New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that he will not resign over several allegations of sexual harassment by young women and instead offered an apology and a willingness to “fully cooperate” with an investigation into his conduct.
“I’m not going to resign,” he said during a news conference and argued that calls for his resignation were politically motivated.
Cuomo’s public profile and his popularity rose last year when New York was the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and he began conducting daily televised coronavirus updates.
His reassuring attitude won him favour among New Yorkers who during statewide lockdowns were glued to his lengthy news conferences, during which he talked about the virus, politics and his family.
In November, he won an Emmy award.
But in recent weeks, his administration has been engulfed in a series of scandals.
Two women, Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, who previously worked in his administration, have accused him of sexual misconduct.
And on March 1, a third woman, Anna Ruch, 33, whom he had never met before, accused him of making unwanted sexual advances during a wedding. A picture emerged of Cuomo, who is 63, touching her face.
“You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people, men, women – it is my usual and customary way of greeting,” Cuomo claimed.
But he added that he felt “awful” and “embarrassed” by the allegations.
“I didn’t know at the time I was making her feel uncomfortable. However, what I also understand is, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter my intent, what matters is, if anybody was offended by it,” he said. “[I]f they were offended by it, I apologise and if they were hurt by it, I apologise and if they felt pain from it, I apologise, I apologise.”
Following the news conference, Boylan responded to Cuomo and said his claim that he was unaware he was making female staff feel uncomfortable in the workplace makes him unfit for office.
“How can New Yorkers trust you to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?” she wrote in a tweet.
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?
— Lindsey Boylan (@LindseyBoylan) March 3, 2021
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the investigation into the harassment claims, and that independent investigators will lead the effort.
The allegations come following scrutiny over his handling of the coronavirus in nursing homes, with accusations that his administration undercounted deaths in nursing homes and implemented policies that may have caused even more deaths.
A federal probe has been launched into the issue.
Calls for his resignation and appeals for an investigation into his behaviour came even from members of his own party. At least 25 Democratic officials have publicly called for his resignation, according to a list compiled by NBC.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who often publicly spars with Cuomo, told CNN on Monday, “If these allegations, if these charges are proven, there’s just no way he can govern.”
Cuomo maintained that he would not succumb to such calls.
“Some politicians will always play politics, that’s the nature of the beast,” Cuomo said. “I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York.”