ALBANY, N.Y. (NewsNation Now) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation Tuesday following an inquiry that found he sexually harassed 11 women, amid mounting legal pressure and demands for his departure.
The three-term governor’s decision was announced as momentum built in the Legislature to remove him by impeachment. Cuomo said his resignation would be effective in 14 days.
“The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing, and therefore, that’s what I’ll do,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo called some of the allegations fabricated, forcefully denying he touched anyone inappropriately. But he acknowledged making some aides uncomfortable with comments he said he intended as playful, and he apologized for some of his behavior.
He portrayed some of the encounters as misunderstandings attributable to “generational or cultural” differences, a reference in part to his upbringing in an affectionate Italian American family.
“In my mind, I never crossed the line with anyone but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” Cuomo said.
The investigation into Cuomo found that he sexually harassed multiple current and former state government employees, state Attorney General Letitia James announced last week.
The nearly five-month investigation, conducted by two outside lawyers, found that the Cuomo administration was a “hostile work environment” and that it was “rife with fear and intimidation.”
Investigators spoke to 179 people over the investigation, including complainants and current and former members of the executive chamber, James said. The team also reviewed more than 74,000 pieces of evidence, including documents, emails, text messages, audio files and pictures.
Just last week, Cuomo remained defiant following the investigation’s findings and continued to deny the allegations, saying “I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a 62-year-old Democrat and former member of Congress from the Buffalo area, will become the state’s 57th governor and the first woman to hold the post.
“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,” Hochul said in a statement. “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.
New York Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs endorsed her appointment stating, “New York will finally have its first female Governor and we could not be in better hands.”
Cuomo’s resignation marks the second time in 13 years that a New York governor has stepped down in scandal, after Eliot Spitzer quit in 2008 over his patronage of prostitutes. Cuomo also became the latest powerful man taken down in recent years following the rise of the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment that has shaken politics, Hollywood, the business world and the workplace.
Cuomo, 63, was elected to three terms as governor, as was his late father, Mario Cuomo. He previously served as U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary from 1997 to 2001 under former President Bill Clinton.
His national popularity soared during the harrowing spring of 2020, when New York became the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak.
His tough-minded but empathetic response made for riveting television well beyond New York, and his stern warnings to people to stay home and wear masks stood in sharp contrast to President Donald Trump’s brush-off of the virus. His briefings won an international Emmy Award, and he went on to write a book on leadership in a crisis.
But even those accomplishments were soon tainted when it was learned that the state’s official count of nursing home deaths had excluded many patients who had been transferred to hospitals before they succumbed. A Cuomo aide acknowledged the administration feared the true numbers would be “used against us” by the Trump White House.
Also, Cuomo’s administration was fiercely criticized for forcing nursing homes to accept patients recovering from the virus.
Even as the scandal mushroomed, Cuomo was planning to run for reelection in 2022.
Republicans exulted in Cuomo’s departure but urged the Legislature to impeach him anyway, which could prevent him from running for office again.
“This resignation is simply an attempt to avoid real accountability,” state GOP chair Nick Langworthy said.
“I am a fighter, and my instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated. I believe it is unfair and it is untruthful,” Cuomo said, but added that he didn’t want “distractions” to consume the state government as it grapples with the pandemic and other problems.
Cuomo may still face the possibility of criminal charges, with a number of prosecutors around the state moving to investigate him. At least one of his accusers has filed a criminal complaint against him.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the state’s handling of data on nursing home deaths. In addition, the state attorney general is looking into whether Cuomo broke the law in using members of his staff to help write and promote his book, from which he stood to make more than $5 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.