NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said Tuesday that he would resign from office, succumbing to a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that fueled an astonishing reversal of fortune for one of the nation’s best-known leaders.
Cuomo said his resignation would take effect in 14 days. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, will be sworn in to replace him, becoming the first woman in history to occupy New York state’s top office.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in remarks streamed from his office in New York City. “And therefore that’s what I’ll do.”
Cuomo’s dramatic fall was shocking in its velocity and vertical drop: A year ago, the governor was being hailed as a national hero for his steady leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The resignation of Cuomo, 63, a three-term Democrat, came one week after a report from the New York state attorney general concluded that the governor sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, including current and former government workers, by engaging in unwanted touching and making inappropriate comments.
The 165-page report also found that Cuomo and his aides unlawfully retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public and fostered a toxic work environment.
The report’s findings put increased pressure on Cuomo to resign, with even President Joe Biden, a longtime friend of the governor, advising him to do so. It spurred the state Assembly — Cuomo’s last political bulwark in an Albany increasingly arrayed against him — to take steps toward impeachment. And it left Cuomo with few, if any, allies to fight with him.
The fallout from the report was swifter than even those closest to Cuomo expected. He quickly became isolated and grew more so by the day. His top aide, Melissa DeRosa, resigned Sunday. On Monday, the speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie, made clear that there would be no “deal” to allow Cuomo to avoid an impeachment that appeared increasingly inevitable.
In the end, Cuomo followed through on the advice his top advisers and onetime allies had been offering: leave office voluntarily.
By stepping down, Cuomo dampened talk of impeachment in the Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats, and left open the possibility, however remote, for a political revival.
In a 21-minute speech that was by turns contrite and defiant, Cuomo decried the effort to remove him and acknowledged that his initial instinct had been “to fight through this controversy, because I truly believe it is politically motivated.”
“This situation and moment are not about the facts,” he said. “It’s not about the truth. It’s not about thoughtful analysis. It’s not about how do we make the system better. This is about politics. And our political system today is too often driven by the extremes.”
The governor said he took “full responsibility” for his actions as he denied ever touching anyone inappropriately. He sought to frame the allegations from 11 women as stemming from generational differences and even thanked them for coming forward.
“In my mind, I have never crossed the line with anyone,” Cuomo said. “But I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
At one point, he addressed his three daughters directly to let them know that “I never did and I never would intentionally disrespect a woman.”
“Your dad made mistakes,” he said to a room filled with staff members, some of them teary-eyed, most caught by surprise. “And he apologized. And he learned from it. And that’s what life is all about.”
His speech was prefaced by a 45-minute presentation from his personal attorney, Rita Glavin, who blamed the media for creating a frenzied environment. She sought to cast doubt on many of the women’s allegations and the level of seriousness of some of the others.
“This report got key facts wrong,” she said. “It omitted key evidence, and it failed to include witnesses whose testimony would not support the narrative that it was clear this report would weave from day one.”
It was a taste of the bare-knuckled counterattack that Cuomo had been eager to launch and was considering in the days after the report came out. Instead, he appeared to conclude, as many of his advisers already had, that no path existed for him to stay in office.
Cuomo still faces potential legal liability, particularly from the accusation that he groped an executive assistant, Brittany Commisso. She filed a criminal complaint with the Albany County sheriff’s office last week.
From the start, Cuomo’s tenure in office was a study in vivid contrasts, marked by a head-spinning scale of accomplishment — the passage of marriage equality, raising the minimum wage, the construction of bridges and train stations — and by political scandals, such as his decision to shut down a panel investigating public corruption before its work was completed.
His political demise stunned Albany, where Cuomo had governed with an outsize presence for more than a decade, wielding the state Capitol’s levers of power with deft and often brutal skill, both alienating allies and keeping them in check. Most politicians — Democrats and Republicans — welcomed Cuomo’s decision and offered Hochul their support. Few thanked Cuomo for his years of service. Some could barely contain their glee.
“It was past time for Andrew Cuomo to resign, and it’s for the good of all New York,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been repeatedly attacked and disparaged by Cuomo over the years.
Biden took a different tone, saying he respected the governor’s decision and praising his accomplishments. “I thought he’s done a hell of a job,” he said, mentioning infrastructure, voter access and “a range of things.”
“That’s why it’s so sad,” Biden added.
As recently as February, it was largely assumed that Cuomo would coast to a fourth term next year — eclipsing the three terms served by his father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, and matching the record of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller — perhaps positioning himself for even higher office.
But that notion was shredded by a steady drumbeat of sexual harassment allegations earlier this year, coupled with troubling reports about his administration’s efforts to obscure the true extent of nursing home deaths during the pandemic, an issue that has been the subject of a federal investigation.
The allegations led to a barrage of calls for his resignation in March from top Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and most of the state’s congressional delegation. Under immense pressure, and in an effort to buy himself time, Cuomo authorized Letitia James, the state attorney general, to oversee an investigation, urging voters to wait for the facts before reaching a conclusion.
The Assembly also began a wide-ranging impeachment investigation earlier this year. That inquiry was looking not only at sexual harassment allegations but also at other accusations involving Cuomo’s misuse of power, including the possible illegal use of state resources to write a book about leadership last year for which he received $5.1 million, as well as his handling of nursing homes.
The inquiry was unfolding slowly, but the attorney general’s report eroded what little support Cuomo had in the Assembly. Cuomo was left with two options: to step down or risk becoming the second New York governor to be impeached in state history.
The last elected New York state governor, Eliot Spitzer, also resigned, after it emerged in 2008 that he had been a client of a high-end prostitution ring.
In recent months, the governor had tried to steer attention away from the investigations and scandals that had battered his administration, seeking to counter his critics’ contention that he had lost the capacity to govern.
His top advisers believed that the goodwill he had amassed during the pandemic would allow him to survive, despite the findings from the state attorney general’s investigation, which was being conducted by a team of outside lawyers.
But Cuomo could not contain the scandal with his usual, and typically effective, mix of threats and charm.
Indeed, the persona that made him a political matinee idol during the pandemic — that of a paternal, and sometimes pugnacious, micromanager — seemed ill-suited to addressing the emotionally charged allegations of sexual harassment against him, some made by women who were not even half his age.
In many ways, the job of governor was both a dream and a destiny for Cuomo, following a lifetime of navigating the upper echelons of government, first as a trusted adviser to his father, who served as governor from 1983-94.
A graduate of Fordham University and Albany Law School, Cuomo served as federal housing secretary in the Clinton administration. In 2002, however, he returned to New York to unsuccessfully run for governor, before mounting a political comeback and being elected state attorney general in 2006.
He wielded the power of the office not only to expose a pay-to-play scheme involving millions of dollars of the state’s public pension funds, but also to launch damaging investigations into two governors. Cuomo investigated Spitzer’s administration’s handling of State Police travel records and conducted initial reviews into two matters concerning his replacement, Gov. David Paterson, who bowed out from the governor’s race in 2010, paving the way for Cuomo’s run.
That year, Cuomo was elected governor in a landslide, cementing a political dynasty.
A hardheaded politician and shrewd manipulator, Cuomo navigated a divided state Legislature, reaching compromises to clinch high-profile victories such as legalization of same-sex marriage, more stringent gun-control laws, a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave.
In recent years, Cuomo, a moderate and fiscal centrist, clashed more frequently with Democrats in Albany, particularly after a crop of younger, left-wing lawmakers gained power in 2018 and pushed for progressive measures. He signed many such bills into law, such as the legalization of marijuana, which he had earlier opposed.
He took particular pride in investing billions of dollars in a slew of major infrastructure projects, including the Second Avenue Subway, the Moynihan Train Hall in Penn Station and the overhaul of the La Guardia Airport. He renamed a major bridge over the Hudson River after his father.
He was reelected twice with overwhelming support, even as he remained a politician who governed more by fear than love. He was dogged by a series of high-profile investigations into his administration and his close associates, casting a cloud over his promise to root out public corruption.
In 2014, Cuomo drew immense scrutiny for interfering with and abruptly closing the Moreland Commission, an anti-corruption panel. Federal prosecutors investigated but concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. In 2016, one of his top advisers and closest friends, Joseph Percoco, was indicted as part of a bribery investigation into the Buffalo Billion, an economic development project. Percoco was convicted of federal corruption charges in 2018.
A former federal prosecutor who was involved in both investigations, Joon H. Kim, was also one of the investigators deputized by James to investigate the sexual harassment claims — a fact Cuomo’s lawyer repeatedly cited to argue that the attorney general’s investigation could not have been fair.
The attorney general’s report centered on interviews with 11 women, including a state trooper and an employee of an energy company whose accounts of sexual harassment by Cuomo had not been previously disclosed.
Especially devastating was the allegation from the unnamed trooper, who the report said was transferred to Cuomo’s protective detail at his request. She said Cuomo touched her stomach once and ran his finger down her back in a suggestive manner while they were on an elevator.
The trooper’s story gave the attorney general’s report new force and undercut any attempt by Cuomo his aides to dismiss it as a rehash.
As an indication of its seriousness, Cuomo addressed it directly Tuesday, saying he tended to give troopers pats on the back but that he did not recall touching her as described in the report, adding, “If she said I did it, I believe her.”
“It was embarrassing to her, and it was disrespectful. It was a mistake, plain and simple,” Cuomo said. “I want to personally apologize to her and her family.”
The apology mirrored one offered by Cuomo back in March to Charlotte Bennett, a young aide whose allegations that Cuomo was “grooming” her for sex touched off the attorney general’s investigation.
At that time, Cuomo staunchly refused to resign. By Tuesday, he seemed to have decided that he no longer had a choice.