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ALBANY, N.Y. – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defiantly refused calls for his resignation Sunday as the two most powerful state lawmakers suggested he should at least consider stepping down amid dual scandals that have engulfed his administration.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, called for the Democratic governor's resignation Sunday afternoon, marking a significant escalation in the effort by some to convince Cuomo to quit after five women publicly accused him of inappropriate behavior and his administration withheld the true COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes for months.
Her statement was quickly followed up by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, who stopped just short of saying Cuomo should quit, but said he should "seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York."
In her statement, Stewart-Cousins said the revelations about Cuomo are "drawing away from the business of government."
"New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it," Stewart-Cousins said in her statement. "We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign."
Heastie and Stewart-Cousins' statements Sunday put Cuomo in even more political peril than he was already facing and make clear he has lost the support of the legislative leaders, with whom the governor must negotiate a $192 billion state budget agreement over the next three weeks.
It also seems to bolster the possibility of impeachment: Any measure impeaching Cuomo would require a majority vote in the state Assembly, which would require Heastie's blessing. The impeachment trial would then be heard by the state Senate and Court of Appeals, though Stewart-Cousins herself would not be part of the court.
Cuomo says he will not resign
Cuomo made clear Sunday he has no intention of stepping down, seemingly responding to the lawmakers' statements before they were publicly released.
On a hastily scheduled conference call with reporters earlier in the afternoon, Cuomo suggested it would be "anti-democratic" for him to resign before an investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James is complete.
Cuomo went as far to suggest complaints against lawmakers handled by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics should be released publicly if lawmakers support his resignation now. By law, those complaints are kept secret until they are resolved.
“I’m not going to resign because of allegations," Cuomo said. "The premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti-democratic. We’ve always done the exact opposite: The system is based on due process and the credibility of the allegations."
Later in the call, he was more defiant: "There is no way I resign."
James, the attorney general, will soon select an attorney to lead an investigation into the harassment claims against Cuomo, with her office sending the governor a letter on March 1 notifying his office of its duties to retain documents and correspondence related to the inquiry.
The investigation is focused on accusations of sexual harassment by multiple women, including former aides.
Cuomo is also facing extensive criticism for his administration's decision to withhold the number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 in hospitals, instead choosing to release only those who died in the homes themselves.
The decision obscured the true nursing home death toll for months, with his top aide Melissa DeRosa admitting in a private meeting the administration "froze" in part because they were concerned President Donald Trump's administration could use it against them.
New allegations against Cuomo
The latest harassment and inappropriate behavior accusations against Cuomo came Saturday, when The Wall Street Journal published claims by Ana Liss, who said the governor called her "sweetheart," once kissed her hand and asked whether she had a boyfriend when she worked in the governor's office from 2013 to 2015. Liss now works for Monroe County.
Also Saturday, The Washington Post featured a claim by Karen Hinton, who worked for Cuomo when he was federal housing secretary and detailed an awkward interaction when she was summoned to his hotel room in 2000. There, Hinton claims Cuomo held her in a too-long, intimate embrace and pulled her back in when she pulled away.
Previously, two other former Cuomo aides accused the governor of inappropriate behavior.
Lindsey Boylan accused the governor of kissing her on the lips without consent when she left a one-on-one meeting in 2018, while 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett said the governor asked her probing, personal questions last year about her romantic life and experience as a sexual assault survivor while telling her he would be comfortable being with a woman in her 20s.
And another woman, Anna Ruch, said Cuomo cupped her head in his hands and asked to kiss her after she forcibly removed his hand from her lower back at a wedding reception in 2019.
On Wednesday, the governor apologized for any "pain" he may have caused, but also said he was never aware he had made women uncomfortable at the time.
On Sunday, Cuomo, who has been in office since 2011, flatly denied the claim by Hinton. His office has previously denied Boylan's claim. He has not directly denied any of Bennett's allegations, though he said he often jokes about his employees' personal lives and relationships and suggested some of his remarks may have been "misinterpreted" and "unwanted flirtations."
"Just in general, Ms. Hinton — every woman has a right to come forward," Cuomo said, painting Hinton as a "longtime adversary."
"That's true," he continued. "But the truth also matters. What she said is not true."
In response, Hinton issued a statement saying "truth is the 'longtime adversary' that Cuomo fears the most."
"Trump may be gone but Cuomo has stepped right into his shoes by blaming the abused for his own abusive behavior," she said.
In regards to Liss' claims, Cuomo suggested his comments about whether she had a boyfriend were nothing more than normal office banter. In regards to an event at the Executive Mansion where Liss claims Cuomo called her sweetheart and put his hand around her waist as they posed for a photo, Cuomo said there was nothing untoward.
"I say to people in the office, 'How are you doing? How's everything? Are you going out? Are you dating?'" Cuomo said. "That's my way of doing friendly banter. I take pictures with people at ceremonial events. That is a very common practice."
Liss told the Journal that over time, Cuomo's interactions with her left her feeling like "just a skirt" rather than an educated professional.
“It’s not appropriate, really, in any setting,” she said.
In his statement Sunday, Heastie said the allegations against Cuomo "have been deeply disturbing, and have no place whatsoever in government, the workplace or anywhere else."
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Follow him Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Andrew Cuomo refuses to resign as NY Senate leader says he should quit