New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday denied the findings of his state’s attorney general that he sexually harassed women and fostered a toxic work environment, alleging that his accusers had misconstrued what he claimed were well-intentioned gestures and comments.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” the governor said at a news conference.
Hours earlier on Tuesday, New York Attorney General Tish James announced that a probe conducted by her office had found all 11 women alleging that Cuomo harassed them to be credible. The report found that Cuomo engaged in inappropriate touching, allegations the governor denied once again on Tuesday, and that he made comments to women that were offensive and sexual.
“I am inspired by all the brave women who came forward,” James said in a morning news conference, “but more importantly, I believe them, and I thank them for their bravery.”
Cuomo on Tuesday said: “I do kiss people on the forehead. I do kiss people on the cheek. I do kiss people on the hand. I do embrace people. I do hug people. Men and women. I do on occasion say ‘ciao bella.’ On occasion, I do slip and say ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ or ‘honey.’ I do banter with people. I do tell jokes, some better than others. I am the same person in public as I am in private.”
The governor contended there were “generational or cultural perspectives” that he “hadn’t fully appreciated” in his conduct.
The first sexual harassment accusation against Cuomo emerged in late 2020 as the New York governor was at the peak of his popularity, riding a wave of accolades for what was percieved at the time to be his strong handling of the state’s coronavirus pandemic response. Eleven women ultimately came forward to say the governor acted inappropriately toward them.
Cuomo has faced serious pressure to resign since the allegations came out, with New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand calling on him to step down in March. The governor has repeatedly denied the allegations and has steadfastly refused calls for his resignation.
President Joe Biden told ABC News in March that Cuomo should resign if the investigation confirmed the women’s claims, adding that “I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted, too.” On Tuesday, when asked about Cuomo, Biden did not answer and instead said he would be speaking on Covid-19 later in the day and “take questions on Covid and other issues after that.”
In his Tuesday remarks following the release of the investigation’s findings, Cuomo specifically brought up the complaint by Charlotte Bennett, a woman who worked in his office and said the governor made inappropriate comments to her about her past sexual assault. Cuomo said this complaint “bothered [him] the most,” because, he said, he had asked her about her experience because a family member of his went through something similar.
“I was trying to make sure she was working her way through it the best she could,” he said.
“I have heard Charlotte and her lawyer and I understand what they are saying, but they read into comments that I made and draw inferences that I never meant,” he said. “They ascribe motives I never had. And simply put, they heard things that I just didn’t say.”
Bennett responded to the situation on Twitter, calling on New York state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to impeach the governor.
“I do not want an apology,” Bennett wrote, referencing Cuomo’s comments that he “brought [his] personal experience into the workplace” and “further complicated the situation.”
“I want accountability and an end to victim-blaming” Bennett added in her tweet.
The governor also brought up a New York Times front page photo of him kissing a woman’s cheek at a wedding, saying he has been making the same gesture for years and learned it from his parents. To demonstrate the point, his office aired a slideshow of Cuomo kissing various people on the cheek.
Regarding an anonymous complaint that Cuomo groped a woman in his home office, he said it never happened and that her lawyer suggested she would file a legal claim for damages. “That will be decided in a court of law,” he said. “Trial by newspaper or biased reviews are not the way to find the facts in this matter. I welcome the opportunity for a full and fair review before a judge and jury because this just did not happen.”
On the report findings that he fostered a toxic work environment, Cuomo said “My office is no typical 9-to-5 government office, and I don’t want it to be.” He said his office environment is “demanding” and “not for everyone,” then adding that complaints against female managers show a double standard.
“Politics and bias are interwoven throughout every aspect of this situation,” Cuomo said. “One would be naive to think otherwise. And New Yorkers are not naive.”
Multiple lawmakers at the state and federal level have called on Cuomo to resign in light of the investigation, including the New York state Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Eugene Daniels contributed to this report.