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Top Cuomo aide quits virus task force, another leaves executive chamber

Gareth Rhodes left a high-level position on Cuomo's

Gareth Rhodes left a high-level position on Cuomo's coronavirus task force to return to his job in the state Department of Financial Services. Credit: Sipa USA via AP/Lev Radin

ALBANY — Two top aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday that they are leaving the governor's office.

Gareth Rhodes left a high-level position on Cuomo's coronavirus task force to return to his job in the state Department of Financial Services. Will Burns, first deputy press secretary, also announced he is leaving.

"Gareth graciously agreed to temporarily put aside his duties at the Department of Financial Services and join the task force, in which he worked night and day for a year, and is now returning to his normal duties in the administration," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. "Will informs us he intends to attend law school next year and is seeking another position in the administration while he prepares for the LSATs."

Two sources close to Rhodes said he left in protest because of sexual harassment accusations raised by two former staffers and a third woman against Cuomo. The sources said more Cuomo staffers, including in the press office, were considering exits.

"A lot of people said they have seen enough," one source said. The source added that some staffers felt Cuomo’s "apology was inadequate."

Cuomo on Wednesday repeated much of his statement from last week that he didn’t intend to sexually harass anyone, "but if that’s how it felt, that’s all that matters. I apologize."

Rhodes, who has been a top official in the state Financial Services Department and in other capacities for Cuomo, issued a statement saying that it was time to leave the coronavirus task force after a year of intense work that raised his profile publicly as a top adviser to Cuomo.

"Last week as I approached one year since moving to Albany to join the NYS COVID task force, I decided it was time, given the progress of the vaccination program and continued decline of COVID numbers, to return to my previous role at the Department of Financial Services and I informed the governor's senior staff at the time," Rhodes said.

Rhodes in a text exchange with Newsday wouldn’t address the sexual harassment issue.

There was no immediate comment from Burns.

Cuomo has denied he sexually harassed the women, both former staffers. A third woman said Cuomo made inappropriate advances on her at a wedding at which she and Cuomo both were guests. One source said that alleged incident happened at Rhodes’ wedding.

Cuomo faces an investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James.

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