Cuomo apologizes but will not resign in wake of sexual harassment allegations

March 3, 2021 1:51 PM EST

FILE PHOTO: Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a news conference after voting in the midterm elections, standing with his daughter, Cara Kennedy Cuomo and girlfriend Sandra Lee, at Mt. Kisco, New York, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Cait


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By Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said he would not resign in the wake of a series of sexual misconduct accusations leveled against him by young women but offered a fresh apology and vowed to "fully cooperate" with a review by the state's attorney general.

"I am not going to resign," Cuomo told a news conference after he offered an emotional apology for what he said was behavior that made "people feel uncomfortable."

"I feel awful about it and frankly I am embarrassed by it," said the Democratic governor, who has also contended with allegations in recent weeks that his administration sought to downplay the number of elderly nursing home residents killed by COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Cuomo said his behavior toward the women who have accused him of misconduct was unintentional and maintained that he never touched anyone inappropriately. Even so, he acknowledged that it is "custom" for him to kiss and hug people when greeting them.

"I understand that sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed and I get it, and I'm going to learn from it," he said.

Three women, including two former aides, have come forward recently to say that Cuomo had sexually harassed them or made inappropriate remarks. Lindsey Boylan, who first came forward in December, said the unwanted advances included an unsolicited kiss on the lips in Cuomo's New York City office, which Cuomo denied.

Boylan, a candidate for Manhattan borough president, dismissed the governor's apology in a Twitter message on Wednesday. "How can New Yorkers trust you @NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you "don’t know" when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?" she wrote.

INVESTIGATION TO BEGIN

The second woman to detail her experience is Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser who told the New York Times in February that Cuomo peppered her with questions about her romantic life last year in what she viewed as an effort to have sex with her.

A third woman has also come forward, telling the New York Times the governor made unwanted advances and physical contact after meeting her at a wedding in 2019.

In response to Bennett, Cuomo released a statement on Sunday saying he sometimes playfully teased colleagues and was sorry if he made anyone uncomfortable, and his office granted the referral required by state law for New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the complaints.

Debra Katz, the attorney who represented Christine Blasey Ford when she alleged that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, is now representing Bennett. In a statement on Wednesday, Katz said Cuomo's apology was "full of falsehoods."

Reuters could not immediately reach representatives for the other two women.

"I apologized several days ago. I apologize today, I will apologize tomorrow, I will apologize the day after," Cuomo said on Wednesday as he pleaded with the public to "get the facts" before forming an opinion.

The complaints about sexual misconduct emerged after questions mounted over Cuomo's handling of the coronavirus pandemic last year as it tore through nursing homes. New York state politicians, many of them fellow Democrats, have said that Cuomo tried to silence his critics and routinely governed through intimidation.

In January, James' office issued a report that said the state health department significantly undercounted the death toll in nursing homes and implemented policies that may have contributed to the death toll.

(This story refiles to add ommitted word to paragraph 13, corrects tense in paragraph 14)

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Jonathan Allen in New York, Editing by Frank McGurty, Chris Reese and Aurora Ellis)



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