Governor Andrew Cuomo put in his two-weeks notice on August 10, resigning amid the increasing likelihood of being impeached for alleged sexual harassment, sending shockwaves across New York State, including the East End.
It was a striking fall from grace for the three-term, once-beloved governor—no stranger to the Hamptons campaign fundraiser circuit—who won an Emmy last year for his must-watch daily coronavirus pandemic press briefings, to becoming a political pariah a year later. His lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, will become the first woman to lead the state in its 233-year history, until Cuomo’s term in office ends in December 2022. Reactions from local lawmakers were swift and unforgiving.
“These are difficult times for our state, but the governor did the right thing by stepping aside today,” tweeted Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a fellow Democrat who had joined statewide calls for Cuomo’s resignation. “Now it is time for all of us to begin the healing process. It is important that the progress we have made continues on the critical issues before us.”
Cuomo is the third consecutive New York State governor to leave in scandal. Eliot Spitzer quit as governor in 2008 over his patronage of prostitutes. The man who succeeded him, David Paterson, aborted his 2010 re-election campaign facing allegations of witness tampering and other offenses.
In a televised, 20-minute address, Cuomo again denied any wrongdoing, though he said he accepted “full responsibility” for what he characterized as ill-conceived attempts to be affectionate or humorous. He said he had concluded that fighting the accusations while remaining in office would paralyze state government and cost taxpayers millions of dollars at a time when the coronavirus pandemic still poses a major threat.
“I think, given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government—and therefore that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
He was largely viewed as an ideological centrist. In 2018, he beat back a liberal challenge from Sex and the City actor and Montauk homeowner Cynthia Nixon, though he has moved left in recent years with the rest of the Democratic Party. As his power grew, Cuomo built a reputation as an ambitious, ruthless politician who was willing to retaliate against perceived enemies and whose abrasive style in private often alienated others.
Cuomo had weathered other potential scandals. In 2014, he disbanded an anti-corruption panel only nine months after he convened it, triggering a U.S. Justice Department inquiry. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan eventually concluded there was insufficient evidence to show any crimes occurred.
The two state lawmakers who represent the Hamptons and the North Fork in the state Assembly—where the judiciary committee’s impeachment inquiry into the alleged harassment and other claims was expected to conclude in the coming weeks—both condemned Cuomo and offered an olive branch to Hochul.
“The governor’s resignation is an admission of guilt,” Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said. “Had he responded to the judiciary committee and accepted the due process of the Legislature, it would be a different story. However, the judiciary committee will continue its investigation.”
Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said he admired the bravery of the 11 women whose allegations of unwanted kissing, hugging and touching by the governor were documented in a bombshell 168-page report that state Attorney General Letitia James’s office released on August 3, but stopped short of filing criminal charges.
“This is a sad day for all New Yorkers,” Thiele said. “Based on the facts and evidence presented, Governor Andrew Cuomo made the right decision today by announcing his resignation. Today’s announcement sends a clear message to the people of the State of New York that no one is above the law. As I have previously stated, sexual harassment and assault has no place in any work environment, especially not in the highest office of New York State government.”
State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), whose district includes the entire East End, shared the governor’s pragmatic rationale for stepping down.
“Embattled Governor Cuomo’s announcement of his impending resignation is welcome news to New Yorkers and will save the state time and money in removing him from office through impeachment,” Palumbo said. “Now, state government must refocus its energies on defeating the COVID Delta variant, working to rebuild New York’s struggling economy and infrastructure and combating the rise in violent crime.”
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a former state senator whose congressional district covers the Twin Forks and who is the GOP frontrunner in the 2022 race to replace Cuomo, blamed systemic corruption in Albany for allowing Cuomo’s scandals to fester.
“Every New Yorker, regardless of who they vote for, where they live or how much they make, deserves much better than this,” he said. “It’s not just about Cuomo, it’s about those who continue to preserve the status quo and have failed to learn from the mistakes of the past. Voters in New York need to take back control of how we are governed and set the standards we want for those who are given the honor of serving us.”
Besides the sexual harassment allegations, the Assembly and federal investigators have been probing whether the Cuomo administration broke any laws while allegedly manipulating the coronavirus nursing home death statistics, inking a $5 million book deal about the governor’s pandemic response, and fast-tracking COVID-19 tests for friends and family members. As Dan’s Papers has reported, among those who benefitted from the test access when they were not widely available was the governor’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, and a family member of State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore at their Southampton residences last year.
Although the state attorney did not pursue criminal charges in the harassment probe, local prosecutors in Manhattan, Nassau County, Albany County and Westchester County said after the report’s release that they were looking into the matter and requested evidence from the independent inquiry. Last week, one of Cuomo’s accusers, Brittany Commisso, filed a criminal report with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, alleging the governor groped her breast at the Executive Mansion in Albany last November. The sheriff told reporters his office would conduct a thorough investigation.
The attorney general’s investigators concluded that Cuomo and his aides created a “toxic” and “hostile” workplace in an office gripped by bullying, fear and intimidation. In a statement, James, who attended a campaign fundraiser and several other events in the Hamptons last weekend, said Cuomo’s resignation “closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it’s an important step toward justice.”