After over a week in hiding, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reemerged in his first public appearance to address the allegations of sexual harassment brought against him by three women while rebuffing the loud calls from lawmakers on both sides in refusing to resign.
“I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone,” Cuomo said 20 minutes into his Coronavirus press briefing Wednesday, addressing the elephant in the room despite his lawyers advising him not to do so.
“I feel awful about it and frankly I am embarrassed by it and that’s not easy to say – but that’s the truth,” he added.
Cuomo said that he wanted New Yorkers to hear from him “directly on this” issue, begging for patience and to “wait for the facts,” before jumping to any conclusion.
“I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion,” Cuomo said during the 45-minute presser, the shortest briefing he has ever held in over a year.
Cuomo’s office on Monday officially granted New York Attorney General Letitia James a formal referral for her office to move forward with an independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against the governor. The referral allows James to select private attorneys to conduct the review and will not provide weekly updates to the governor, given the nature of the investigation.
The governor vowed to remain in office despite the growing uproar in calls, including from some of his own party for Cuomo to resign.
“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 said. “I work for the people of the state of New York. They elected me and I’m going to serve the people of the state of New York.”
The turmoil for Cuomo who was a media darling and soared to national prominence began last week when Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development, and a special adviser shared several disturbing interactions with Cuomo that spanned over several years. In the bombshell essay revelation, Boylan who is running for Manhattan Borough President accused Cuomo of going “out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms, and legs,” forcibly kissing her on the lips during a one-on-one meeting in his office, and suggesting that they “play strip poker” during a plane ride.
Cuomo’s office denied Boylan claims, releasing a statement shortly after her published 1,700 essay in saying that “this conversation did not happen.”
A second former aide, Charlotte Bennett, came forward Saturday night with her own accusations that were published in The New York Times. Bennett, a 25-year-old former executive assistant and health policy adviser accused Cuomo of making a series of inappropriate “comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.” The series of incidents occurred during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement 24 hours after Bennett revealed her claims, Cuomo sought to downplay his interactions with the former aide as “playful” banter and “jokes” that were misinterpreted as “unwanted flirtation.” The embattled governor also said he was sorry the interactions “may have been insensitive or too personal,” while maintaining that he “never inappropriately touched anybody.”
The escalating crisis piled on to the troubling Cuomo after a third accuser on Monday described the unwanted advance from the governor where he touched her bareback and planted an unwanted kiss. The New York Times published a photograph showing Cuomo touching the cheeks of Anna Ruch, a 33-year-old who served in the Obama administration and recently worked for President Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign that occurred during a 2019 wedding reception for one of his aides.
Cuomo addressed the recent accuser in the press briefing, claiming that the kissing and hugging was a customary “usual way of greeting” people, while adding there are “hundreds of pictures” that show him kissing and hugging both men and women.
“It is my usual and customary way of greeting. However, what I also understand is, it doesn’t matter,” Cuomo said. “What matters is, if anybody was offended by it.”
He continued to apologize religiously when questioned by reporters for his behavior and for acting “in a way that made people feel uncomfortable.”
“This is what I want you to know and I want you to know this from me directly: I never touched anyone inappropriately,” Cuomo said “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable … And, I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone. Or cause anyone any pain.”
The governor hasn’t conducted a public zoom press briefing since Boylan detailed her allegations last Wednesday.
Democrats who control both chambers of New York legislative on Tuesday announced an agreement to reel in his enhanced government powers that were extended to Cuomo to act unilaterally during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The vote is scheduled for Friday. However, some local and national NY Democrats are joining Republicans in saying the removal of his extended powers isn’t enough and call for the scandal-plagued governor to resign.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), has emerged as one of the handful of GOP being mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate. Following Ruch’s allegation story, Zeldin on Tuesday said he is now “actively exploring” the idea of running next year.
“After a lot of people reached out to me in recent days and weeks and after discussing it at length with my wife and daughters, I am now actively exploring a run for governor of New York against Andrew Cuomo in 2022,” Zeldin told Newsday, saying he will only run if Cuomo runs for a fourth term and he believes he can win: “There’s nothing motivating to me about a second-place finish.”
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who chairs the Democratic Governor’s Association, said the group is weighing how to respond to the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo. During a Washington Post live event Tuesday, Grisham said it was “premature” to say whether the Governor’s Association would push for Cuomo to resign but will be having a “very serious conversation” on what should be done that she expects to be a “significant part of the discussion.”
Cuomo had indicated months ago that he will run for a fourth term next year and had been considered nearly unbeatable, but this remains to be uncertain now with the governor facing multiple investigations plaguing his administration.
The governor in recent weeks has been assailed after one of his top aides admitted to state Democrat lawmakers that the administration hid the real data of the true number of COVID deaths of nursing home residents out of fear it would be “used against us” by Trump’s DOJ. The shocking revelation came just two weeks after James’ office released a damning report that the Cuomo administration had undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent.
Following the bombshell admission and the AG report, the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York have reportedly already opened an investigation into Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. In Washington, congressional lawmakers are calling for multiple committee hearings and investigations into the Cuomo administration’s handling of the pandemic and the “cover-up” that Cuomo conducted in misleading federal officials to avoid political accountability.