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During a press conference on Wednesday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo apologized to the three women who have accused him of sexual harassment, but denied touching anyone inappropriately and asked the public to wait for the facts to emerge from the state attorney general’s investigation into the allegations.
“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward. And I think it should be encouraged in every way,” Mr Cuomo said, becoming emotional as he began an apology. “I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional. And I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it.”
He added, however, that he never touched anyone inappropriately, even though he’s been accused of touching and kissing women without their consent.
“And frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say, but that’s the truth. But this is what I want you to know. I want you to know this from me directly. I never touched anyone inappropriately,” he said. “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. And I certainly never ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain.”
While some New York lawmakers have called for his resignation, Mr Cuomo said he’d be staying in office to tackle the “full plate” of handling the Covid crisis.
“I’m not going to resign,” he said. “I’m going to do the job the people elected me to do.”
The governor also told reporters on Wednesday he’d taken the state’s mandatory sexual harassment training for government employees.
Over the last week, three women have accused Mr Cuomo of unwanted advances, all of which he denies.
On Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, a candidate for Manhattan borough president, who used to work for the governor and the state’s economic development agency, said Mr Cuomo had kissed her without consent and asked her to play strip poker.
On Saturday, The New York Times reported that Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser to Mr Cuomo, added a new set of accusations: that the governor was “grooming” her for a future sexual advance by asking if she practiced monogamy and was comfortable sleeping with older men.
Then, on Monday, a woman named Anna Ruch said the governor had placed an unwanted hand on her lower back at a wedding reception in 2019 before asking to kiss her, an exchange which a friend of hers photographed.
During his conference on Wednesday, Mr Cuomo did not address all of the allegations specifically, but did respond to Ms Ruch’s story, saying that his back-slapping style was inherited from his father, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, and is meant to make members of the public feel comfortable with him. However, he said he recognises “sensitivities have changed” and apologised nonetheless.
“I understand the opinion and feelings of Ms Ruch. You can find hundreds of picture of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people: women, men children, etc. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people: men, women. It is my usually customary way of greeting,” Mr Cuomo said. “However what I also understand is it doesn’t matter my intent.”
“If they were offended by it then it’s wrong,” he added.
New York leaders, including members of Mr Cuomo’s Democratic party, have called for him to resign, and the White House has said it supports a thorough independent investigation into the allegations.
The scandal has rocked the governor’s office, politically weakening it when it was already under fire for allegedly downplaying data on the thousands of nursing home deaths in the state to avoid political blowback, which it denies. On Tuesday, state lawmakers hammered out a deal that would curtail the governor’s significant emergency powers during the pandemic, which could pass as soon as Friday.