Earlier this year, beset by allegations of sexual harassment, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo requested an independent, outside review of the accusations. And he asked the public to reserve judgment until that probe was completed.
Now the results of the investigation are out, and they are brutal for Cuomo. The probe overseen by Attorney General Letitia James revealed disturbing behavior by the governor toward multiple women, most of whom were state employees. Some of his actions were egregious. Taken together, they form a clear and pervasive pattern of harassment. On top of that, members of his staff and other associates engaged in acts of bullying and intimidation directed at some of the victims in retaliation for coming forward.
Cuomo is planning to present his rebuttal on Wednesday. Unless he can convincingly refute the charges, Cuomo must resign.
His departure will be necessary for the sake of the state if he is no longer capable of leading effectively, given the withering lack of respect for him and the time and energy he apparently intends to commit to continuing to fight the accusations. But his resignation would also be required if his behavior has undermined his own integrity as well as the trust the public has repeatedly placed in him.
MANY CALLS TO STEP DOWN
Both were factors in the many calls for him to step down already made by members of his own party, from state lawmakers and local officials to members of Congress and President Joe Biden. Biden observed that some of Cuomo's interactions might have been innocent, as the governor and his supporters insist, but as the president noted, that does not exonerate Cuomo of culpability.
Cuomo has been a very effective and capable governor over his 11 years in office. His significant accomplishments in handling the budget, instituting the property tax cap, improving infrastructure, fighting climate change, and battling COVID-19 must be acknowledged. And we still are in the midst of the pandemic. It's a fraught time, and strong leadership is required. His managerial shoes will be difficult to fill. But that doesn't mean he gets a pass to stay in his post. And if he decides to fight it out, the State Assembly should continue with its impeachment process; that's when Cuomo will get to present his case and when the weight of public opinion will play its part.
All in all, it is a stunning fall from grace for the scion of one of New York's most hallowed political names.
James, a fellow Democrat supported by Cuomo when she ran for attorney general in 2018, chose outside investigators Joon Kim and Anne Clark. They interviewed 179 people for their report, and produced detailed, corroborated and credible accounts of physical and verbal harassment of 11 women. Kim and Clark concluded that the governor had violated federal and state sexual harassment laws. And they found that the culture of his executive chamber was one of fear and intimidation, a toxic workplace that normalized his behavior and gender-based comments and helped ensure that they would persist.
The details are awful. Unwanted kissing, hugging, touching and groping. Getting a state trooper reassigned to his protective detail, then running his hands across her body, kissing her, and making sexually suggestive comments. Inquiring of one young staffer whether she had been with older men.
So far, he has delivered largely the same defense he has offered before — some denials, some assertions that certain words or acts were misinterpreted, an apology for being misunderstood or misconstrued. But what he now calls a mistaken attempt to act as therapist for a young woman who worked in his office reveals his lack of awareness of how to behave. And he had nothing to say about some of the most troubling charges.
Kim and Clark seem justified in their conclusion that "we found his denials to lack credibility" and that some were "contrived." And Cuomo's testimony that the women, in coming forward, "were — and must be — motivated by politics, animosity, or some other reason," isn't an excuse for what happened even if there are elements of truth to it.
Cuomo concluded his pretaped rebuttal with another familiar call: There is much work to be done to lead New York out of the pandemic, he said, and to rebuild, reopen and re-imagine the state. We can do it together, he implored, enlisting his fellow New Yorkers in his struggle to survive. "I know the strength and character of New Yorkers," he said.
He is right that considerable challenges loom. It will be a difficult task for Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to keep the state moving forward. But as Cuomo himself understands, the difficulty of making change is not reason enough to avoid it.
If Cuomo loves his state as much as he professes, he would understand that there may be a time soon for someone else to lead it.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.