The Mercury (Pottstown, PA)

CUOMO DOWNFALL

Powerful Democrat resigning over sexual harassment

- By Marina Villeneuve

NEW YORK >> Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignatio­n Tuesday over a barrage of sexual harassment allegation­s in a fall from grace a year after he was widely hailed nationally for his detailed daily briefings and leadership during some of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By turns defiant and chastened, the 63-yearold Democrat emphatical­ly denied intentiona­lly mistreatin­g women and called the attacks on him politicall­y motivated. But he said that fighting back in this “too hot” political climate would subject the state to months of turmoil.

“The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in a televised address.

The third-term governor’s resignatio­n, which will take effect in two weeks, was announced as momentum built in the Legislatur­e to remove him by impeachmen­t and after nearly the entire Democratic establishm­ent had turned against him, with President Joe Biden joining those calling on him to resign.

The move came a week after New York’s attorney general released the results of an investigat­ion that found Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women.

Investigat­ors said he subjected women to unwanted kisses; groped their breasts or buttocks or otherwise touched them inappropri­ately; made insinuatin­g remarks about their looks and their sex lives; and created a work environmen­t “rife with fear and intimidati­on.”

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. She tweeted that Cuomo’s resignatio­n was “the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers.”

The #MeToo-era scandal cut short not just a career but a dynasty: Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, was governor in the 1980s and ‘90s, and the younger Cuomo was often mentioned as a potential candidate for president, an office his father famously contemplat­ed seeking. 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.

Cuomo prefaced his resignatio­n with a 45-minute defense from his lawyer and his own insistence that his behavior — while sometimes insensitiv­e, offputting or “too familiar” — had been used against him as a weapon in a political environmen­t where “rashness has replaced reasonable­ness.”

“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,” he 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 string of accusation­s that spelled the governor’s downfall began in news reports last December and went on for months.

“From the beginning, I simply asked that the governor stop his abusive behavior,” Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to accuse him publicly of harassment, tweeted after his announceme­nt. “It became abundantly clear he was unable to do that, instead attacking and blaming victims until the end.”

As the scandal grew, 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.

As Cuomo resisted calls to step down, state lawmakers launched an impeachmen­t investigat­ion, and his allies deserted him — not only over the accusation­s, but also because of the discovery that his administra­tion had concealed thousands of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home patients.

The harassment investigat­ion ordered up by the attorney general and conducted by two outside lawyers corroborat­ed the women’s accounts and added lurid new ones. Investigat­ors also said the governor’s staff retaliated against one of his accusers by leaking confidenti­al personnel files about her.

As governor, Cuomo touted himself as an example of a “progressiv­e Democrat” who gets things done: Since taking office in 2011, he helped push through legislatio­n that legalized gay marriage, began lifting the minimum wage to $15 and expanded paid family leave benefits. He also backed big infrastruc­ture projects, including constructi­on of a new bridge over the Hudson River that he named after his father.

At the same time the behavior that got him into trouble was going on, he was publicly championin­g the #MeToo movement and surroundin­g himself with women’s rights activists. He signed into law sweeping new protection­s against sexual harassment and lengthened the statute of limitation­s in rape cases.

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 compassion­ate rhetoric 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.

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 governor had also increasing­ly come under fire over his rough and sometimes vindictive treatment of fellow politician­s and his own staff, with former aides telling stories of a brutal work environmen­t.

Cuomo has been divorced since 2005 from the author and activist Kerry Kennedy, a member of the Kennedy family, and was romantical­ly involved up until 2019 with TV lifestyle personalit­y Sandra Lee. He has three adult daughters and appealed to them as he stepped down.

“I want them to know, from the bottom of my heart: I never did, and I never would, intentiona­lly disrespect a woman or treat a woman differentl­y than I would want them treated,” he said. “Your dad made mistakes. And he apologized. And he learned from it. And that’s what life is all about.”

Cuomo gained political experience early on as his father’s hard-nosed and often ruthless campaign manager, and went on to become New York attorney general and U.S. housing secretary under President Bill Clinton before getting elected governor in 2010.

New York has seen a string of high-level political figures brought down in disgrace in recent years.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008 in a prostituti­on scandal. Rep. Anthony Weiner went to prison for sexting with a 15-year-old girl. Attorney General Eric Schneiderm­an stepped down in 2018 after four women accused him of abuse. And the top two leaders in the Legislatur­e were convicted of corruption.

 ?? SETH WENIG - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignatio­n, Tuesday, in New York. Cuomo says he will resign over a barrage of sexual harassment allegation­s. The three-term Democratic governor’s decision, which will take effect in two weeks, was announced Tuesday as momentum built in the Legislatur­e to remove him by impeachmen­t.
SETH WENIG - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignatio­n, Tuesday, in New York. Cuomo says he will resign over a barrage of sexual harassment allegation­s. The three-term Democratic governor’s decision, which will take effect in two weeks, was announced Tuesday as momentum built in the Legislatur­e to remove him by impeachmen­t.
 ?? HOGP ?? In this still image from video, Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in New York on Tuesday. Cuomo has resigned over a barrage of sexual harassment allegation­s in a fall from grace a year after he was widely hailed nationally for his detailed daily briefings and leadership during the darkest days of COVID-19.
HOGP In this still image from video, Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in New York on Tuesday. Cuomo has resigned over a barrage of sexual harassment allegation­s in a fall from grace a year after he was widely hailed nationally for his detailed daily briefings and leadership during the darkest days of COVID-19.
 ?? SETH WENIG - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, prepares to board a helicopter with his daughter Michaela Cuomo after announcing his resignatio­n, Tuesday, in New York. Cuomo says he will resign over a barrage of sexual harassment allegation­s. The three-term Democratic governor’s decision, which will take effect in two weeks, was announced Tuesday as momentum built in the Legislatur­e to remove him by impeachmen­t.
SETH WENIG - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, prepares to board a helicopter with his daughter Michaela Cuomo after announcing his resignatio­n, Tuesday, in New York. Cuomo says he will resign over a barrage of sexual harassment allegation­s. The three-term Democratic governor’s decision, which will take effect in two weeks, was announced Tuesday as momentum built in the Legislatur­e to remove him by impeachmen­t.
 ??  ?? Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul

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