Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday he would not resign as New York governor following the emergence of sexual harassment allegations.
Cuomo, who achieved national and global prominence because of his direct briefings last year on the Covid-19 pandemic, spoke at his first public appearance since three women accused him of misconduct, including inappropriate remarks and unwanted touching.
The Democratic governor apologized and said he had “learned an important lesson” on his behaviour around women.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it.”
Cuomo said he would “fully cooperate” with an inquiry into the accusations, which is being overseen by the state attorney general, Letitia James. The attorney general, also a Democrat, is in the process of choosing a law firm to conduct the investigation. The firm would present its findings in a public report.
When the third-term governor was asked about calls for his resignation, Cuomo said: “I wasn’t elected by politicians. I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I’m not going to resign.”
Cuomo discussed their claims during a press conference that otherwise concentrated on New York’s coronavirus response. Before this briefing, Cuomo last spoke with journalists during a 22 February conference call. His last on-camera briefing was on 19 February.
Shortly after his remarks, one of his accusers questioned his effort to apologize.
“How can New Yorkers trust you @NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?” said former aide Lindsey Boylan on Twitter.
Boylan has claimed that Cuomo made comments about her appearance and kissed her without consent after a meeting. Boylan also alleged that Cuomo once suggested that they play a game of strip poker while onboard a New York state-owned airplane. Cuomo has denied these claims.
The governor’s apology and comments on Wednesday were also criticized by an attorney for a second aide who has made allegations, Charlotte Bennett. Bennett has alleged Cuomo asked her about her sex life and whether she would consider a relationship with an older man. Bennett, 25, reportedly said she thought Cuomo was testing her interest in a possible affair.
Debra Katz, the attorney who represents Bennett, said Cuomo’s press conference was “full of falsehoods and inaccurate information”. Katz maintained Cuomo’s claim that he didn’t realize he had made women uncomfortable was duplicitous, as Bennett had notified both her supervisor about Cuomo’s alleged behavior and one of his attorneys.
“We are confident that they made him aware of her complaint and we fully expect that the attorney general’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms Bennett’s serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements,” Katz remarked.
The third accuser, Anna Ruch, was a guest at a wedding Cuomo officiated. In an interview with the New York Times, Ruch said that Cuomo placed his hands on her face, and asked if he could kiss her, moments after they met during a September 2019 wedding.