomo had governed with an outsized presence for more than a decade, wielding the state Capitol’s levers of power with deft and often brutal skill.
As recently as February, it was largely assumed that Cuomo would coast to a fourth term next year — eclipsing the three terms served by his father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, and matching the record of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller — perhaps positioning himself for even higher office.
But that notion was shredded by a steady drumbeat of sexual harassment allegations earlier this year, coupled with troubling reports about his administration’s efforts to obscure the true extent of nursing home deaths during the pandemic, an issue that has been the subject of a federal investigation.
The allegations led to a barrage of calls for his resignation in March from top Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and most of the state’s congressional delegation. Under immense pressure, and in an effort to buy himself time, Cuomo authorized Letitia James, the state attorney general, to oversee an investigation into the claims, urging voters to wait for the facts before reaching a conclusion.
The Assembly, where Cuomo had retained a small well of support among a bloc of Democrats, had also begun a wide-ranging impeachment investigation earlier this year. That inquiry was looking not only at sexual harassment allegations but also at other accusations involving Cuomo’s misuse of power, including the possible illegal use of state resources to write a book about leadership last year for which he received $5.1 million, as well as his handling of nursing home data during the pandemic.
The inquiry was unfolding slowly, but the attorney general’s report eroded what little support Cuomo had in the Assembly and accelerated impeachment efforts. The turning point came when Carl E. Heastie, the Assembly speaker, whom Cuomo’s critics had accused of covering for the governor by stalling the impeachment inquiry, declared that Cuomo had “lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority” and that “he can no longer remain in office.”
By then, Cuomo was left with two options: to step down or risk becoming the first New York governor to be impeached in more than a century, a stain on his legacy. The resignation of Cuomo, who has repeatedly denied inappropriately touching anyone, follows the resignation of the last elected New York governor, Eliot Spitzer, who stepped down in 2008 after it emerged that he had been a client of a high-end prostitution ring.
In recent months, the governor had tried to steer attention away from the investigations and scandals that had battered his administration, seeking to counter his critics’ contention that he had lost the capacity to govern.
He crisscrossed the state staging news conferences meant to portray an image of assertive leadership, with a focus on the state’s economic recovery efforts and vaccine rollout. He held fundraisers and, ever mindful of his public image, kept a close eye on public opinion, intent on regaining support from voters and rehabilitating his reputation before a possible reelection campaign.
It seemed to some, including his top advisers, that the goodwill he had amassed during the pandemic would allow him to weather the findings from the state attorney general’s investigation, which was being conducted by a team of outside lawyers.
But the scandal that ultimately doomed his administration was one that Cuomo could not conquer with his usual, and typically effective, mix of threats and charm.
Indeed, the persona that made him a political matinee idol during the pandemic — a paternal, and sometimes pugnacious, micromanager — seemed ill-suited to addressing the sexual and emotionally charged allegations of harassment against him, some made by women who were not even half his age.