Cuomo Resigns Amid Scandals, Ending Decade-Long Run in Disgrace
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Tuesday he would resign from office, succumbing to a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that fueled an …
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Tuesday he would resign from office, succumbing to a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that fueled an astonishing reversal of fortune for one of the nation’s best-known leaders.
Mr. Cuomo said his resignation would take effect in 14 days. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, will be sworn in to replace him.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Mr. Cuomo said from his office in Manhattan. “And therefore that’s what I’ll do.”
The resignation of Mr. Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, came a week after a report from the New York State attorney general concluded that the governor sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, including current and former government workers, by engaging in unwanted touching and making inappropriate comments. The 165-page report also found that Mr. Cuomo and his aides unlawfully retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public and fostered a toxic work environment.
The report put increased pressure on Mr. Cuomo to resign, leading to new calls to do so from President Biden, a longtime friend of the governor, and other Democratic leaders who had withheld judgment until the report’s findings were made public, and leaving Mr. Cuomo with few, if any, defenders.
The report’s fallout had left Mr. Cuomo increasingly isolated: His top aide, Melissa DeRosa, resigned Sunday after concluding the governor had no path to remain in office, according to a person familiar with her thinking. In the end, Mr. Cuomo followed through on the advice his top advisers and onetime allies had been offering: leave office voluntarily.
Mr. Cuomo stepped down as he faced the specter of forced removal from office through impeachment and was poised to become only the second governor to be impeached in the state’s history. Following the report’s release, the leaders of the State Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, began moving to draft articles of impeachment and appeared to have enough support to pass them.
The dramatic fall of Mr. Cuomo, 63, was shocking in its velocity and vertical drop: A year ago, the governor was being hailed as a national hero for his steady leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic. His political demise stunned Albany, where Mr. Cuomo had governed with an outsize presence for more than a decade, wielding the State Capitol’s levers of power with deft and often brutal skill.
As recently as February, it was largely assumed that Mr. Cuomo would coast to a fourth term next year — eclipsing the three terms served by his father, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, and matching the record of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller — perhaps positioning himself for even higher office.
But that notion was shredded by a steady drumbeat of sexual harassment allegations earlier this year, coupled with troubling reports about his administration’s efforts to obscure the true extent of nursing home deaths during the pandemic, an issue that has been the subject of a federal investigation.
The allegations led to a barrage of calls for his resignation in March from top Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer and most of the state’s congressional delegation. Under immense pressure, and in an effort to buy himself time, Mr. Cuomo authorized Letitia James, the state attorney general, to oversee an investigation into the claims, urging voters to wait for the facts before reaching a conclusion.
The Assembly, where Mr. Cuomo had retained a small well of support among a bloc of Democrats, had also begun a wide-ranging impeachment investigation earlier this year. That inquiry was looking not only at sexual harassment allegations, but also at other accusations involving Mr. Cuomo’s misuse of power, including the possible illegal use of state resources to write a book about leadership last year for which he received $5.1 million, as well as his handling of nursing home data during the pandemic.
The inquiry was unfolding slowly, but the attorney general’s report eroded what little support Mr. Cuomo had in the Assembly and accelerated impeachment efforts. The turning point came when Carl E. Heastie, the Assembly speaker, whom Mr. Cuomo’s critics had accused of covering for the governor by stalling the impeachment inquiry, declared that Mr. Cuomo had “lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority” and “he can no longer remain in office.”
By then, Mr. Cuomo was left with two options: to step down or risk becoming the first New York governor to be impeached in more than a century, a stain on his legacy. The resignation of Mr. Cuomo, who has repeatedly denied inappropriately touching anyone, follows the resignation of the last elected New York State governor, Eliot Spitzer, who stepped down in 2008 after it emerged that he had been a client of a high-end prostitution ring.
In recent months, the governor had tried to steer attention away from the investigations and scandals that had battered his administration, seeking to counter his critics’ contention that he had lost the capacity to govern.
He crisscrossed the state staging news conferences meant to portray an image of assertive leadership, with a focus on the state’s economic recovery efforts and vaccine rollout. He held fund-raisers, and, ever mindful of his public image, kept a close eye on public opinion, intent on regaining support from voters and rehabilitating his reputation ahead of a possible re-election campaign.
It seemed to some, including his top advisers, that the good will he had amassed during the pandemic would allow him to weather the findings from the state attorney general’s investigation, which was being conducted by a team of outside lawyers.
But the scandal that ultimately doomed his administration was one that Mr. Cuomo could not conquer with his usual, and typically effective, mix of threats and charm.
Indeed, the persona that made him a political matinee idol during the pandemic — a paternal, and sometimes pugnacious, micromanager — seemed ill-suited to addressing the sexual and emotionally charged allegations of harassment against him, some made by women who were not even half his age.
In many ways, the job of governor was both a dream and a destiny for Mr. Cuomo, following a lifetime of navigating the upper echelons of government, first as a trusted adviser to his father, who served as governor from 1983 to 1994.
A graduate of Fordham University and Albany Law School, Mr. Cuomo served as federal housing secretary in the Clinton administration in the late 1990s. In 2002, however, he returned to New York to mount an unsuccessful bid for governor, dropping out from the race when it became clear he would not win his party’s nomination — an episode Mr. Cuomo has described as one of the lowest points of his political career.
Intent on making a comeback, Mr. Cuomo was elected state attorney general in 2006. He wielded the power of the office not only to bring cases to protect consumers and expose a pay-to-play scheme involving millions of dollars of the state’s public pension funds, but to launch damaging investigations into two governors. Mr. Cuomo investigated Mr. Spitzer’s administration’s handling of State Police travel records and conducted initial reviews into two matters concerning Gov. David Paterson, who bowed out from the governor’s race in 2010, paving the way for Mr. Cuomo’s run.
Mr. Cuomo defeated his Republican opponent, Carl P. Paladino, by a landslide in 2010, vowing to bring fiscal discipline to Albany after the Great Recession decimated state coffers.
A pragmatic politician and shrewd operator, Mr. Cuomo navigated a divided State Legislature, reaching compromises to clinch high-profile victories such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and more stringent gun-control laws. He also spearheaded a slew of important infrastructure projects statewide and helped secure a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave.
Even though he was elected on a promise to root out public corruption, Mr. Cuomo was dogged by a series of high-profile investigations into his administration and his close associates.
In 2014, Mr. Cuomo drew immense scrutiny for interfering with and abruptly closing the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel. Federal prosecutors investigated the matter but concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. In 2016, one of his top advisers and closest friends, Joseph Percoco, was indicted as part of a bribery investigation into the Buffalo Billion, an economic development project. Mr. Percoco was convicted of federal corruption charges in 2018.
A moderate Democrat and fiscal centrist, Mr. Cuomo began to clash with Democratic lawmakers more intensely when the party regained full control of the State Legislature in 2018, fueled by a crop of younger, left-wing lawmakers pushing for progressive reforms.
The attorney general report centered on interviews with 11 women, including a state trooper and an employee of an energy company whose accounts of sexual harassment by Mr. Cuomo had not been previously disclosed.
Lindsey Boylan, a former administration official, was the first to come forward. In December, Ms. Boylan, 36, publicly accused the governor of sexual harassment in a series of remarks on Twitter. She did not elaborate on the conduct, and attention to the accusation, which Mr. Cuomo denied, seemed to fade.
In February, Ms. Boylan published a lengthy essay on Medium in which she detailed her claim, describing several unsettling episodes, including one that involved the governor giving her an unsolicited kiss at his Manhattan office.
A few days later, Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide to Mr. Cuomo, told The New York Times in a series of interviews that the governor had asked her invasive questions while she was working for him, including whether she was monogamous and whether she had sex with older men.
His image battered and political oblivion looming, Mr. Cuomo went so far as to apologize in March — a rarity in his decade-long tenure as governor — for remarks that he said might have veered into “unwanted flirtation.” But he denied touching anyone inappropriately, a stance that many elected Democrats found less believable with each new accusation.
The last such allegation came later that month when an unidentified executive assistant said that Mr. Cuomo groped her at the Executive Mansion, where he lives, late last year. The woman, Brittany Commisso, publicly identified herself soon after the report’s release.
The weight of the report’s findings, combined with other accounts of how Mr. Cuomo’s executive office had been a difficult workplace for women, caused all but the staunchest of his defenders to abandon him, leaving the governor isolated and ultimately in an untenable, unwinnable struggle to maintain power.
In his departure from office, under a cloud and defiant, Mr. Cuomo has had a small part in a milestone: Ms. Hochul will be the first woman in New York history to occupy the state’s top office.