The New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins formally called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign shortly after the governor reiterated he would not step down in the wake of two more former aides alleging inappropriate workplace behavior.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Stewart-Cousins said: "Every day there is another account that is drawing away from the business of government. We have allegations about sexual harassment, a toxic work environment, the loss of credibility surrounding the COVID-19 nursing home data and questions about the construction of a major infrastructure project."
"New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it," Stewart-Cousins said. "We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign."
Her statement was the first among Democratic leadership to call for Cuomo's resignation, after pressure to do so had been mounting from other Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Stewart-Cousins's counterpart in the State Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie, issued a statement shortly after, aligning himself with the Senate Majority Leader but stopping short of directly demanding Cuomo resign.
"The allegations pertaining to the Governor that have been reported in recent weeks have been deeply disturbing, and have no place whatsoever in government, the workplace or anywhere else," Heastie said in his statement. "I too share the sentiment of Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins regarding the Governor's ability to continue to lead this state. We have many challenges to address, and I think it is time for the Governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York."
Their statements came hours after the third-term governor again told reporters he would not resign from his post. When asked about the statements issued by the two leaders of the state legislature, the Governor's office deferred to his remarks from the press conference.
"No, there is no way I resign," Cuomo declared during a press call on Sunday. "Let's do the Attorney General investigation. Let's get the findings. And then we'll go from there. But I'm not going to be distracted by this either. We have to get a budget done in three weeks."
Listen to reporter Brigid Bergin's radio story for WNYC:
Cuomo told reporters that the entire "premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti-democratic" because he deserves due process and a full investigation. In response to calls from Democrats for him to resign—including from State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Rep. Kathleen Rice—he blamed political differences and politics.
"There is politics in politics," he said. "They don't override the people's will. They don't override elections. They don't get to hear an allegation and make a determination on the allegation." He suggested if allegations against Senate members through the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics were to be made public, it would be "absurd."
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ana Liss, who worked in Cuomo's executive chambers between 2013 and 2015, alleged the governor asked if she had a boyfriend, called her sweetheart, touched her lower back while taking a photograph, and kissed her hand. The Washington Post reported Karen Hinton, a former press secretary for Cuomo during his time at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was summoned to a hotel room in 2000 after a work event, where Cuomo allegedly hugged her for an uncomfortable period of time.
During the Sunday press call, Cuomo denied Hinton's account altogether and downplayed Liss's accusation as simply taking a photograph.
Referring to Hinton, the governor said: "What she said is not true."
"She has been a longtime political adversary of mine, highly critical for many, many years and has made many, many accusations," Cuomo said.
When asked about Liss, he said it is a "common practice" among politicians to take photographs with people—ignoring her specific concern that how she was treated made her feel like she was not being taken seriously as a government employee.
"If you like the picture, you frame it and put it on your desk. If you don’t like the picture, you throw it in the garbage," Cuomo said. He mentioned he had photographs with former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, though it was unclear why that would be relevant to the misconduct he's accused of. "In the meantime, I am not going to get distracted by this because it is all irrelevant in the meantime. Because what is determinative is what the attorney general finds. That's the factual finding."
In response to what the governor said, Hinton told Gothamist in a text message: "Truth is the 'longtime adversary' that Cuomo fears the most."
"Trump may be gone but Cuomo has stepped right into his shoes by blaming the abused for his own abusive behavior," Hinton added.
Liss, 35, the third former staffer to allege inappropriate conduct by the governor, had previously described her allegations to Gothamist/WNYC anonymously. She said the Governor regularly kissed her on the cheek and has asked her if she had a boyfriend.
Liss said she was told by another staffer in the office that Cuomo liked blondes and she should wear heels when he was in Albany. She agreed to let Gothamist/WNYC use her name following the publication of the Wall Street Journal report.
"I was more just an ornament," she previously told us. “I would much rather have been given positive affirmations about my work product.”
Currently, the New York Attorney General is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against the governor after a second former aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused the governor of grooming her for sex. Lindsey Boylan was the first former aide to allege sexual harassment, writing in a Medium post that the governor forcibly kissed her at one point. Another woman, Anna Ruch, said the governor touched her lower back and grabbed her face during a wedding reception, the latter part of the exchange seen in a photograph. Former staffers have described a toxic working environment under the governor.
Last week, Cuomo said he is sorry for behaving "in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it." On Sunday, he said, "I am going to do my job, wait for the facts from the attorney general, focus on what we have to do."
Update, March 11, 2021: The Attorney General's investigators have created a website, AG Independent Investigation, to field information for their probe. The website says, "This website was created by the Special Deputies to the First Deputy Attorney General of New York to gather information relating to the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. If you have information relevant to the investigation, you can contact the Special Deputies in the following ways: 212-225-3100 for voice messages; firstname.lastname@example.org; 518-545-0870 for text messages."
This article has been updated with information from the Governor's office.