Defiant NY governor refuses to resign over harassment claims

A formal investigation was greenlighted this week to probe the claims, which now come from six women who say Cuomo sexually harassed or inappropriately touched them.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media and tours a newly opened drive through COVID-19 mobile testing center on 13 March 2020 in New Rochelle, New York. Picture: AFP

NEW YORK - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday he will not step down amid a swirl of sexual harassment allegations and new calls by influential Democrats to quit his powerful post.

"I am not going to resign. I didn't do what has been alleged," the 63-year-old said on a call to reporters.

Cuomo also implored his critics to "wait for the facts" to emerge in a new investigation of the accusations.

The governor first refused publicly to step down last week, but the crisis has only mushroomed since.

A formal investigation was greenlighted this week to probe the claims, which now come from six women who say Cuomo sexually harassed or inappropriately touched them.

Cuomo stood defiant despite the growing number of Democrats calling for his resignation, including US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who said Friday the governor could no longer effectively lead New York.

The latest accusation, reported Wednesday in the Times Union newspaper in state capital Albany, appears more serious than previous claims.

It says Cuomo put his hand under the blouse of a female staffer and touched her "aggressively" at the end of 2020 in his private residence.

"The fact that this latest report was so recent is alarming, and it raises concerns about the present safety and well-being of the administration's staff," popular progressive Ocasio-Cortez and fellow House Democrat Jamaal Bowman said in a joint statement.

The lawmakers, both from New York, also mentioned the crisis over Cuomo's apparent hiding of data on COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

"We believe these women... and we believe the 55 members of the New York State legislature including the State Senate majority leader, who have concluded that Governor Cuomo can no longer effectively lead in the face of so many challenges," they wrote.

Another powerful Democrat, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler, said investigations must be allowed to run their course, but that does not mean Cuomo should remain in office.

"The repeated accusations against the governor, and the manner in which he has responded to them, have made it impossible for him to continue to govern at this point," Nadler said in a statement.

"Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of the people of New York. Governor Cuomo must resign."

Cuomo made a name for himself last year as a straight-talking pragmatist in the first onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic.

But he has found himself in the biggest crisis of his political career as he governs the nation's fourth most populous state.

New York's two US senators, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, have refrained from calling on Cuomo to quit.

But remaining in office appeared increasingly untenable for the governor, who has served in the post for 10 years and whose father Mario Cuomo was also a three-term governor of the state.

After meeting with lawmakers, Democratic state assembly speaker Carl Heastie said Thursday he was "authorizing the Assembly Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation" - the first step towards an eventual impeachment.

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