Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday that he will resign from office in a shocking end to a scandal that swiftly destroyed his decades-long political career. Cuomo will leave office in 14 days and be replaced by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who will become the state’s first female executive.
Cuomo spoke for more than 20 minutes in a surprise address, proclaiming his innocence against a raft of sexual-harassment allegations and decrying what he said was an extreme political environment that foreclosed any possibility of a fair trial should he be impeached. “I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” he said.
The three-term governor was accused by investigators of sexually harassing nearly a dozen women, including those in and out of state government, in a report issued by New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office last Tuesday. The report also accused Cuomo of breaking state and federal laws against workplace harassment. He said the findings were an example of a “bias” and “lack of fairness” in the justice system, despite the fact that his office referred the investigation to James’s office in the first place earlier this year. State and national Democrats, including President Biden, called for Cuomo to leave office immediately and helped accelerate a dormant impeachment effort by lawmakers in Albany.
Cuomo, 63, is accused by at least 11 women of making unwanted sexual advances, ranging from lewd remarks to unwanted touching. The first woman to step forward publicly was Lindsey Boylan, a former aide, who accused her former boss last winter of kissing her without consent behind closed doors in his office. According to investigators, Cuomo’s inner circle, led by his now-departed top aide Melissa DeRosa, schemed to retaliate against Boylan by, among other things, leaking confidential complaints made against her while she worked in government.
After Boylan spoke out publicly, an executive assistant working for Cuomo told coworkers she had been groped by him in his office at his official residence, according to the report. That assistant, Brittany Commisso, filed a criminal complaint with the Albany sheriff’s office, which said it would consider arresting the sitting governor if there is a basis for charges.
The report also revealed for the first time allegations by a state trooper that Cuomo ran his hands over her body after picking her out of the ranks to serve on his protective detail.
Cuomo summarized his defense against the complaints as a matter of personal ignorance regarding supposedly changing mores involving the treatment of women. “I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” he said. “There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate.”
After saying he’d been wrongfully accused Cuomo nevertheless said he wanted to “thank the women who came forward with sincere complaints. It’s not easy to step forward, but you did an important service.”
The dam began to break against Cuomo in February when Boylan first spoke out, leading to more women accusing him of harassment and building calls for him to leave office before the end of his term. Cuomo previously vowed not to resign, calling such a move “undemocratic” and pleaded for people to wait for the results of an investigation by James, after referring the probe to her office.
James, in turn, hired a veteran federal prosecutor and well-known employment attorney to dig in. Five months later, after interviewing nearly 200 witnesses and reviewing 74,000 pieces of evidence, they delivered their verdict: Cuomo sexually harassed women and broke laws doing so, and a “culture of fear” in his office enabled his predatory behavior.
Cuomo’s fall is remarkable given the heights he reached last year during the early, dark days of the pandemic. He became nationally famous for his televised briefings about how the state — practically embodied by him — was battling the virus that killed thousands every day and ground life to a halt. Admirers saw in Cuomo a steady, competent hand compared to Trump, despite criticism the governor did not act with sufficient urgency to blunt the virus that has killed more than 53,000 people in New York. The governor was specifically criticized for his controversial decision to transfer coronavirus-positive patients from overwhelmed hospitals back to nursing homes and long-care term facilities, where the virus cut down thousands.
It was a sudden downfall for a man who has spent almost his entire life in politics. He learned the trade under his father, former governor Mario Cuomo, and had stints as the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration and attorney general of New York. Cuomo’s resignation means he will have failed in what was considered his life’s mission: to surpass Mario, who served three terms, but was defeated at the polls for a fourth one.