The Democratic leader of New York's Senate called for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign Sunday amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment and undercounting COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins added her voice to a growing number of Cuomo's foes and allies who believe the three-term Democrat should step down.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, also a Democrat, stopped short of echoing Stewart-Cousins but said in a statement that “it is time for the Governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York.”
On Saturday, another woman who worked for Cuomo publicly accused him of inappropriate behaviour, on the heels of other allegations in recent weeks.
“Every day there is another account that is drawing away from the business of government,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it. We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign.”
Her push for his resignation came shortly after a Sunday press conference where Cuomo said it would be “anti-democratic” for him to step down.
“They don't override the people's will, they don't get to override elections,” Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters when asked about members of his own party calling for him to step down. “I was elected by the people of New York state. I wasn't elected by politicians.”
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.
Asked about Ana Liss, who 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,” kissed her hand and asked personal questions including whether she had a boyfriend, 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.”
Liss told the Journal she initially thought of Cuomo's behaviour as harmless and never made a formal complaint about it, but it increasingly bothered her and she felt it was patronizing.
“It's not appropriate, really, in any setting,” she said. “I wish that he took me seriously.”
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 him. The state's attorney general is investigating.
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, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, 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 last week, Cuomo denied ever touching anyone inappropriately, but apologized for behaving in a way that he now realized had upset people. 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.