March 4, 2021
An emotional New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he would not step down in the face of multiple accusations of sexual harassment.
“I am not going to resign,” Cuomo said in his first public appearance since the accusations surfaced last week. His comments came at the end of a briefing in Albany devoted to an update on Covid-19 across the state.
While the governor repeatedly expressed contrition, he made it clear that he has no intention to step aside and expects an investigation by state Attorney General Tish James will ultimately vindicate him.
“I do not believe I have ever done anything in my public career that I am ashamed of,” he said.
Reporters called on to question him via Zoom did not ask if he still plans to run for a fourth term next year. The governor’s office controls who is selected in the virtual format, and none of the members of the Albany press corps who cover Cuomo daily was among the handful selected Wednesday.
Cuomo, a Democrat rounding out his third term, is facing growing calls for his resignation after former staffer Lindsey Boylan detailed allegations of sexual harassment against him last Wednesday. Two more women — former aide Charlotte Bennett and Anna Ruch, who met Cuomo for the first time at a wedding — have since accused the governor of making unwanted advances. The state Senate’s majority leader and a fellow Democrat, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said later on Wednesday that “if the investigation shows something inappropriate did happen, I think he would have to resign.”
The governor said he fully supports “a woman’s right to come forward,” and apologized for acting “in a way that made people feel uncomfortable.” He said state Attorney General Tish James should complete her investigation into the allegations.
“This is what I want you to know and I want you to know this from me directly: I never touched anyone inappropriately,” he said “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable … And, I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone. Or cause anyone any pain.
“I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion.”
The most recent of the three women to come forward, Ruch, alleged that Cuomo, whom she did not know beforehand, made unwanted advances toward her at a wedding reception in 2019 and sought to kiss her after she removed his hand from her back. The New York Times published a photo of Cuomo with his hands around her face, capturing the episode.
At no point did Cuomo attempt to refute the specifics of any of the allegations against him, other than to deny any malign intent, and instead said his actions were out of step with evolving social norms. He promised to change his behavior in light of the women’s experiences.
“You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. Men, women; it is my usual and customary way of greeting,” he said. “However, what I also understand is it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter my intent. What matters is if it anybody was offended by it.”
Debra Katz, an attorney who is representing Cuomo’s second accuser, Bennett, blasted Cuomo’s comments as being “full of falsehoods and inaccurate information” contradicting their accounts. Bennett has said Cuomo repeatedly asked her intrusive personal questions, including whether she “had ever been with an older man.”
“We are confident that they made him aware of her complaint and we fully expect that the Attorney General’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms. Bennett’s serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements,” Katz said in a statement.
Cuomo was out of the public eye for nearly a week before Wednesday’s appearance from the state Capitol, communicating through carefully prepared statements and issuing press releases on unrelated matters. His absence has put top Democrats in New York and Washington on the defensive during the intervening days. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said on Wednesday afternoon that there is “just no place for some of the things he is apologizing for.”
“If we come to the point where the investigation shows that there was inappropriate touching and so on and so forth, I think it would be very clear that he would have to walk away,” Stewart-Cousins said on CNN. “He’s saying that nothing inappropriate happened. If the investigation shows that something inappropriate did happen, I think he would have to resign.”
In response to a reporter’s question, Cuomo also said he has taken the state-mandated sexual harassment prevention training but did not specify when.
At least a half-dozen staff members have begun to leave as Cuomo’s troubles mount, including several top aides. Gareth Rhodes, a senior adviser to the governor and a familiar face in his press briefings, confirmed to POLITICO that he has left for his previous position at the Department of Financial Services. First deputy press secretary Will Burns also told the governor’s office that he is leaving.
Asked about the troubles surrounding her boss, Cuomo’s highest-ranking aide, Melissa DeRosa, echoed the governor in asking the public to withhold judgment until the conclusion of the attorney general’s investigation.
“I am incredibly proud of the work that this administration has done to further women’s rights, to expand protections for women in the workplace, out of the workplace, maternal health, reproductive health, the list goes on and on and on,” she said. “I don’t think this diminishes any of that.”
Legislative leaders announced a plan Tuesday to weaken enhanced emergency powers granted to Cuomo at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Republicans and even some Democrats have criticized the agreement, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough.
And although New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and others have questioned Cuomo’s ability to lead amid the scandals, Cuomo focused most of his briefing on the state’s pandemic response.
He touted the state’s reopening plans, travel restriction changes, new gathering limits and vaccination rollout, emphasizing positive developments in the year-long pandemic.
The governor even returned to the topic to close out Wednesday’s briefing after the round of questions focused primarily on the sexual harassment scandal.
“Have a good day. Covid numbers are good. Still be smart. Thank you,” Cuomo said.