ALBANY, N.Y. — A year after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached new political heights with daily news briefings that enraptured a nation in the throes of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the three-term Democrat announced plans Tuesday to resign amid growing pressure to leave or face impeachment over allegations that he sexually harassed nearly a dozen women.
Cuomo’s resignation announcement — just one week after Attorney General Tish James released a bombshell report that gave credence to the allegations — sets Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul up to become the first woman to assume New York’s top political office. Cuomo will step down in 14 days.
The governor, who continued to deny the most serious allegations raised against him, said his “instinct is to fight through this controversy.” But he said an impeachment process would only “consume government” at a time when it needs to function.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let the government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in a livestream lasting about 21 minutes. “Therefore that’s what I’ll do, because I work for you, and doing the right thing, is doing the right thing for you. Because, as we say, ‘it’s not about me, it’s about we.’”
Cuomo added that Hochul “is smart and competent” and stressed the “transition must be seamless.”
“We have a lot going on,” he said. “I’m very worried about the Delta variant — and so should you be — but she can come up to speed quickly.”
Hochul said the governor’s decision to step down was the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers. “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,” she said in a statement issued shortly after Cuomo’s announcement.
It’s a Shakespearean fall from grace for “America’s governor,” a man who had been widely discussed as a possible attorney general, vice presidential — or even presidential — contender. He drew widespread acclaim for his fireside chat-style pandemic briefings, which earned him an Emmy, a book deal and comparisons to a previous occupant of his Albany office: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The attorney general’s report detailing allegations from 11 women prompted a swift response from state lawmakers, who were already taking steps toward impeachment, and power brokers across the state and nation. From Albany to Washington, top Democrats immediately called for Cuomo to resign, including longtime political ally President Joe Biden. And several district attorneys announced potential criminal investigations into Cuomo’s alleged conduct.
President Joe Biden, who called on the New York governor to resign last week, said he had respected Cuomo’s decision to leave office. But, buoyed by the passage of a $550 billion infrastructure bill in the Senate Tuesday, the president also awkwardly praised Cuomo at his press conference.
“He’s done a hell of a job. He’s done a hell of a job,” Biden said. “And, I mean, both on everything from access to voting to infrastructure to the whole range of things. That’s why it’s so sad.”
A Marist poll conducted the night of the report showed that 63 percent of registered voters in New York said Cuomo should resign. Fifty-nine percent said he should be impeached should resignation not happen. Within 24 hours, many of the governor’s staunchest supporters had publicly condemned him. Reports and rumors, meanwhile, swirled of efforts among those in his inner circle to persuade Cuomo to abandon his full-throated defense — as laid out in a widely-panned pre-recorded video statement — and step down.
Cuomo’s long-winded political downfall, from scandal to leaving the Executive Mansion, took place over the course of several months. It began with a separate attorney general’s report released in January that found his administration undercounted the number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes — findings that dented his national recognition as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic. Although the report drew national headlines, it was not widely seen as a mortal wound to Cuomo’s fourth-term prospects. But things quickly changed as several women came forward accusing the governor of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace behavior.
Lindsey Boylan, who formerly worked for Cuomo and the state’s economic development agency, wrote in a Feb. 24 Medium post that the governor kissed her without her consent and asked her to play strip poker. The allegation, which opened the floodgates to other claims of misconduct, came two months after she previously accused the governor of workplace harassment on Twitter.
Days later, the governor faced new accusations from Charlotte Bennett, who began working for the state in March 2020. They were followed by allegations from Anna Ruch, who met Cuomo at a wedding; Ana Liss, who worked as a policy and operations aide to Cuomo from 2013 to 2015; and several other women.
The quickly snowballing accusations led James’ and Cuomo’s offices to reach an agreement on how to investigate allegations of sexual harassment made against the governor. Legislative leaders, in turn, announced that the Assembly would investigate the claims as part of a wide-ranging impeachment probe.
Several high-ranking Democrats urged Cuomo to resign. But others, including staunch allies of the governor, called for “due process” and pledged to withhold their judgements until the AG’s investigation, which tapped independent investigators to lead the inquiry, was complete.
Unlike that earlier barrage of calls for Cuomo’s resignation, which came at the height of state budget negotiations this spring, none of the governor’s most ardent defenders publicly came to his defense in the aftermath of the August report. Large unions — most notably 1199SEIU — that had been reluctant to publicly criticize him, urged him to step down in the wake of the attorney general’s findings. And key aides, including Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, left the administration.
After Cuomo’s announcement, the White House was ready to move on. Press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration looks “forward to working with [Hochul] and a range of New York officials.”
The high-profile collapse in public support leaves Cuomo — who prior to the scandals had said he’d seek a fourth term — with little-to-no political capital and an uncertain future. Those prospects could become more bleak pending the outcome of other ongoing criminal investigations into the governor’s conduct.
Cuomo did not say what his intentions were for 2022 on Tuesday, one day after Assembly leaders laid out their impeachment timeline.
But New York State Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs was quick to tout the significance of Hochul’s ascension. “New York will finally have its first female Governor and we could not be in better hands,” he said in a statement.
James, a one-time political ally of the governor, meanwhile, has been thrust in the national spotlight for her handling of the nursing home and sexual harassment probes. And some, including those in Cuomo’s inner circle, have suggested she will use her growing prominence to help cement her own political future.
“Today closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it’s an important step towards justice,” James said in a statement Tuesday. “I thank Governor Cuomo for his contributions to our state. The ascension of our Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, will help New York enter a new day.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, perhaps Cuomo’s best known detractor, issued a brief statement following Tuesday’s announcement.
“Make no mistake, this is the result of survivors bravely telling their stories,” he said. “It was past time for Andrew Cuomo to resign and it’s for the good of all New York.”
And Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, who is likely to take over City Hall next year, said Cuomo’s decision was the right move.
“The governor’s resignation was necessary for New York State to move forward and continue the critical work of our recovery,” Adams said. “I look forward to working in partnership with Lieutenant Governor Hochul on the key issues affecting our city and region at this pivotal moment.”
Legislative leaders also welcomed Cuomo’s exit.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins agreed the governor’s resignation “opens the door to a restorative future” with Hochul at the helm. And Speaker Carl Heastie said it was “a tragic chapter in our state’s history” and Cuomo made the right decision in resigning.
The son of former three-term New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo ascended to the helm of New York state politics in 2011 after defeating Republican hopeful Carl Paladino. The long-sought victory came nearly a decade after he fell short in a 2002 attempt to avenge his father by challenging three-term Republican Gov. George Pataki, who had unseated the elder Cuomo in 1994.
Andrew Cuomo’s first major foray into politics came in 1982, working as campaign manager for his father’s gubernatorial run and later as a key aide to him. He joined the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as an assistant secretary in 1993, after heading the New York City Commission on the Homeless.
Cuomo served as President Bill Clinton’s Housing and Urban Development secretary from 1997 to 2001. Five years later he was elected New York attorney general.
The Democrat, who has long characterized himself as a leader who can finish the sorts of projects that other politicians merely promise to complete, began his third term surrounded by Democratic allies — including James — at a 2019 New Year’s Day inaugural ceremony on Ellis Island.
“New Yorkers know the difference between rhetoric and results. We either perform by delivering real solutions that restore hope and progress in people’s lives or we fail. It is that simple,” he told attendees. “We will get it done. And it won’t just be what New York got done at this defining moment, but how we did it.”
More than two years later, Cuomo continued to invoke that theme as he stared down the final days of his gubernatorial tenure in the video statement released hours after James’ report.
“My job is not about me, my job is about you. What matters to me at the end of the day is getting the most done I can for you,” he said, adding: “It’s not over.”