New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will resign, ending his decadelong control of the state in the wake of a damning and detailed investigation that found he violated laws and created a “toxic” culture with a pattern of sexual harassment.
His decision comes after months of insisting he would not leave office while the investigation into the alleged harassment was underway, even after he lost the support of nearly all of New York’s congressional delegation.
"The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing," Cuomo said Tuesday after a long defense of his own actions.
"Kathy Hochul, my lieutenant governor, is smart and competent; this transition must be seamless," he added, stating his resignation will be effective in 14 days.
The state attorney general’s report, released last Tuesday, thoroughly documented allegations from current and former staffers, including a state trooper, of sexual harassment. The incidents ranged from comments, like Cuomo asking one woman if she would cheat on her husband, to physical touching. That afternoon, the governor put out a produced statement in which he denied the allegations in the report and defended his touching and kissing well-known people and constituents.
Hochul will become the first woman to serve as governor of New York. In a statement released after Cuomo's announcement, she said she agrees with his decision to step down.
"As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th Governor," she said.
Cuomo is in his third term as governor and was considered a sure bet to run for, and likely win, a fourth term in 2022. He has long been the singular dominant political force in New York, playing Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature off one another for years to wield ultimate influence over what became law. Throughout that time, he was blunt in his use of power, marginalizing political enemies like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and establishing a reputation for Machiavellian aggression. His political career survived multiple other federal investigations, including one that saw one of his closest allies convicted of taking bribes.
His national reputation, however, became something else entirely in 2020. At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, Cuomo filled a national leadership vacuum left open by Donald Trump and became one of the central faces of the American response. His winding daily press conferences were broadcast across cable news, often in their entirety, presenting the country with a political leader who appeared to acknowledge both the reality of the pandemic and what it would take to stop its spread.
But Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic — particularly on coronavirus policies related to nursing homes — has long been a point of crisis. In spring 2020, with New York the global epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, Cuomo required that nursing homes take back residents who had been sick with the coronavirus once they recovered. The policy was an immediate point of criticism in the state, with some contending that it had the potential to increase the virus's spread in nursing homes. The Cuomo administration hit back at the critiques; eventually, the state health department released a report that summer absolving the policies for COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
In January, however, New York Attorney General Letitia James reported that the state had undercounted nursing home deaths by the thousands. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported in February that top Cuomo aides had altered the report to remove an estimate of more than 9,000 nursing home residents who had died during the pandemic. The administration’s handling of the report, and a top Cuomo aide privately admitting that the administration did not disclose the full nursing home toll to the federal government, led to investigations and the first calls for the governor's resignation.
The storm around Cuomo deepened soon after as multiple women publicly accused him of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment, both in the workplace and at public events. The allegations first arose late last year, when former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan tweeted that he had sexually harassed her “for years.” She expounded on that in detail in February and was soon followed by four other women who had worked for Cuomo. The harassment claims varied from creating a hostile work environment, with the governor asking women staffers about their sex lives, to inappropriate touching.
The most egregious allegation came on March 10, as Democrats in the New York State Legislature were already rapidly turning on the governor and calling for his resignation. The Times Union reported that a woman, whom the paper did not identify, alleged that Cuomo had groped a former staffer at the Executive Mansion in Albany in late 2020.
Last week, the woman filed a criminal complaint with the Albany County Sheriff's Office, which has begun an investigation.
James, the state attorney general, began her independent investigation of Cuomo’s conduct in March. The investigation was civil in nature and as such did not directly result in criminal charges.
Cuomo is the second consecutive elected governor to be forced from office. Eliot Spitzer, who was elected in 2006, resigned in 2008 in response to a sex scandal, leading to Lt. Gov. David Paterson becoming the first Black governor of New York.