ALBANY — Andrew Cuomo is declaring war.
Faced with mounting calls to step aside from erstwhile allies in Albany as well as a majority of New York’s congressional delegation, the embattled three-term governor on Friday instead labeled his detractors as “reckless and dangerous” and questioned the motives of the women coming forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct.
“People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture and the truth,” he said. “Let the review proceed. I’m not going to resign.”
Cuomo and his administration are now under investigation by the New York attorney general, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District and a state Assembly committee that could spark impeachment proceedings.
But his announcement Friday makes it clear that, for now, he intends to fight — despite standing virtually alone in the state’s political firmament.
“I was not elected by the politicians, I was elected by the people,” Cuomo told reporters on a call Friday. “Part of this is that I am not part of the political club. And you know what, I’m proud of it.”
In the past three weeks, at least six women have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment and unwanted advances. More have offered accounts of fear, harassment and intimidation from him and members of his close circle, including several new stories in a Friday report from New York Magazine describing his tenure as “defined by cruelty that disguised chronic mismanagement.”
Those accusations came as the governor was already on the defensive over accusations that his administration hid the number of deaths of nursing home residents — the subject of a federal probe.
Now, Cuomo heads into what could be one of the most treacherous budget negotiations of his tenure with the April 1 deadline looming. While the state’s fiscal situation has been bolstered by $12.5 billion in federal stimulus funding, the majority of state lawmakers have openly declared him unfit for office, upending the traditional calculus of favors and threats that govern budget season in Albany.
And of the usual “three men in a room” who hash out budget accords, one of them is a woman — Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — who’s said he needs to resign. The other is Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie who on Thursday took what could be the first step toward impeaching the governor.
If Cuomo does hang onto his office, and decides to run for a fourth term, he’s facing what could be the fight of his political career. Progressive Democrats, never enamored of Cuomo, are out for blood and Republicans are sizing up their first real shot at the executive mansion since 2005.
Cuomo on Friday again acknowledged the photos and accounts in which multiple women and men said his comments and unprompted physical touching made them uncomfortable, but he said accusations of more egregious behavior — other than his own ignorance of the victims’ feelings — were untrue. He also suggested his accusers had ulterior motives in coming forward.
“I won’t speculate about people’s possible motives,” he said. “But I can tell you, as a former attorney general, who’s gone through this situation many times, there are often many motivations for making an allegation. And that is why you need to know the facts before you make a decision”
He added: “I never harassed anyone. I never assaulted anyone. I never abused anyone.”
The governor said he would like the dual investigations to be finalized as quickly as possible, but that he believes they will ultimately exonerate him. “There is still a question of the truth. I did not do what has been alleged. Period.”
On Friday, more than a dozen of New York’s Democrats in Congress mobilized with concurrent statements calling for Cuomo to step down after days of staying largely out of the maelstrom by saying they supported the attorney general’s investigation to get the facts. Late Friday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined the call for Cuomo to step down.
“Confronting and overcoming the COVID crisis requires sure and steady leadership. We commend the brave actions of the individuals who have come forward with serious allegations of abuse and misconduct,” they said in a joint statement. “Governor Cuomo should resign.”
Perhaps more troubling to Cuomo than the delegation was a statement issued by the five Democratic state senators from Long Island calling on the governor to hand power over to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“We are confident that the Lieutenant Governor will ably serve the people of New York,” Sens. Todd Kaminsky, Anna Kaplan, Jim Gaughran, Kevin Thomas, and John Brooks wrote in a joint statement.
The statement represents one of the most critical blows Cuomo has suffered as his support in the state Legislature has crumbled in recent days. The moderate Long Island members have historically been among his closet allies — notably, a significant portion of the work Cuomo has put into electing down-ballot Democrats in recent years has gone toward helping these members.
There are now 47 members of the state Senate who have issued statements saying the governor should resign or step aside. Should the Assembly impeach Cuomo, 46 Senate votes would be needed to remove him from office.
Bill Mahoney contributed reporting.