New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced he will resign following a scathing report from the state's attorney general concluding the third-term Democrat sexually harassed 11 women, and in one instance, sought to retaliate against one of his accusers who went public with her allegations.
"Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing, and I cannot be the cause of that," Cuomo, 63, said in remarks Tuesday from the state capital of Albany.
"I think that, given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing," he added.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is next in line and will become the state's first female governor.
"This transition must be seamless," Cuomo said, calling Hochul smart and competent. "She can come up to speed quickly."
Hochul, who served one term in Congress before Cuomo tapped her to be his running mate in 2014, said in a statement she agreed with the governor's decision to step down.
"It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers," she said. "As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York state's 57th governor."
Cuomo will leave office on Aug. 24
Cuomo's departure from office, which will take effect in 14 days, represents a remarkable turn of events from just over a year ago when the governor was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party for his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet even that performance is now under a cloud of scrutiny as a separate investigation by the attorney general found that the number of nursing home deaths in the state was far worse than officials disclosed.
But it was the allegations of harassment that precipitated the once unthinkable prospect of Cuomo's resignation. The 165-page report released last week followed a months-long investigation into Cuomo's actions and outlined what New York Attorney General Letitia James called violations of both state and federal law. Prosecutors said their findings substantiated allegations from several women — which included unwanted and nonconsensual touching, groping, kissing and sexual comments.
"This is a sad day for New York because independent investigators have concluded that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and, in doing so, broke the law," James said upon the report's release. "No man – no matter how powerful – can be allowed to harass women or violate our human rights."
In a statement after Cuomo's announcement, James said the governor's resignation "closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it's an important step towards justice."
It's a stunning fall for Cuomo, a political scion whose last name is like royalty in New York. His father, Mario, a former three-term governor, is revered in the state. The governor's resignation will mark an end to a nearly half-century political dynasty. There has been a Cuomo in statewide or federal office for 40 of the last 46 years.
In his remarks Tuesday, Andrew Cuomo repeatedly denied the allegations against him and called the report "false." The most serious allegations, he said, "had no credible factual basis."
He then apologized for offending the women who were included in the report and said he took "full responsibility" for his actions.
"I have been too familiar with people. My sense of humor can be insensitive and off-putting. I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life," Cuomo said.
"In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn't realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn."
Multiple women spoke out publicly against Cuomo
Since February, at least seven women have come forward to recount unwelcome interactions with Cuomo, including several former aides.
Among them is Jessica Bakeman, who said in a New York magazine essay published in March that the governor touched her inappropriately while she was a statehouse reporter several years ago. Bakeman now works at an NPR member station in Florida.
Her account followed accusations from a Cuomo aide who said the governor had groped her late last year. In interviews last week with CBS and the Times Union of Albany, the aide, Brittany Commisso, said she was called to Cuomo's office in the Executive Mansion to help with a technical problem with his mobile phone. Once she arrived, he began groping her, she alleged.
Commisso's allegations were originally published by the Times Union in April under the condition that she remain anonymous.
An attorney for the governor, Beth Garvey, said the state had an obligation to report those allegations and did so when the complainant declined to do it.
Following the Times Union revelation, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, Carl Heastie, authorized the assembly's Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment investigation into the misconduct allegations against Cuomo.
Another woman, Anna Ruch, shared her story with The New York Times. Ruch told the Times in March that she met Cuomo during a wedding reception in September 2019. Ruch said that Cuomo put his hand on her bare lower back and that after she removed his hand, he then placed both hands on her cheeks and asked if he could kiss her. A friend nearby photographed the interaction, and Ruch shared the photos with the newspaper.
Calls to resign have been growing from within his own party
Following publication of Ruch's story, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice called for Cuomo to quit. She was the first Democrat in New York's congressional delegation to do so.
In the months since, every member of the state's congressional delegation has followed suit, including Reps. Jerry Nadler and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So too did the state's two U.S. senators — Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
President Biden also said Cuomo should resign if the investigation confirmed the women's allegations.
"I think he'll probably end up being prosecuted, too," Biden told ABC News in March.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Biden said he "respects" Cuomo's decision to resign.
When asked about Cuomo's performance as governor, Biden attempted to separate the New Yorker's personal behavior from his official duties, saying: "He's done a hell of a job," citing voting access and infrastructure. "That's why it's so sad," Biden added.
Pressed on whether it was appropriate to separate Cuomo's achievements as governor from the numerous allegations of sexual harassment, Biden said he was trying to answer specifically when asked about the governor's performance.
After the attorney general's report was released Aug. 3, Biden confirmed that he believed Cuomo should step down. "I think he should resign," Biden told reporters at the White House then.
Ruch's allegations followed statements in February from two former aides: Lindsey Boylan, a onetime economic adviser to Cuomo, and Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser for the governor.
Boylan described an unwanted kiss and touching from the governor amid "a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected."
Bennett told The New York Times that the governor had asked her a series of personal questions when she was alone with him in his office, including whether she ever had sex with older men.
Cuomo also faced backlash over nursing home deaths
On top of the harassment accusations, Cuomo has also faced pressure over not publicly disclosing the full number of people who died of COVID-19 in nursing homes in the state.
The state attorney general issued a report in January that found Cuomo's administration undercounted the nursing home deaths by 50% because it didn't include many residents who became sick with COVID-19, were transferred to a hospital and died there.
Cuomo has had a long history in politics
Cuomo has been involved in politics for most of his life. Arguably, politics has been more a part of his life than even his father's.
He got his start in politics as a volunteer on his father's campaign for lieutenant governor when he was 16. In 1982, at 24, he was campaign manager for his father's first successful run for governor.
When his father was governor, Cuomo then started a nonprofit in the 1980s to help build housing for the homeless, which drew the attention of national political figures.
By the 1990s, Cuomo was secretary of housing and urban development in Bill Clinton's administration. And he was married to Kerry Kennedy in a marriage the New York tabloids dubbed "Cuomolot," a play on Camelot, which the Kennedy dynasty is sometimes called.
Cuomo returned to New York in 2000 and soon launched a campaign against Republican Gov. George Pataki, the man who unseated his father and denied Mario Cuomo a fourth term.
The campaign, though, was a bust. He lost in the Democratic primary, and Pataki won reelection. After the loss, Cuomo's marriage fell apart, too. It was a time he called the low point of his life.
But by 2006, he was back. He ran and won as state attorney general, mapping out his arc to the governorship. He was elected governor in 2010, and was serving his third term, seeking his fourth, at the time he announced his resignation.
Only one person has won four terms as New York state governor — Nelson Rockefeller, who went on to serve as Gerald Ford's vice president in 1974.
NPR political reporter Alana Wise contributed to this report.