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Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday resigned as New York governor following devastating claims of sexual harassment that shredded his reputation and engulfed his administration.
In a video address, an emotional Cuomo said he was inclined to fight impeachment proceedings but feared that doing so would consume the state’s government at a perilous moment.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” said Cuomo, 63.
His resignation will become effective in 14 days, after which Kathy Hochul, the state’s lieutenant-governor, will take charge.
It comes a week after a 168-page report released by New York attorney-general Letitia James concluded he had violated state and federal laws by sexually harassing 11 women, most current and former state employees.
The Democratic governor’s alleged transgressions ranged from suggestive comments to a young assistant about her sex life to reaching under a woman’s blouse and cupping her breast.
Cuomo has repeatedly denied touching anyone inappropriately. In Tuesday’s roughly 20-minute address, Cuomo apologised for insensitivity and insisted his greatest mistake had been failing to grasp how behavioural norms had changed over the years.
“In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone. But I didn’t realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” he said. “There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate — and I should have.”
At the same time, the governor blasted James’s report as “unfair and untruthful”. Just before he spoke, Rita Glavin, his attorney, said the report was “designed and meant to devastate Governor Cuomo”.
Tuesday’s resignation marks the end of an epic American political career that soared over the past year — with talk of a possible White House bid — and then came crashing down.
Cuomo, now in his third term, was celebrated for his inspiring and resolute leadership during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when New York City was hit hard. The governor’s daily briefings became appointment viewing for people across the country, and fans even mused about drafting him to replace Joe Biden as the Democratic party’s presidential nominee.
But Cuomo, son of another three-term New York governor, Mario Cuomo, began to face questions about his executive order in March 2020 requiring nursing homes to accept patients with Covid-19.
A report by James’s office released in January found that his administration had undercounted Covid deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50 per cent, which critics said was intended to protect his reputation.
Around the same time, former aides began to come forward with accounts of sexual harassment and a toxic work environment where deference to Cuomo was enforced by an inner circle of “mean girls”.
Cuomo’s fate appeared to be sealed as longtime allies, particularly in the black community, abandoned him following James’s coruscating report and the New York State Assembly began preparations to try to impeach him. His top aide, Melissa DeRosa, resigned on Sunday.
In a statement, the US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, also a New York Democrat, said Cuomo’s resignation was “the right decision for the good of the people of New York”. James said Cuomo’s resignation “closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it’s an important step towards justice”.
US president Joe Biden, who had called on Cuomo to step down after the report was released, said on Tuesday that he respected the decision. Asked for his view on Cuomo’s time as governor, the president responded: “He has done a hell of a job. I mean, both on everything from access to voting to infrastructure to a whole range of things. That is why it is so sad.”
Hochul, a former US representative from Buffalo, will become the state’s first female governor. She was not close to Cuomo, and barely visible during his reign, attributes that may now help her to govern until next year’s elections.
As he signed off, Cuomo reminded voters of all he had accomplished for them over the years — from infrastructure projects to legalising same-sex marriage and battling Covid.
“Thank you for the honour of serving you,” he said. “It has been the honour of a lifetime.”
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