New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, facing possible impeachment over sexual harassment claims from 11 women and mounting pressure from fellow Democrats, announced his resignation on Tuesday.
It was a stunning downfall for the 63-year-old Cuomo, who a year ago earned praise for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic before being engulfed in sexual harassment allegations and accusations that he covered up the scale of Covid deaths in nursing homes.
He comes from a family that is the closest thing the state has to political royalty – his father Mario served three terms as governor and his brother Chris is a star host on CNN – but in two weeks, he will leave office.
“I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government,” Cuomo said in a live televised address.
“My resignation will be effective in 14 days.”
Cuomo will hand over the reins of the nation’s fourth-most populous state to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat who will become New York’s first-ever female governor.
He has repeatedly denied the claims of sexual harassment outlined in an explosive report released last week by the office of state Attorney-General Letitia James.
“The report said I sexually harassed 11 women,” Cuomo said. “That was the headline people heard and saw. The reaction was outrage. It should have been. However, it was also false.”
But he said he wanted to “deeply, deeply” apologise to any women who may have been offended by his actions.
“I have been too familiar with people,” said Cuomo, who was once touted as a potential presidential candidate. “I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life.
“In my mind I’ve never crossed the line with anyone,” he said. “But I didn’t realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn.
“There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate,” he said. “And I should have. No excuses.”
President Joe Biden, who had called for Cuomo’s resignation last week, commented briefly Tuesday, saying only “I respect the governor’s decision.”
Cuomo was elected governor of New York in 2010 and easily won reelection in the heavily Democratic state in 2014 and 2018 – a three-term winner like his father.
A graduate of Fordham University and Albany Law School, Cuomo served as attorney-general of New York and as secretary of housing and urban development in the Cabinet of president Bill Clinton before becoming governor.
Cuomo’s daily briefings during the anxious early days of the coronavirus pandemic were widely praised and led to speculation that he might throw his hat into the 2020 presidential race against president Donald Trump.
Cuomo eventually decided not to make a run for the White House but he had been expected to seek reelection as governor next year.
In his resignation speech, the notoriously pugnacious Cuomo described himself as a “New Yorker, born and bred” and a “fighter”.
“And my instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated,” he said.
But he said he had decided instead to step aside because an impeachment fight would “consume government”, cost taxpayers millions of dollars and “brutalise people”.
“Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing,” he said.
Cuomo promised a “seamless” transition, describing the 62-year-old Hochul as “smart and competent”.
He had been under pressure to resign in recent days with Biden, the two Democratic senators from New York, and multiple state lawmakers calling on him to step down.
His announcement came just days after the resignation of a top aide, Melissa DeRosa, and the filing of a criminal complaint against him by a former executive assistant, Brittany Commisso.
In her complaint, Commisso said Cuomo touched her inappropriately twice, groping her behind and her breast last year while they were working at the executive mansion.
“The evidence is way too much. It’s the wisest thing he’s done in a long time,” New York resident Jennifer Ewing told AFP.
“It’s his personality to grip to power… until probably his advisors and family told him to step down.”