By Virginia K. Smith
In the face of multiple sexual harassment claims and a pending investigation from the state attorney general’s office, Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized for his behavior but rejected calls for his resignation, saying, “I’m not going to resign. I’m going to do the job the people of the state elected me to do.”
The Wednesday afternoon news conference marked Cuomo’s first public appearance since the latest harassment allegations surfaced last week, and the governor issued both apologies and defenses of his behavior. (One of Cuomo’s accusers, former aide Lindsay Boylan, who is currently running for Manhattan borough president, first publicly accused the governor of harassment in December , and further allegations have surfaced over the course of the past week.)
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said. “It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it and, frankly, I am embarrassed about it.”
The governor said he “never touched anyone inappropriately. I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable.”
In response to questions about photos of him at a wedding touching the face of a former staffer who has since come forward with a story of his unwanted advances at the same event, Cuomo said, “You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. It’s my usual and customary way of greeting.”
“By the way, it was my father’s way of greeting people,” he added, citing his late father, Mario Cuomo, who served three terms as New York’s governor.
(An attorney for Charlotte Bennett, one of the women accusing the governor of harassment, issued a response to Cuomo’s remarks on Wednesday, saying his briefing conference “was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information.”)
The governor is also facing scrutiny over his administration’s failure to report the full scope of Covid-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes, but appears to have struck a deal with the legislature to stave off the proposed removal of his emergency powers.
Cuomo also said that he has come to an agreement with the legislature on his Covid-19 emergency powers, which will now extend past their planned expiration date of April 30 until “the end of the pandemic,” but that the legislature can repeal executive orders with a 50% vote. From now on, his administration will also notify and consult with the legislature on proposed changes five days prior to them taking effect, except in case of emergency.
When reached for comment, a representative from New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office sent bullet points about the vote expected to take place Friday, reiterating that the bill “immediately repeals the governor’s expanded emergency powers” and that the legislation was not negotiated with Cuomo.
More New York Covid-19 News:
New York state will receive an initial round of 164,800 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Cuomo announced, and mass vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium, the Javits Center and the New York State Fair Grounds will open up 24/7 appointment slots while supplies last. “That will only last for the duration of that first large tranche of Johnson & Johnson. Then production is going to slow, then build back up again,” Cuomo said. Extra doses will also be given out at pharmacies, hospitals and other vaccine distribution locations.
The statewide positivity rate was 3.53% on Tuesday, with a 4.02% positivity rate in New York City, as numbers continue to trend downward following their post-holiday peak; 75 people died from the virus on Tuesday.
Plans for reopening continue to ramp up, and as of March 22, limits for residential outdoor gatherings will increase from 10 to 25 people. Gatherings in public indoor spaces will have their limit increased from 50 to 100 people, said Budget Director Robert Mujica. For outdoor public spaces, the limit will jump from 50 to 200 people. Social distancing and masking requirements will still be in place, Mujica said. Following events at large venues, including the Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, smaller venues will soon be allowed to host events at 33% capacity, Mujica said. The state is currently working with IBM to finalize an Empire Pass app, which would allow event attendees to store recent vaccination or Covid-19 test results to gain entry to events with testing requirements.