NEW YORK (AFP) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was fighting for his political life on Tuesday (March 2) after a third woman accused him of sexual harassment.
The Democrat has suffered a spectacular fall from grace since he became a national star last year for his handling of the state's coronavirus pandemic.
Many commentators had tipped him for a role in President Joe Biden's administration but now members of his own party are calling for his resignation.
Already facing heat over accusations he deliberately underreported Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes, Mr Cuomo referred himself for investigation Monday over sexual misconduct allegations by two former aides.
Hours later, Ms Anna Ruch, 33, told the New York Times that she met the now 63-year-old Mr Cuomo at a wedding in September 2019.
During the reception, he put his hand on her bare lower back - which she pushed away - and asked if he could kiss her.
"I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed," Ms Ruch, who did not work for Mr Cuomo, told the Times. "I turned my head away and didn't have words in that moment." The newspaper published a photo showing the governor holding a visibly uncomfortable Ms Ruch by the cheeks.
Democrats and Republicans have joined Mr Cuomo's accusers and anti-harassment campaigners in calling for the three-term governor to quit.
The scandal engulfing Mr Cuomo illustrates how allegations of sexual harassment gain traction in the #MeToo era.
"If these allegations are true, he cannot govern," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a long-time rival of Mr Cuomo's.
Mr Sam Abrams, a political science professor at Sarah Lawrence College, said the third accuser "makes it much harder" for Mr Cuomo to stay around.
"He is a fighter and will clear his name if it's believed to be a misunderstanding," Mr Abrams said.
"But if he loses the support of the party, and that is happening, he has no future or fourth term."
Mr Cuomo enjoyed national adoration last spring with his straight-talking yet empathetic virus briefings that contrasted sharply with then-president Donald Trump's dismissive approach to the pandemic.
Some Democrats even urged him to run for the White House, but now his stock has never been lower.
The New York senate announced Tuesday it would repeal the emergency powers granted to Mr Cuomo at the start of the pandemic because of the nursing home affair. The powers were due to expire April 30.
Ms Ruch's testimony came just days after former aide Charlotte Bennett told the New York Times that he sexually harassed her last year.
Ms Bennett, 25, said that Mr 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 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.
Another ex-aide, Ms Lindsey Boylan, described unwanted physical contact from Mr Cuomo when she worked 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."
Mr Cuomo said Sunday he was "truly sorry" if his conduct had ever been "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation".
He denied ever inappropriately touching or propositioning anyone.
Mr Cuomo, loathed by many on the left-wing of the Democratic Party, was slammed for the wording of his apology.
He bowed to pressure for an independent probe into the misconduct claims, which will be led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
The findings will be disclosed in a public report that may not be released for months.
Mr Cuomo has led New York for ten years and is widely believed to covet a fourth term when his current one ends in 2022, to surpass his father Mario Cuomo, who served for three terms.
With detractors unlikely to be able to muster enough votes to impeach Mr Cuomo in the state legislature, experts say his future may hang on the outcome of the investigation.
"If it's really bad for him, then he either resigns or gets impeached," said Columbia University politics expert Lincoln Mitchell.