Cuomo puts focus back on Covid amid growing calls for his resignation

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought Monday to return focus to New York’s Covid-19 response — and to remind New Yorkers of his early pandemic leadership — despite growing calls for his resignation amid twin scandals that threaten his political future.

The increasingly embattled governor appeared to lean on his crisis management playbookas he toured the mass vaccination site at Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which had been used as an early Army field hospital when Covid-19 first hit his state last March.

Cuomo touted the number of Covid-19 shots being administered at the site, renewed his pledge to ensure equity in the vaccination process and said New York will establish 10 additional state-run mass vaccination sites across the state.

Monday’s event, which was streamed live but closed to the press, was a rare public appearance for Cuomo since former staffer Lindsey Boylan detailed allegations of sexual harassment against him late last month, becoming the first of several women to accuse him of inappropriate behavior or misconduct. The governor has also come under fire for his handling of Covid-19 in nursing homes, and has been accused of hiding the total number of deaths tied to long-term care facilities.

Flanked by state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Javits Center officials and religious leaders, the governor did not stray from pandemic-related announcements as he again urged minority communities disproportionately affected by the virus to “trust” the vaccine and announced 10 new state-run mass vaccination sites across New York.

But he did take a slight jab at Albany lawmakers who have called for his resignation in recent days.

“I have no agenda besides representing the people of the state of New York. That’s what I do. I don’t represent or work for the politicians in Albany,” he said, noting the “lack of trust” some New Yorkers may have about getting vaccinated. “I work for the people of the state.”

The governor’s late-morning remarks on Monday came one day after he said during a conference call with reporters that he will not resign, even as he‘s faced additional claims about his conduct with women and the tough culture in his offices. Cuomo also said last week that he had no plans to resign when he made his first public appearance since the sexual harassment accusations surfaced in late February. It remains unclear whether Cuomo will still seek a fourth term.

Two of the states top Democrats on Sunday called into questions the governor’s ability to lead the state as he faces the scandals. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins urged Cuomo to step down, saying the “allegations about sexual harassment, a toxic work environment [and] the loss of credibility surrounding the Covid-19 nursing home data [are] drawing away from the business of government.“ Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in turn, said Cuomo should “seriously consider” whether he remains in office.

Cuomo has found few defenders in his party’s ranks, even as other Democrats have been reluctant to go as far as the legislative leaders. Like the governor, though, some are urging the public to reserve judgment until state Attorney General Tish James completes an independent review.

Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York Conference, said Sunday that “calls for the resignation of the Governor are premature and undermine the duty and responsibility of Attorney General Tish James to conduct the independent investigation that so many of us have called for.”

Cuomo previously held an event closed to press after touring a mass vaccination site at York College in Queens on Feb. 24 — shortly before Boylan, who is running for Manhattan borough president, detailed her allegations against the governor in a Medium post. Boylan claimed Cuomo asked her to play strip poker while on a work strip and once kissed her on the lips in a state office.

Former aide Charlotte Bennett came forward several days later, alleging in a series of media interviews that the governor propositioned her for sex, saying one encounter with the governor left “deeply uncomfortable.” Several others have come forward over the last week to accuse the governor of inappropriate workplace behavior or making unwanted advances toward them.

The governor said last week that his “usual custom is to kiss and to hug and make that gesture,” and apologized to anyone hurt by his actions.

“I understand that sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed, and I get it. And I’m going to learn from it,” he said.

Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.


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