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Cuomo offers apology, says he's staying

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a briefing on March 3, 2021, responds to allegations of sexual harassment.
Jim Levulis/WAMC
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a briefing on March 3, 2021, responds to allegations of sexual harassment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the first time publicly addressed sexual harassment accusations against him, saying Wednesday that he did not intend to make anyone uncomfortable and that he is truly sorry.

Many are calling for his resignation, including some members of Cuomo’s own Democratic Party, but the governor says he’s not leaving.

At times welling with emotion, Cuomo looked into the camera and offered an apology to all New Yorkers, and to the women who say he harassed them.

“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. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it.”

Cuomo said he never touched anyone inappropriately. He also said he’s learned from the experience and promises that he will be “the better” for it.

Two former aides, Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, say the governor engaged in inappropriate behaviors, including touching, an unsolicited kiss, intrusive questions about dating habits, and whether sleeping with an older man would be an option, as well as an invitation to play strip poker.

The apology did not differ substantially from one he issued in a statement on Sunday evening, one that Bennett has already said she does not accept, saying the governor is not taking responsibility for “predatory behavior.”

A third woman, Anna Ruch, produced a photo that showed the governor, who she did not know, holding her face in his hands at a wedding. She said he then asked if he could kiss her.

Cuomo says hugging and kissing women and men as a form of greeting is a custom he learned from his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, but he said he now understand it is no longer acceptable.

“I could intend no offense, but if they were offended by it, then it was wrong,” Cuomo said.

State Attorney General Letitia James is conducting an investigation with subpoena powers. Cuomo, after some initial resistance, agreed to the probe, and said he and his office will cooperate fully. He asked everyone to withhold judgment until the attorney general’s report is completed.

“I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion,” he said.

A growing number of elected officials have called on Cuomo to resign, but the governor said he doesn’t plan to. He said there’s too much to do right now, and he needs to stay at his job.

“I’m not going to resign,” Cuomo said, adding that he needs to stay to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, revive the state’s damaged economy and complete a state budget.

Cuomo also faces a federal investigation over his office’s handling of nursing home polices during the pandemic.

Legislative leaders, increasingly discontent with Cuomo’s behavior, announced agreement Tuesday to strip him of the emergency powers they gave him during the pandemic. In the future, all major directives that concern things like opening and closing businesses, and requiring mask-wearing, will have to be done in consultation with the Senate and the Assembly.

The governor said he agrees to the new restrictions and will abide by them.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.