- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo refused to resign Wednesday over accusations that he sexually harassed three young women, suggesting through tears that his embarrassment from the scandal should be punishment enough.

Making his first public appearance since the women leveled their charges against him, the three-term Democrat’s voice cracked with emotion as he told New Yorkers he felt “awful” that he made the women feel uncomfortable.

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Frankly, I am embarrassed by it. That’s not easy to say, but that’s the truth.”

The governor insisted twice, “I never touched anyone inappropriately.”

He rejected calls from New Yorkers in both parties to resign and asked the public to withhold judgment until an independent probe overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James is completed.

“I’m going to do the job that the people of this state elected me to do,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I will be the better for this experience.”

A poll Wednesday underscored the stakes for Mr. Cuomo, who is seeking a fourth term next year. His job approval rating dropped from 71% last April to 38% this week after the harassment claims and after the launch of a federal investigation into reports that his office covered up statistics of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes.

Critics in both parties were not moved by Mr. Cuomo’s appearance on live TV in Albany.

“I take back what I said before, he does deserve an Emmy,” tweeted Rep. Claudia Tenney, New York Republican, referring to the governor’s oft-ridiculed daytime TV award for his coronavirus briefings.

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat who is calling on Mr. Cuomo to resign, criticized the governor for placing the burden on women to face down charges of harassment.

Andrew Cuomo wants you to know that if only the women had the courage to confront the Governor of New York about how he made them feel, he wouldn’t be in this mess, and that this has been an incredibly difficult time for him as well,” Ms. Biaggi tweeted.

She called on Mr. Cuomo to provide written proof of his claim that he received the sexual harassment training required for all state employees.

Debra Katz, a high-profile harassment lawyer who is representing Cuomo accuser Charlotte Bennett, said the governor’s press conference “was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information.”

“New Yorkers deserve better,” she said.

Ms. Katz said she expects the attorney general’s report will “demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms. Bennett’s serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements.”

Ms. Bennett, 25, worked as an executive assistant and health policy adviser to Mr. Cuomo until June, when the governor asked what she said were sexually suggestive questions during a private meeting. She said Mr. Cuomo, 63, inquired whether had sex with older men and whether she was monogamous. 

She said she was so upset that she reported the incident to Mr. Cuomo’s chief of staff and was transferred to a different job.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo suggested that he was never told about Ms. Bennett’s complaint.

“I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable,” the governor said. “I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do. I’m sorry.”

The firestorm began last week when Lindsey Boylan, another former Cuomo aide, renewed allegations that she first made public in December. She said Mr. Cuomo kissed her on the lips in 2018 without her consent and suggested on a flight that they play strip poker. Ms. Boylan, 36, also described other unwanted advances by the governor. 

A spokeswoman for the governor has denied those accusations.

The calls for Mr. Cuomo’s resignation intensified this week when Anna Ruch, 33, described her encounter with the governor at a wedding reception in September 2019.

She said Mr. Cuomo, whom she had not met, approached her, placed a hand on her bare lower back and asked to kiss her. A friend captured the moment in a photo, which shows Mr. Cuomo holding her face with both hands as Ms. Ruch gives him a look of astonishment.

“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” Ms. Ruch told The New York Times. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”

Mr. Cuomo portrayed himself Wednesday as a well-intentioned victim of changing social standards. He said the furor arose because “sensitivities have changed.”

“My usual custom is to kiss and to hug,” he said. “You can find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. It is my usual and customary way of greeting. … You want people to feel comfortable.”

But, he said, “behavior has changed, and I get it and I’m going to learn from it.”

Ms. Biaggi scoffed at the governor’s attempt “to normalize his unwanted kiss” of a 33-year-old woman.

A top adviser to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, backed Mr. Cuomo when a reporter asked how she felt about the sexual harassment allegations.

“I am incredibly proud of the work that this administration has done to further women’s rights,” Ms. DeRosa said.

Despite the dual scandals and tearful apologies, Mr. Cuomo said, “I have never done anything in my public career that I have been ashamed of.”

Mr. Cuomo brought up the sexual harassment accusations at the end of his briefing on the coronavirus. Although he is under federal investigation for the nursing home deaths, all of the media questions at the event focused on the reports of harassment.

The state Legislature on Tuesday reached an agreement to scale back the governor’s emergency pandemic powers. Mr. Cuomo incorrectly portrayed the deal as one he helped negotiate.

“Whatever order I put in place, the Legislature can repeal it in 24 hours or whenever they choose. That’s always been the way,” he said.

The governor began his televised briefing by extolling “good news” and “great news” about the pandemic in New York. He said positivity rates, hospitalizations and ICU admissions are all down.

“We’ve really made tremendous progress,” Mr. Cuomo said.

But he lamented that hot spots remained in areas including the Bronx, where the rate of positive tests for COVID-19 is double that of Manhattan.

The scandalized governor said there could be only one explanation: “It is about behavior.”

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