ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo broadly apologized Wednesday for making others feel uncomfortable, but vowed to remain in office.
He urged New Yorkers to wait for the results of an independent investigation into allegations of workplace sexual harassment and intrusive advances which three women publicly made against him in the last week.
The governor’s afternoon briefing, held in the Red Room of the state Capitol, was his first appearance and press conference since Feb. 22.
“I didn’t know at the time I was making her feel uncomfortable. I never meant to,” Cuomo said. “I’m embarrassed by what happened. I wear a pin that says ‘pride, integrity, performance.’ So I am embarrassed that someone felt that way in my administration. I am embarrassed and hurt and I apologize that somebody who interacted with me felt that way.
“There’s no ‘but,’ you know? It’s I’m sorry.”
Cuomo had skipped three, or a week’s worth, of his regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefings set for 11:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, without notice in the days following each allegation.
Representatives of Cuomo’s administration did not return calls or emails about the investigation or the governor’s schedule for a week.
Cuomo does not intend to resign, and said he will cooperate with the attorney general’s investigation while focusing on the 2021-22 state budget due April 1.
“We did a budget last year in the spring in the heat of COVID where it was the most intense period of my life, of this government’s life, of this state’s life and we did both and we’ll do both here,” he said. “...I don’t think today is the day for politics. I wasn’t elected by politicians — I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I’m going to serve the people of the state of New York. They elected me.”
Several lawmakers, county executives and political leaders continued to come forward Wednesday morning before the governor’s statements calling for Cuomo, a Democrat, to resign in wake of the three women’s allegations.
On Monday night, The New York Times reported that 33-year-old Anna Ruch’s recount of an incident after meeting the governor at a Manhattan wedding in 2019. She alleges the governor held her face after they were introduced and asked if he could kiss her.
Ruch said Cuomo had made her feel uncomfortable when he put his hand on her bare lower back.
Her account follows a Saturday report in the New York Times featuring 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, who said the governor repeatedly asked her about her sex life, if she had ever had sex with older men and if she was monogamous in her relationships when she worked as Cuomo’s former executive assistant and health policy adviser at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s initial outbreak last spring.
Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Tarrytown, and both chairs of the Democratic Committee in Cayuga and Orange counties called for the governor to step down Wednesday, joining a growing number of Democrats who have, since Sunday night, demanded he resign following the release of Bennett’s account.
The governor, multiple times Wednesday, pleaded with New Yorkers to wait for the conclusions in Attorney General Letitia James’s independent investigation
“I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion,” Cuomo said. “Get the facts, please, before forming an opinion.”
Lindsey Boylan, former Empire State Development chief and Cuomo’s special adviser, was the first woman to come forward by releasing a detailed account accusing the governor of sexually harassing her multiple times. She first accused the governor of sexual harassment on Twitter in December.
Boylan, who is running for Manhattan borough president, alleged “degrading,” “uncomfortable” and “insidious” harassment while working for Cuomo, and accused him of a nonconsensual kiss in his Manhattan office, comments comparing her looks to those of another woman he was rumored to have dated and unwanted touching of her lower back, arms and legs.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it. And that’s not easy to say, but that’s the truth.
“... I never touched anyone inappropriately,” he added. “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable, and 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.”
The governor did not deny any of the allegations Wednesday.
Cuomo said his attorneys advised against speaking about the matter because of the attorney general’s pending review.
“I understand that. I’m a lawyer, too, but I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this,” he said.
When taking questions from reporters Wednesday, Cuomo clarified, “I was apologizing to the young woman who worked here who said I made her feel uncomfortable and in the workplace.”
He did not mention Bennett or Boylan by name.
Cuomo and his top aides agreed to fully cooperate with the attorney general’s investigation. James started the search Monday to appoint an independent law firm to conduct the review.
“I will fully cooperate with it and then you will have the facts, and then make a decision when you know the facts,” Cuomo said. “I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation for me as well as other people, and I’ve learned an important lesson. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I’ve caused anyone. I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”
A reporter asked Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, who chairs the state’s Council on Women and Girls, to comment on the allegations and working in Cuomo’s administration.
“I would ask anyone refrain from judgment until the attorney general is allowed to do her work,” DeRosa said.
DeRosa added she is proud of the work Cuomo’s administration has done to further women’s rights, including expanding protections for maternal and reproductive health.
“The list goes on and on and on,” she said Wednesday. “I’m also proud in my time as secretary, we’ve seen women rise to the highest levels. We’ve promoted each other and supported one another. I don’t think this diminishes any of that.
“I look forward to the work we’re doing to strengthen the rights of all New Yorkers.”
In the role of governor, Cuomo said he often hugs or kisses hundreds of people to be personable and welcoming, including men, women and children. He equated it to the way his late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, interacted with constituents.
“You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people,” the governor said. “It is my usual and customary way of greeting. ... I kiss and hug legislators. What I also understand is, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter my intent. What matters is if anybody was offended by it. I could intend no offense, but if they were offended by it, then it was wrong.
“I didn’t mean it that way, but if that’s how they felt, that’s all that matters and I apologize. ... I understand that sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed, and I get it and I’m going to learn from it.”
The governor said Wednesday he has completed the state-mandated sexual harassment training for all employers and employees, first required in October 2018.
Sexual harassment “includes unwelcome conduct which is either of a sexual nature or which is directed at an individual because of that individual’s sex,” according to the state’s definition on ny.gov.