Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial reaction to a damning report filed Aug. 3 by state Attorney General Letitia James, detailing precisely how and when the governor sexually harassed 11 women, could only be described as bizarre.
Rather than a full denial or apology, Cuomo gave us a slideshow with photo after photo of him hugging and kissing people in public, seemingly suggesting that’s just who he is — a hugger and a kisser, an old-school politician who revels in public displays of affection with his constituents, female or male. He kind of, sort of apologized for handsy gestures that were misinterpreted by any women as sexual advances, but it looked like he was prepared to fight to stay in office.
So the governor took New Yorkers by surprise Tuesday when he announced that he would resign and hand the reins over to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hocul, a Democrat from Buffalo. It was the right thing to do.
In our March 11 editorial, we wrote, “It has been disturbing and disheartening to hear a series of accusations against the governor — first, that his administration may not only have under-reported nursing home deaths, but also altered the reports, and second, that he may have sexually harassed four women.
“If the growing number of accusations against Cuomo and his administration are proven true in the independent investigations now taking place, then he should resign, so as not to put the state through the long agony of an impeachment proceeding.”
The number of accusers against the governor grew from four to 11 in a matter of weeks this spring. James quickly went to work, undertaking a fair, thorough examination of the facts, interviewing 179 witnesses and gathering 74,000 pieces of evidence before reaching an unequivocal conclusion: Cuomo had sexually harassed women who worked for him.
The governor had to exit the political stage. A growing number of prosecutors were weighing potential criminal complaints against him over allegations that he groped women — an illegal act. Roiled by the coronavirus pandemic, New York state has endured enough turmoil over the past year and a half. We needn’t have witnessed the governor criminally charged.
Cuomo’s first inclination was, seemingly, to stand his ground. He is a bulldog, a rough-and-tumble fighter who hits back when he’s punched in the gut. But with pressure mounting from all sides, it appeared he had no choice but to throw in the towel.
In resigning, he has a chance to salvage some modicum of his political legacy — he has, after all, done enormous good on a number of fronts — and to preserve the legacy of his father, the great Mario Cuomo. A scandal of this magnitude threatened to besmirch the Cuomo family name.
Like all New Yorkers, we were shocked, disappointed and dismayed that Cuomo was alleged to have made unwanted sexual advances, including kissing and touching, given his public advocacy for legislation intended to eradicate harassment of women in the workplace. We now must wonder, was it all for show?
Reportedly, he was signing #MeToo-era legislation into law one day, and the next engaging in unwanted sexual advances, most often toward younger women in powerless positions, including one who was a sexual assault survivor. We have to wonder, Governor, have you no shame?
After all of this came out, Cuomo and his loyalist surrogates reportedly mounted an attack campaign designed to call his accusers’ allegations — and even their character — into question. That act alone was reason enough for him to resign.
Clearly, Cuomo could read the proverbial tea leaves. The State Assembly was moving swiftly to impeach him. Impeachment is a long, drawn-out process that would have, in a very real sense, re-victimized his accusers, because they would have been forced to relive this nightmare in public.
If Cuomo had not stepped down, however, impeachment would have been necessary to send a clear message that sexual harassment is unacceptable by anyone, including a sitting governor.
State lawmakers gave Cuomo an Aug. 13 deadline to provide any additional evidence backing up his side of the story. Nearly 100 of the Assembly’s 150 members had said they would vote to impeach him if he did not resign.
We can be thankful that the scandal never went that far. New Yorkers can breathe easier now, and start anew.