WASHINGTON - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of the leading Democratic political figures in the U.S., is rebuffing calls that he resign in the face of a growing number of allegations that he has sexually harassed young women.
Over the weekend, two key Democratic leaders of New York’s statehouse, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and House Speaker Carl Heastie, said Cuomo should consider resigning after five women, four of whom worked for the governor, accused him of unwanted advances.
But Cuomo said Sunday, “There is no way I resign. Let’s do the attorney general investigation, let’s get the findings, and then we’ll go from there.”
A year ago, as the coronavirus engulfed New York, the fourth biggest U.S. state with 19 million residents, Cuomo was cited as an exemplary leader in managing the worst effects of the pandemic. He shut down nonessential businesses in the state and held daily news conferences to pillory the national government for its halting response.
But more recently, investigations have revealed that Cuomo’s health officials undercounted the number of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes in the state, and then the harassment allegations surfaced as well.
Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic state Senate leader, said in a statement, “New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it. We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign.”
Heastie later said he “shares the sentiment.”
“We have many challenges to address, and I think it is time for the governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York,” Heastie said.
Republicans look to impeach
Meanwhile, state Republican lawmakers said Monday they are launching an effort to impeach Cuomo.
But the 63-year-old Cuomo, in the midst of his third four-year term as the state’s leader, said he has no intention of quitting, saying it would be “anti-democratic.”
Cuomo’s troubles first started with the dramatic under-reporting of the number of COVID-19 deaths among long-term care residents at nursing homes in the state. The figure is now 15,000, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.
A top Cuomo aide told state lawmakers that officials feared that the information was “going to be used against us” by possible federal investigations originating at the Justice Department under the administration of former President Donald Trump, long a Republican political rival of Cuomo’s.
Multiple news accounts say, however, that Justice is indeed investigating the death toll even as a Democrat, President Joe Biden, a political ally of Cuomo’s, has assumed power in Washington.
The harassment allegations focus on Cuomo’s alleged unwanted advances.
One of the women, Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development official, alleged that he harassed her on several occasions from 2016 to 2018 and, unsolicited, kissed her on the lips at his New York city office, an allegation Cuomo denied.
Another woman, Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide to the governor, accused him of sexually harassing her last year. She told the New York Times that the governor asked her about her sex life and whether she had ever had sex with older men.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the newspaper. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.” She left her state job in November.
In a third instance, Anna Ruch, a woman Cuomo had just met at a wedding reception, said she felt “uncomfortable and embarrassed” when the governor placed his hands on her face and asked to kiss her.
Asked last week about the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden believes "every woman coming forward should be treated with dignity and respect." Psaki added, "That applies to Charlotte, that applies to Lindsey,” referring to two of Cuomo's accusers.
Cuomo has acknowledged that he may have made inappropriate comments to Bennett that could “have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”
The governor said his comments were a part of his work life, where he sometimes “teased people about their personal lives and relationships.”
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
Cuomo said he would allow the state attorney general, Letitia James, to appoint whomever she wanted to investigate the harassment allegations against him and grant that person subpoena powers for witnesses.