NEW YORK - The two top Democrats in New York’s legislature withdrew their support for Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment and undercounting COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
"I'm not going to resign because of allegations," Cuomo said on a conference call earlier in the day. "There is no way I resign. Let's do the attorney general's investigation, let's get the findings and then let's go from there."
However, New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called on Cuomo to resign in a statement on Sunday.
"Everyday there is another account that is drawing away from the business of government. We have allegations about sexual harassment, a toxic work environment, the loss of credibility surrounding the COVID-19 nursing home data and questions about the construction of a major infrastructure project," Stewart-Cousins said. "We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state, Governor Cuomo must resign."
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also released a statement, questioning Cuomo's ability to lead the state.
"The allegations pertaining to the Governor that have been reported in recent weeks have been deeply disturbing, and have no place whatsoever in government, the workplace or anywhere else," Heastie said. "I too share the sentiment of Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins regarding the Governor's ability to continue to lead this state. We have many challenges to address, and I think it is time for the Governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York."
In a brief conversation Sunday prior to the press conference, Cuomo told Stewart-Cousins that he wouldn’t quit and they would have to impeach him if they wanted him out of office, according to a person who was briefed by someone who was on the call. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the call was intended to be private.
Cuomo said the next six months will determine how successfully New York emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. "I’m not going to be distracted because there is too much to do for the people," he said, noting that the state must pass a budget within three weeks and administer 15 million more COVID-19 vaccines.
Cuomo's declaration comes after another woman who worked for him described conduct she felt was inappropriate for the workplace.
Ana Liss, 35, told The Wall Street Journal in a story published Saturday that when she worked as a policy aide to the governor between 2013 and 2015, Cuomo called her "sweetheart," once kissed her hand and asked personal questions, including whether she had a boyfriend. She said he sometimes greeted her with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks.
Liss told the Journal she initially thought of Cuomo’s behavior as harmless, but it grew to bother her. She felt it was patronizing.
"It’s not appropriate, really, in any setting," she said. "I wish that he took me seriously."
Asked about Liss, Cuomo said such talk was "my way of doing friendly banter."
He acknowledged that societal norms have evolved and noted: "I never meant to make anyone feel any uncomfortable."
"Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures," said Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo. "At the public open-house mansion reception, there are hundreds of people, and he poses for hundreds of pictures. That’s what people in politics do."
Liss said she never made a formal complaint about the governor’s behavior.
Karen Hinton, a former press aide to Cuomo when he served as the federal housing secretary under President Bill Clinton, detailed an uncomfortable hotel room interaction she had with Cuomo in a story published Saturday in The Washington Post. Hinton, said that as she got up to leave, he gave her a hug that was "very long, too long, too tight, too intimate."
She described the encounter not as sexual harassment but as a "power play" for "manipulation and control." She was no longer an aide to Cuomo at the time.
Asked Sunday about Hinton’s account Cuomo said it was "not true" and noted that the two had been longtime political adversaries.
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Cuomo’s workplace conduct has been under intense scrutiny in recent days as several women have publicly told of feeling sexually harassed, or at least made to feel demeaned and uncomfortable by the Democrat.
Former adviser Lindsey Boylan, 36, said he made inappropriate comments on her appearance, once kissed her on the lips at the end of a meeting and suggested a game of strip poker as they sat with other aides on a jet flight. Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, 25, said Cuomo asked if she ever had sex with older men and made other comments she interpreted as gauging her interest in an affair.
Another woman, who did not work for the state, described Cuomo putting his hands on her face and asking if he could kiss her after they met at a wedding.
In a news conference Wednesday, Cuomo denied ever touching anyone inappropriately, but apologized for behaving in a way that he now realized had upset women he worked with. He said he’d made jokes and asked personal questions in an attempt to be playful and frequently greeted people with hugs and kisses, as his father, Mario Cuomo, had done when he was governor.
"I understand sensitivities have changed. Behavior has changed," Cuomo said. "I get it and I’m going to learn from it."
The state's attorney general plans to hire an outside law firm to investigate the sexual harassment allegations. Some lawmakers have called for Cuomo to resign over his workplace behavior, and separate allegations that his administration misled the public about coronavirus fatalities in nursing homes.
With the Associated Press.