WASHINGTON (AFP) - New York governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday (Feb 28) he was "truly sorry" if his conduct had ever been "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation" as he faced mounting pressure over sexual harassment allegations.
Mr Cuomo has been harshly criticised, including by fellow Democrats, after former aide Charlotte Bennett told The New York Times that he sexually harassed her last year.
The allegations came just four days after ex-aide Lindsey Boylan described unwanted physical contact from Mr Cuomo.
He issued a statement saying that "sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny... I mean no offence and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business."
"I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal."
He admitted some of his comments may have been "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry."
But he denied ever inappropriately touching or propositioning anyone.
Mr Cuomo said he had called for an independent review into the allegations. He had earlier chosen former federal judge Barbara Jones to lead a probe, but high-profile figures in his own Democratic Party said that was insufficiently transparent.
Ms Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent young liberal lawmaker, tweeted that the "detailed accounts" of Mr Cuomo's accusers "are extremely serious and painful to read."
According to the 25-year-old Ms Bennett, Mr Cuomo, who is 63, said 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 reported.
While Mr Cuomo never tried to touch her, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared," she said.
Mr Cuomo became a national figure last spring with his straight-talking yet empathetic coronavirus briefings. They fuelled speculation that President Joe Biden - then a candidate - might consider him as a running mate.
On Wednesday, Ms Boylan said in a blog that Mr Cuomo had harassed her when she was working for his administration, from 2015 to 2018.
Ms 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."
"Every woman should be heard, should be treated with respect and with dignity," Ms Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for President Joe Biden, said on CNN.