New York Governor Cuomo resigns amid sexual harassment claims

Resignation comes after a New York state investigation concluded Cuomo had sexually harassed at least 11 women.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who gained prominence for his handling of COVID-19, has fallen from power [New York Governor's Office/Handout via Reuters]

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned after a state investigation found he had sexually harassed 11 women, leading to mounting legal pressure and widespread calls for him to step down from fellow Democratic legislators and President Joe Biden.

“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now, is if I step aside and let government get back to government, and therefore, that’s what I’ll do, because I work for you, and doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you,” Governor Cuomo said, addressing New Yorkers directly in televised remarks on Tuesday.

Cuomo has served since 2011 as governor of the fourth-most populous US state. He made the surprise announcement one week after New York Attorney General Letitia James released the findings of a five-month probe.

Investigators said he subjected women to unwanted kisses; groped their breasts or buttocks or otherwise touched them inappropriately; made insinuating remarks about their looks and their sex lives; and created a work environment “rife with fear and intimidation”.

Cuomo vehemently disputed the findings of the state’s investigation and signalled he would fight the claims. In the end, his fall from power came with head-snapping speed.

His resignation marks the second time in 13 years that a New York governor has stepped down in scandal, after Eliot Spitzer quit in 2008 over his patronage of prostitutes.

Cuomo also became the latest powerful man taken down in recent years following the rise of the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment that has shaken politics, Hollywood, the business world and the workplace.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take over from resigning Governor Andrew Cuomo in two weeks [File: Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take over from Cuomo in 14 days, becoming the first female governor of the state.

Known as a moderate Democratic politician, Hochul, 62, is a lawyer and former member of the US Congress who has been lieutenant governor since 2015.

Cuomo was elected to three terms as governor, as was his late father, Mario Cuomo. He previously served as US Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary from 1997 to 2001 under former President Bill Clinton.

Like his father, Andrew Cuomo never ran for president despite speculation about his possible ambitions.

He was hailed as a national leader last year early in the COVID-19 pandemic after delivering daily news conferences as his state became the US epicenter of the public health crisis. A book by Cuomo on leadership lessons from the COVID-19 crisis was a bestseller.

Cuomo had gained international prominence and enhanced national standing in the US for his handling of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in New York in 2020. A book by Cuomo on leadership lessons from the COVID-19 crisis was a bestseller.

As recently as eight months ago, he appeared to be on track for a record fourth term as New York governor and had been touted as a potential player in the Biden administration.

Democrats turned against Cuomo

Cuomo’s resignation spared him from possible removal from office through impeachment proceedings in the Democratic-controlled state legislature, which appeared overwhelmingly likely as lawmakers abandoned him in droves.

Cuomo had initially resisted calls to resign and sought to fight the accusations, disputing the allegations and claiming his touchiness resulted from a gregarious Italian-American personal style.

But Cuomo faced a mountain of opposition as the Democratic political establishment turned against him following the state’s findings he harassed women, as well as new law enforcement inquiries into the allegations.

Al Jazeera correspondent Kristen Saloomey said Cuomo had “become a punching bag for the right in the United States” making him a liability for Democrats nationally.

“He had become a bit of a lightning rod because of … these allegations against him,” Saloomey said.

A majority of New York State Assembly members were prepared to impeach Cuomo if he did not resign, The Associated Press reported last week.

A 59 percent majority of New Yorkers in a Marist Poll taken when the report was released said they believed Cuomo should resign.

In his resignation remarks, Cuomo apologised to his three daughters but blamed politics for being forced from office.

“Your dad made mistakes, and he apologised, and he learned from it. And that’s what life is all about,” Cuomo said, while continuing to deny he did anything wrong.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies