New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to remain in office in the face of harassment allegations that have weakened his support and led to calls for his resignation, he said Wednesday.
The Democratic governor, speaking somberly in his first public appearance since rise of the allegations, apologized and said that he “learned an important lesson” about his behavior.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it.”
Cuomo said he will “fully cooperate” with an investigation into the allegations being overseen by the state’s independently elected attorney general. Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, is in the process of selecting an outside law firm to conduct the probe and document its findings in a public report.
Asked about calls for him to step aside, the third-term governor 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 addressed the allegations during a news conference that otherwise focused on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the kind of briefings that made him a daily fixture on TV and a national star among Democrats.
Before that, Cuomo last spoke to reporters during a conference call on Feb. 22. His last briefing on camera was Feb. 19.
Two of the accusers worked in Cuomo’s administration, while the other was a guest at a wedding that he officiated.
The accusers rejected his latest attempt at an apology.
“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?” one accuser tweeted.
Debra Katz, the lawyer of a second complainant, said the governor’s news conference “was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information.”
She said Cuomo’s claim that he was unaware he had made his subordinates uncomfortable was disingenuous, considering that his behavior had been reported to the aide’s boss and one of Cuomo’s lawyers.
Katz said that her client is confident that they made him aware of the complaint and fully expect that the Attorney General’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on the serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements.
Cuomo said he inherited his gregarious way of greeting people from his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and that he intended it as a way of welcoming people and making them feel comfortable. He said he realizes now, “it doesn’t matter my intent, what it matters is if anybody was offended by it.”
Speaking about the allegations, Cuomo initially said he was apologizing to “people” who were uncomfortable with his conduct, but he didn’t make clear as he continued who he was referring to.
Asked what he was saying to New Yorkers, Cuomo said: “I’m embarrassed by what happened… I’m embarrassed that someone felt that way in my administration. I’m embarrassed and hurt and I apologize that somebody who interacted with me felt that way.”
The governor, who has touted a law requiring all workers in New York to receive harassment training, did not acknowledge that harassment centers on how the victim is impacted by inappropriate behavior — not the offender’s intent.
“If a person feels uncomfortable, if a person feels pain, if a person is offended, I feel very badly about that and I apologize for it. There’s no but — it’s, I’m sorry,” Cuomo said.
Reporting by AP