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In his first public appearance since a number of accusations were leveled against him, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized on Wednesday for making women feel uncomfortable while insisting he never “touched anyone inappropriately.”
Cuomo, a Democrat, 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. That is the last thing I would ever want to do.” He added that he felt “embarrassed” by the allegations but would learn from past mistakes.
At the same time, the governor said he would not step aside.
“I’m not going to resign,” Cuomo said. “I work for the people of the state of New York. They elected me, and I’m going to serve the people of the state of New York. I’m going to do the job the people of the state elected me to do.
“I do not believe I have ever done anything in my public career that I am ashamed of,” he added.
When asked about a photo that showed him holding the face of one of his accusers, the governor, who is currently midway through his third term, said he frequently embraced New Yorkers in an affectionate manner.
“You can find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people, men, women; it is my usual and customary way of greeting,” Cuomo said. “I kiss and hug legislators ... but it doesn't matter my intent. What matters is if anyone was offended by it.”
Cuomo asked for New Yorkers to wait for an investigation, being undertaken by state Attorney General Letitia James, to be completed before forming an opinion. When asked if he would step aside during the state’s upcoming budget negotiations, he said he could handle cooperating with investigators and the budget at the same time.
Three separate women have accused the governor of inappropriate sexual behavior, in addition to accusations of bullying. Cuomo and his administration are also under scrutiny for his handling of nursing-home deaths during the pandemic.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday called for an “independent review” into the allegations. James announced that her office was beginning one after Cuomo’s office directed her to do so.
In late February, two women accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct. Lindsey Boylan, who served as an aide to the governor, said he had created “a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected. His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences.”
Boylan also detailed an incident in which the governor gave her an unsolicited kiss on the lips.
Charlotte Bennett, also a former aide, said he repeatedly asked her inappropriate questions, including if Bennett, 25, considered age in her sexual relationships. Cuomo is 63.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Following Bennett’s claims, Cuomo released a statement on Sunday in which he denied touching any of the women in an inappropriate manner.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation,” Cuomo said in the statement.
“To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that. To be clear, I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody, and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”
On Tuesday, a third woman came forward in a New York Times story. Anna Ruch said that at a 2019 wedding, Cuomo placed his hand on her lower back, grabbed her cheeks and asked to kiss her. The article was accompanied by a photo of Cuomo placing his hands on her face and Ruch appearing uncomfortable.
“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” she said. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”
Republicans and progressive Democrats in the state Legislature have criticized Cuomo’s response to the pandemic, in particular his policies regarding nursing homes and his reluctance to release data on how many New Yorkers died in them due to COVID-19. And one Democratic member of the state’s congressional delegation has called on him to resign.
“The time has come. The Governor must resign,” Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice, who represents part of Long Island, said in a Monday tweet that included a link to Ruch’s interview. Some Democrats in the state Legislature and the state’s powerful Working Families Party have also called on the governor to step down. On Wednesday, Politico reported that at least two of Cuomo’s aides were departing in the wake of the scandals.
A number of Republican officials have also called for Cuomo to resign. GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin said he was exploring a 2022 gubernatorial run, tweeting, “With his nursing home cover-up & abuse coming more to light, it's clear #CuomosGottaGo.”
In February, Democratic state Assemblyman Ron Kim said Cuomo had threatened him for criticizing the governor’s handling of the state's nursing homes during the pandemic, saying Cuomo told him, "'We're in this business together and we don't cross certain lines,' and he said I hadn't seen his wrath and that he can destroy me.”
"Gov. Cuomo called me directly ... to threaten my career if I did not cover up for Melissa [DeRosa, the governor's aide who is accused of covering up the nursing-home scandal] and what she said,” Kim told CNN. (DeRosa told legislators that the state had held off on revealing the full scope of the COVID-related death toll of its nursing-home residents because of worries about a potential federal investigation.)
Cuomo was first elected as governor in 2010. Prior to holding his current position, he served as the state’s attorney general and as secretary of housing and urban development under President Bill Clinton. Cuomo’s father, Mario, was also a three-term governor of New York and his brother, Chris, is a CNN anchor.
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