Great Britain

Cuomo suffers major blow as top New York Democrats say governor must go

Andrew Cuomo suffered a major blow on Sunday in his attempt to stay as governor of New York in the face of allegations of sexual harassment and workplace bullying and a scandal over nursing home deaths under Covid. The majority leader of the state senate and the speaker of the assembly, two of the most powerful Democrats in New York, said it was time for Cuomo to go.

But the governor was not budging, telling reporters he would not quit after reportedly telling the state senate leader she would have to impeach him.

“We need to govern without daily distraction,” the majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said in her statement. “For the good of the state, Governor Cuomo must resign.”

Assembly speaker Carl Heastie backed her, calling the allegations “disturbing” and saying Cuomo should “seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York”.

Cuomo said he would not resign because he was elected by people not politicians and the system depended on due process.

“I’m not going to resign because of allegations,” the governor said. “The premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti-democratic.”

Citing an anonymous source, the Associated Press reported that in a brief phone conversation before Cuomo spoke to reporters, the governor told Stewart-Cousins he would have to be impeached if his opponents wanted him out of office.

Five women have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, accusations he denies. On Saturday the Washington Post published new claims of bullying. One former aide claimed Cuomo ran “a systemic, intentional, hostile, toxic workplace environment”. A Cuomo aide rejected the accusation.

Other lawmakers have called for Cuomo to quit over allegations that his administration misled the public about coronavirus fatalities in nursing homes.

On Sunday prominent national Democrats including the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, who is from New York, and the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, expressed support for the women who allege harassment and for an investigation run by the New York attorney general, Letitita James.

But Cousins went further.

“Every day there is another account that is drawing away from the business of government,” she said. “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.

“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.”

Earlier this week, former aide Charlotte Bennett told CBS: “I thought, ‘He’s trying to sleep with me. The governor is trying to sleep with me and I’m deeply uncomfortable. And I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.’”

Speaking to CNN, Whitmer, who has discussed her own experience of sexual assault, was asked about Bennett’s account.

The Michigan governor said: “I think that there are a lot of American women who have felt how she felt. And I think that’s something that resonates and why we need to take this seriously, and why there needs to be a full investigation, and whatever is appropriate in terms of accountability should follow.

“I wouldn’t help anyone for me to prejudge where this is headed, but I had the same gut-wrenching reaction that I’m sure a lot of women in America did.”

But like other senior Democrats, Whitmer stopped short of saying Cuomo should resign, despite comparisons to recent cases in which powerful men, among them the former Minnesota senator Al Franken, were swiftly forced to step down.

“I think the allegations here are very serious,” she said, “and I do think that an impartial thorough independent investigation is merited and appropriate. And if [the allegations are] accurate and true, I think we have to take action.”

Last year, Whitmer was one of many prominent Democrats to back Joe Biden when he denied an accusation, telling CNN: “Just because you’re a survivor doesn’t mean that every claim is equal. It means we give them the ability to make their case. And then to make a judgment that is informed.”

Anna Ruch, who did not work for Cuomo, has described him putting his hands on her face and asking if he could kiss her, at a wedding.

Ana Liss told the Wall Street Journal that when she was a policy aide, Cuomo called her “sweetheart”, kissed her hand and asked personal questions, including whether she had a boyfriend. She said he sometimes greeted her with a hug and kisses on both cheeks.

Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, told the Journal: “Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women … 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.”

The Post, meanwhile, published a claim by Karen Hinton, a press aide when Cuomo was US housing secretary under Bill Clinton. She told the Post he “summoned her to his dimly lit hotel room and embraced her after a work event in 2000”.

Peter Ajemian, Cuomo’s director of communications, said: “This did not happen. Karen Hinton is a known antagonist of the governor’s who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made-up allegations from 21 years ago.”

Of the accusations of bullying, Ajemian said: “The governor is direct with employees if their work is sub-par because the people of New York deserve nothing short of excellence.”

Earlier this week, Cuomo denied touching inappropriately. But he apologised for behaving in a way he said he now realised upset women.

“I understand sensitivities have changed,” Cuomo said. “Behavior has changed. I get it and I’m going to learn from it.”

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