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Elected officials react

Cuomo defiant amid universal calls for resignation in wake of sexual harassment report

Cuomo defiant amid universal calls for resignation in wake of sexual harassment report

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Tuesday afternoon in a taped message denying that he sexually harassed female staffers in this screenshot. Attorney General Letitia James released a report Tuesday saying that he subjected women to unwanted touching and personal questions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo remained defiant on Tuesday, despite universal calls from elected officials that he must resign in the wake of the state attorney general’s report that he sexually harassed women.

The report found that Cuomo subjected current and former staffers to harassment including unwanted touching and groping and invasive personal questions.

State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said he was one of the first to call on Cuomo to resign back in February. The report, which featured interviews with 179 people and 74,000 documents, has shown that Cuomo is unfit to lead and must resign immediately, he said.

“Cuomo has continuously failed to do the right thing. From the harassing behavior itself, the lies and false denials, to the intimidation of witnesses and recent questioning of the investigators’ independence, he has shown how despicable he really is,” Stec said in a news release.

“He, frankly, doesn’t deserve another day in our state Capitol,” Stec added.

In addition, Stec said that Cuomo’s conduct rises to the level that he should be stripped of his pension.

Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, said the governor should step down.

“The attorney general made it abundantly clear that the governor violated multiple state and federal laws in his serial sexual harassment of women. I commend the women for their bravery in speaking out and I call on the governor to resign immediately,” he said in a news release.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, had previously called for the governor to resign when the allegations came to like and said he cannot continue in the position because of the “pervasive, appalling behavior” documented in the report.

“As a voter in New York, I am angry. As a human being, I am disgusted,” she said in a news release.

In a follow-up interview, Woerner said she would be speaking with her colleagues in the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon to push to impeach. Cuomo has lost the ability to lead, she said.

“He signed the toughest sexual harassment laws in the country and then proceeded to break those laws. It’s really hard to see how he has credibility any longer,” she said. “If he was the CEO of a private sector company, he would have been gone a long time ago. This behavior is unacceptable in any setting.”

State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, also said Cuomo must resign immediately or face bipartisan impeachment during a special session of the state Legislature.

“Cuomo is a serial sexual harasser that has brought disgrace upon his office and stained our state,” she said in a news release.

Federal officials also weighed in.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said Cuomo should be arrested immediately and President Joe Biden should call for the governor’s resignation.

She said in December she was the first federal official to call for an independent investigation into the allegations.

“The media and Democrats smeared me and closed ranks to protect Cuomo, a shameful chapter in New York history. All of them including his staff must be held to account. These brave women deserve swift and definitive justice,” Stefanik said in a news release.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand also issued a joint statement calling on Cuomo to step down.

“The New York State Attorney General has conducted an independent, thorough and professional investigation that found the governor violated state and federal law, had a pattern of sexually harassing current and former employees, retaliated against at least one of the accusers, and created a hostile work environment,” they said in a statement.

“No elected official is above the law. The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor’s office,” the statement went on to say.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Long Island Republican running for governor, called on Cuomo to resign or be impeached.

“Cuomo institutionalized widespread abuse within his administration and tried to silence his many victims, which enabled him to continue openly preying on those around him,” Lee said in a news release. “Over the last few months, Cuomo has continued his attempts to undermine the investigations into his wrongdoing and those carrying them out, and I have no doubt he will continue to do so following the release of the report.”

Cuomo responds

In his statement, Cuomo again said he never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual remarks.

“I am 63 years old. I’ve lived my entire adult life in public service. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I ever have been,” he said.

Cuomo specifically addressed two allegations in his statement. Charlotte Bennett had claimed that Cuomo had asked her if she was open to sex with an older man and asked her inappropriate personal questions.

Cuomo said he took a personal interest in Bennett because she was a victim of sexual assault. Cuomo shared that he has a family member who is a survivor of a sexual assault in high school.

Bennett’s experience brought back those feelings. He said his personal questions were an effort to be supportive as she worked her way through the trauma. However, Bennett and her attorney misconstrued his words.

“They read into comments I made and drew inferences that I never meant. They ascribe motives that I never had. Simply put, they heard things that I simply didn’t say. Charlotte I want you to now that I am truly and deeply sorry. I brought my personal experience into the workplace. I shouldn’t have done that,” he said.

Cuomo said the allegation that he groped a staffer in his home office never happened. He said he believed the woman’s attorney would be filing a lawsuit.

“Trial by newspapers or biased reviews are not the way to find the facts in this manner,” he said. “I welcome the opportunity for a full and fair review before a judge and jury because this didn’t happen.”

In response to allegations that he subjected women to unwanted kissing and touching, he showed a montage of photos showing him touching people’s faces.

“I’ve been making the same gesture in public all my life. I actually learned it from my mother and my father. It is meant to convey warmth. Nothing more,” he said.

He does kiss people on the forehead and the cheek and hug and embrace them. He also admitted to calling people “sweetheart.”

“I do banter. I tell jokes — some better than others. I am the same person in public that I am in private,” he said. “I try to put people at ease. I try to make them smile. I try to connect with them. I try to show my appreciation and my friendship.”

Cuomo said he now understands how his actions could be perceived because of the changing culture. He said he wants New York to be a model of workplace conduct behavior.

“I accept responsibility and we are making changes,” he said.

As for the allegations of a toxic work environment, he acknowledged that his office is a very demanding place to work.

“My office is no typical 9 to 5 government office and I don’t want it to be. The stakes we deal with are very high — sometimes even life and death. We have to get the job done,” he said.

He attributed much of the controversy to politics and said he would not be distracted from his job.

“We have a lot to do. We still have to manage the COVID beast. It is not dead yet. Our future is going to be what we make of it,” he said.

Michael Goot covers politics, crime and courts, Warren County, education and business. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com.

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