Cuomo resigns over sexual harassment claims, says “The best way I can help now is to step aside”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation Tuesday after more than a decade in office as the state legislature pursued an impeachment inquiry and amid sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo, who gained national prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, had been accused in a report by the state attorney general of sexually harassing 11 women, including staffers as well as people who did not work for his administration.

“I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in a speech. 

His resignation is effective in 14 days. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take over.

Cuomo’s announcement came one week after state Attorney General Letitia James announced the findings of her investigation into claims of sexual harassment and a toxic work environment against him. Cuomo’s top adviser, Melissa DeRosa, who was mentioned more than 180 times in the report, resigned Sunday night.

APTOPIX Cuomo Sexual Harassment
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignation, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, in New York. Cuomo says he will resign over a barrage of sexual harassment allegations. The three-term Democratic governor’s decision, which will take effect in two weeks, was announced Tuesday as momentum built in the Legislature to remove him by impeachment. Seth Wenig / AP

A majority of the New York Assembly, once filled with Cuomo’s allies, supported impeaching the governor, according to a count by the Associated Press. The Judiciary Committee had announced Monday that their impeachment inquiry would be wrapping up soon. They were not only investigating sexual harassment claims, but also his handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes, allegations related to the use of state resources in connection with Cuomo’s memoir and other issues.

In the roughly half-hour speech, Cuomo started out by defending himself and said his “instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated.” He continued to try to cast himself as being a victim of changing attitudes and behaviors.

“In my mind, I never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line is redrawn,” Cuomo said. He apologized to the women for his conduct.

But one of his accusers, Brittany Commisso, told “CBS This Morning” and the Albany Times Union that she decided to come forward in March after he denied the allegations and said he did nothing wrong. She said she felt he knew he had done something wrong.

“He almost has this smirk that he thinks that he’s untouchable,” Commisso said. “I almost feel like he has this sense of almost a celebrity status and it just — that was the tipping point. I broke down. I said ‘He is lying.'”

The attorney general’s report described an “unsafe” and “hostile” work environment in the governor’s office. It included testimony from Commisso, who said she was terrified of senior staff, including DeRosa, learning about her accusations.

Cuomo announced he would be resigning right after his outside counsel, Rita Glavin, tried to poke holes in some of the allegations in James’ investigation.

“I think women should be believed and treated fairly. I also believe women should be believed and treated fairly,” Glavin said. “The governor deserves to be treated fairly.” 

In his resignation speech Tuesday, Cuomo also directly addressed his daughters, saying his “greatest goal is for them to have a better future than the generations of women before them.” 

Cuomo and Glavin both sought to blame the media firestorm — which had once brought him national attention and adoration — for moving without investigating the facts. 

“This is about politics,” Cuomo said. “And our political system today is too often driven by the extremes. Rashness has replaced reasonableness. Loudness has replaced soundness. Twitter has become the public square for policy debate. There is an intelligent discussion to be had on gender-based actions, on generational and cultural behavior differences, on setting higher standards and finding reasonable resolutions. But the political environment is too hot and too reactionary for that right now.”

But Cuomo, who was first elected governor in 2010, is a product of that political environment he now criticizes. The son of former Governor Mario Cuomo, he got his start in politics working for his father before accepting a position in the Clinton administration. 

In 1990, he married Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, in a union called “Cuomolot” by the tabloids. According to People, she said she fell in love with him after he took her to a homeless shelter. They had three daughters, Michaela and twins Mariah and Cara Kennedy-Cuomo, but they split up in 2003. Cuomo then had a long relationship with lifestyle TV host and author Sandra Lee that ended in 2019. 

He first ran for governor in 2002 to challenge George Pataki, the man who denied his father a fourth term as governor, but dropped out before the primary when it was evident he would not win. He settled to run for attorney general in 2006, and oversaw investigations into then Governor Eliot Spitzer — who resigned in 2008 after being caught up in a prostitution scandal— and Spitzer’s successor, David Paterson.

Cuomo ran for governor again in 2010, winning handily, and even was named one of People’s Sexist Men Alive that year. In 2011, he led the passage of same-sex marriage in New York state, which he continues to call one of his greatest accomplishments.

But allegations of corruption have shadowed his administration for years. Cuomo set up a commission in 2013 to root out corruption in Albany, called the Moreland Commission, but a 2014 New York Times report alleged he hobbled its investigation. And in 2018, one of his closest advisers, Joseph Percoco, who Cuomo referred to as his “father’s third son,” was sentenced to six years in prison on fraud and bribery charges. 

Although he had always been in the national spotlight, his daily televised briefings during the COVID-19 pandemic made him seem like a national hero to many. New York was hit hard by the pandemic early, and his frank briefings won him nationwide attention. He was even honored with a special Emmy Award for his appearances. His brother Chris Cuomo, an anchor on CNN, had previously been banned from covering him, but amid the pandemic the two began regular segments bantering on the air. 

But amid the plaudits, there was criticism that Cuomo had mishandled aspects of the COVID-19 battle, especially in nursing homes. DeRosa, who had been seated next to him at many of the briefings, told Democratic lawmakers that Cuomo’s administration took months to release data on the coronavirus death toll among the state’s nursing home residents because officials “froze” over worries the information was “going to be used against us.”

Before the sexual harassment allegations became public, Cuomo received an estimated $5 million to write a book on “leadership lessons” during the pandemic. The book sold a disappointing 48,000 copies but sagged amid the scandals. Eventually, even the Judiciary Committee said it would be investigating the book deal. 

Cuomo had long been rumored to be planning to seek a fourth term in 2022, which his father, who died in 2015, had been denied. Republican Congressman Lee Zedin, one of several GOP candidates aiming to unseat him, had made running against “King Cuomo” a central part of his campaign.

As the weight of the scandals grew, a March 2021 photo showing Cuomo calling allies on a cold day outside, draped in a blanket, seemed to foretell his political future. Five months later, with few allies left, he announced he would be resigning.