New York governor Andrew Cuomo refuses to quit over sexual harassment scandal

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in February 2021.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in February 2021.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday (March 3) he would not resign over a sexual harassment scandal as he asked Americans to await the outcome of an independent investigation into his conduct.

In his first public remarks since three women accused him last week of inappropriate behavior, Cuomo apologised for his actions but ruled out quitting, at least until the probe delivers its findings.

“I’m not going to resign,” the 63-year-old told reporters during a coronavirus briefing. “I’m going to do the job that the people of the state elected me to do.”

The Democrat became a national star last spring for his handling of New York’s chapter of the pandemic, with many commentators tipping him for a role in President Joe Biden’s administration.

But the three-term governor has suffered a spectacular fall from grace, with members of his own party joining Republicans and his accusers in calling for his resignation.

Cuomo, appearing to choke up at times, said he now understood that the way he acted had made the women feel “uncomfortable.”

“It was unintentional. And I truly, and deeply apologise. I feel awful about it. And frankly, I am embarrassed by it,” he said.

Cuomo said he would “fully cooperate” with the investigation into his conduct being led by New York state Attorney-General Letitia James.

He asked New Yorkers to await the outcome of the probe before “forming an opinion on the allegations.”

“Make the decision when you know the facts,” the governor said.

No deadline has been set for the investigation, which could last months.

Last week former aide Lindsey Boylan described unwanted physical contact from Cuomo when she worked for his administration, from 2015 to 2018.

Boylan, 36, alleged that the governor had given her an unsolicited kiss on the lips, suggested that they play strip poker and went “out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.”

“I never touched anyone inappropriately,” Cuomo said, repeating denials that he gave in a statement over the weekend.

“I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable,” he added.

Days after Boylan’s allegation another ex-aide, Charlotte Bennett, told The New York Times that Cuomo sexually harassed her last year.

‘Customary’ greeting

Bennett, 25, said that Cuomo told her in June that he was open to dating women in their 20s, and asked her if she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, the Times said.

While Cuomo never tried to touch her, “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” she said.

In a third allegation Monday, Anna Ruch, 33, told the Times that Cuomo had put his hand on her bare lower back – which she pushed away – and asked if he could kiss her during a wedding reception in September 2019.

The newspaper published a photo showing the governor holding a visibly uncomfortable Ruch by the cheeks.

Cuomo said the public could find “hundreds of pictures” of him kissing men and women.

“It is my usual and customary way of greeting,” he said, adding that it was also the way his father, three-time New York Governor Mario Cuomo, greeted people.

Cuomo’s contrition on Wednesday failed to satisfy his accusers.

“How can New Yorkers trust you @NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?” Boylan tweeted.

Bennett retweeted a statement from her lawyer saying Cuomo’s press conference was “full of falsehoods.”

Cuomo’s daily no-nonsense yet empathetic virus briefings that contrasted sharply with then-president Donald Trump’s dismissive approach to the pandemic led some to urge him to run for the White House.

But even before the harassment allegations, Cuomo’s reputation has taken a battering in recent weeks over claims he deliberately underreported the number of virus deaths in nursing homes.

The New York legislature announced on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement to remove the special powers it had granted Cuomo at the start of the pandemic.

Even if Cuomo manages to ride out the harassment storm, many experts think any hopes he had of surpassing his father and winning a fourth term next year are over.