ALBANY, N.Y. (WROC) — Andrew Cuomo delivered a farewell address to New Yorkers on his final day in office Monday, where he dismounted on a quote from E.B. White.
“New York is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village, the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying the way is up,” Cuomo said.
The governor announced his resignation 13 days ago after a bombshell report from the attorney general’s office concluded he sexually harassed current and former state employees.
“There will be another time to talk about the truth and ethics of the recent situation involving me,” Cuomo said. “The attorney general’s report was designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic — it was meant to start a stampede.”
Although the governor’s lawyers challenged the credibility of the report, and Cuomo himself maintains he never touched anyone inappropriately, he announced he would step down to not serve as a further distraction for New Yorkers.
“There are moments in life that test our character,” Cuomo said. “Moments that ask us, are we the person we believe we are, or are we the person we try to be at our best. You know me, I’m a fighter. My instinct was to fight this because it was unfair and unjust. I love New York, and I serve.
“I serve you,” Cuomo said. “That is the oath that I took. And in this moment, I believe that the right thing is that my service come first. Prolonging this situation could only cause governmental paralysis and that is just not an option for you and not an option for the state, especially now.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was sworn in as governor at midnight during a private ceremony, making her the first female governor in New York state history. The swearing in ceremony will be overseen by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore.
Hochul, also a Democrat, will inherit immense challenges as she takes over an administration facing criticism for inaction in Cuomo’s distracted final months in office.
COVID-19 has refused to abate. Schools are set to reopen in the coming weeks, with big decisions to be made about whether to require masks for students or vaccination for teachers. The state’s economic recovery from the pandemic is still incomplete.
“Demonizing business is against our collective self-interest,” Cuomo said. “Taking actions for them to flee the state weakens our tax base. Taxes can be reduced right away if Washington does what they promised and repeal the SALT tax. That would lower New York’s taxes by $15 billion and would dwarf any other federal programs.
Also, the governor said gun violence has been on the rise statewide as communities rally against police brutality.
“What New York is? No one can tell, but our actions determine our future,” Cuomo said. “No governor in the nation has passed more aggressive measures than I have, but I disagree with some people in our party to defund the police. Gun violence and crime are savaging communities. Reforming police must be the goal; ending discrimination, ending use of force, and building back trust is the goal. It’s the truth, and it’s the right way forward.”
Cuomo’s resignation comes after an independent investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James concluded there was credible evidence he’d sexually harassed at least 11 women, including an aide who said he groped her breast and has since filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators also said Cuomo’s senior staff retaliated against at least one of those women and worked to undermine the credibility of others.
Separately, Cuomo was facing a legislative investigation into whether he misled the public about COVD-19 deaths in nursing homes to protect his reputation as a pandemic leader and improperly got help from state employees in writing a pandemic book that may net him $5 million.
Despite the controversies, the governor says now is the time to focus on the future, not the past.
“Somewhere along the way, government lost its competence, and then people lost confidence in their government, but today is a different day,” Cuomo said. “We’ve shown potential, and the New York spirit is to reach for the skies, and that still exists. We must demand that government still perform. We cannot go back to the old days when government never made a difference in people’s lives. It’s what we do. We developed a new paradigm of government in this state and it actually works and it works for people. We cannot go backwards.”
Perhaps the most pressing issue facing the state? The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the governor said.
“We must focus on the immediate threat of COVID,” Cuomo said. “We did what no one thought could be done, because when the rest of the nation put their heads in the sand, we faced up to the facts. We must realize that the spread will inevitably effect us. Teachers must be vaccinated for their protection and for the protection of students. Private businesses must mandate vaccination for large gatherings. We know the choice is politically contentious, and medically infectious.”
Even with the number of challenges currently facing the state, the governor is confident in the New York’s ability to overcome any obstacle.
“Lets remember what made New York state the Empire State in the first place,” Cuomo said. “New York’s historic success was not a process of evolution. It didn’t just happen. We weren’t born this way. We have reason to believe in New York’s futured, based on what we accomplished together.”
In the closing remarks of his farewell address, the governor spoke directly to New Yorkers.
“I work for the people, I work for you,” Cuomo said. “My faith has been in the people. I know too well the flaws of the political system. I believe that New Yorkers, when informed with the facts and when they believe in the facts, will do the right thing, even when it’s hard. I went to you when we wanted to raise the minimum wage and you did it. I went to you when we had to stand up against racism and anti-Semitism. I went to you to stand strong against the COVID beast.
“And every time, without fail, the people of New York have done the right thing,” Cuomo said. “It’s not easy, but it’s possible. You are the ‘u’ in unity, and New York chooses unity over division. We didn’t get everything done we wanted, or even everything we should have done, but I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I gave it my all. I tried my best to deliver to you and that’s the God’s honest truth.
“Kathy Hochul will be the governor of New York and I believe she will step up. We all wish her success,” Cuomo said. “Thank you for the honor of serving you as the governor, and than you for empowering me to fight for you. Thank you for trusting me through COVID. Thank you for making New York state the progressive capital of the nation. Thank you for the honor of serving you.
“Never forget, always stay New York tough: Smart, united, disciplined, and loving,” Cuomo said. “It’s the essence of what makes New Yorkers so special.”
As the window closes on the Cuomo administration, the focus now shifts to the next governor — and with the aforementioned issues at hand, Hochul will need to quickly build her own team of advisers who can help steer the administration for at least the next 16 months.
She plans to keep on Cuomo-era employees for 45 days to allow her time to interview new hires, but said she will not keep anyone found to have behaved unethically. At least 35 employees in the governor’s office have left since February, according to staff rosters. Earlier Monday she announced two senior staffing positions for her administration.
Hochul, who said she didn’t work closely with Cuomo and wasn’t aware of the harassment allegations before they became public, has vowed no one will ever call her workplace “toxic.”
“I have a different approach to governing,” Hochul said Wednesday in Queens, adding, “I get the job done because I don’t have time for distractions, particularly coming into this position.”
Hochul has already said she plans to run for a full four-year term next year.
She’ll do so as the state Democratic Party grapples with an internal struggle between moderate and liberal New Yorkers.
Hochul, who once represented a conservative Western New York district in Congress for a year and has a reputation as a moderate, is expected to pick a left-leaning state lawmaker from New York City as her lieutenant governor.
State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs praised Hochul as “formidable.”
“She’s very experienced and I think she’ll be a refreshing and exciting new governor,” he said.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.
Cuomo’s drive to dominate led to success, and his downfall
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Back in 2018, when there was talk he might run for president, Andrew Cuomo insisted there was only one reason he would leave office early. And it wasn’t the White House. “The only caveat,” he said, “is if God strikes me dead.”
Another possibility will be realized this week, when the Democrat resigns in disgrace, his allies gone, his legacy stained by allegations of sexual harassment. This ending was not brought about by a bolt from the heavens, but by 11 women who told their stories to investigators.
For those who watched Cuomo’s daily COVID-19 briefings and saw a beacon of strength and competence, Cuomo’s departure from the governor’s mansion may seem a stunning reversal. For New Yorkers, and especially those who butted heads with Cuomo, it is a story about how his drive to dominate made him the master of New York politics and brought about his downfall.
“My natural instinct is to be aggressive, and it doesn’t always serve me well,” Cuomo acknowledged in a recent memoir detailing his response to the pandemic. “I am a controlling personality. … But you show me a person who is not controlling, and I’ll show you a person who is probably not highly successful.”
But if equating control with success led to Cuomo’s accomplishments, it also precipitated his undoing. Many of Cuomo’s accusers told investigators that the governor used his power, and the threat of retaliation, to harass them, believing they would never report him.
“The Andrew Cuomo I’ve known since 1995 has always been about power and control,” said Karen Hinton, a former aide to Cuomo when he was housing secretary under President Bill Clinton. “His bullying, his flirting, his sexual overtones are largely about controlling the person. He thought he’d get away with it because of that power and control.”
Hinton is not among the 11 women at the center of the attorney general’s report, but she has said Cuomo once gave her an uncomfortable hug in a hotel room that was “too long, too tight, too intimate.”
The investigation overseen by New York Attorney General Letitia James and led by two outside lawyers substantiated accusations that Cuomo touched women inappropriately, commented on their appearance or made suggestive comments about their sex lives. Most of the women worked in state government.
Cuomo has apologized for some of his actions, and said others were misunderstood. He has said some of the accusations are “unfair and untruthful” and driven by politics. While he was initially defiant, he announced earlier this month that he plans to resign Monday. He will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is set to become New York’s first female governor.
But not before one last emergency to challenge Cuomo in his final days. The arrival of Tropical Storm Henri on Sunday put Cuomo back in the familiar role of responding to a natural disaster. Whether it was Superstorm Sandy, winter storms in Buffalo or just a typical upstate snowstorm, Cuomo the executive always seemed to be most engaged in times of natural disaster, sometimes even personally responding to motorists stranded in snowstorms (always captured on film, of course).
The son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, Andrew seemed destined to follow in his father’s steps. As a young man, he served as aide and campaign manager for his father before joining Clinton’s cabinet. He returned to New York for a failed bid for governor in 2002, then won the attorney general’s office four years later. In 2010, he ran for governor again and won.
Almost immediately, he began to leave his imprint on the state. He angered progressives by making deals with Republicans. He announced big economic development programs designed to turn around the upstate economy. He corralled votes for gay marriage, gun control and tax caps.
If he had won a fourth term in 2022, he would have surpassed his father’s three terms in office.
Though he excels at the backroom deal-making culture of Albany, Cuomo never seemed as comfortable with the personal side of politics. He’s not a baby kisser, but rather a political operator who knows how the sausage gets made and seems to enjoy the work.
Cuomo also appeared to delight in diminishing opponents and critics, be they reporters or political rivals. He mocked one GOP opponent as short, dismissed 2018 Democratic Primary challenger Cynthia Nixon as a “prosecco sipping” actress and regularly bedeviled his one-time friend turned nemesis, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Cuomo declined to comment to The Associated Press through a spokesman, who also declined to comment on his behalf. Cuomo’s remaining loyalists have instead taken to social media to defend his accomplishments as governor, a list that includes the very sexual harassment laws he is accused of violating.
It’s not the only contradiction in his long career.
He built more new bridges, train stations and airport facilities than any governor in decades, but he slashed funding to local governments struggling to pay for aging sewers and roads.
He bragged about investments in new businesses and in western New York, but many programs generated little besides state-funded commercials featuring Cuomo. Two of Cuomo’s closest advisers were sentenced to jail for corruption related to spending on economic development. Investigations into Cuomo’s role ended without charges.
He won an Emmy for his daily COVID-19 briefings and was so proud of the state’s response that he wrote a book — even as his administration was accused of covering up deaths in nursing homes after it forced them to accept virus patients.
“The country was mesmerized by Gov. Cuomo’s blunt talk about the pandemic, but he didn’t even follow the experts,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, a good government group that has long butted heads with Cuomo. “That’s emblematic of his style: The performance looks great, but when you get into the details, there are big holes and very little substance.”
State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said it’s too soon to review Cuomo’s performance as governor, given that there are criminal investigations into the harassment allegations and questions about his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
New York’s attorney general is also examining whether Cuomo improperly had state employees help with his book about the pandemic
Lawmakers will know more once Cuomo leaves office and they can assess whether his administration exaggerated some of its accomplishments.
“His legacy will also be based on what we learn,” Krueger said.
Cuomo hasn’t said where he will live after vacating the governor’s mansion in Albany. The Westchester County home that he once shared with ex-partner Sandra Lee has been sold. Lee, the cookbook author and television chef, has since moved to California, though she’s been seen recently in Europe with a new boyfriend.
His next professional steps are also unclear. With a law degree and deep experience in brokering deals, Cuomo could work as an attorney or a real estate development executive.
Could he try for a comeback? His campaign coffers remain flush, with $18 million. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who both stepped down amid sex scandals, tried to run for office in New York City. Both lost.
In today’s post #MeToo climate, the public may be even less forgiving, according to Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College.
“It will overshadow most voters’ thinking,” Muzzio said. “He has a lot of accomplishments. He has been a master builder. When he got elected, the state was in a $10 billion budget hole. And he solved it without raising taxes. But will anyone remember that?”