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Cuomo takes last swipe at sexual harassment accusers before resignation

Outgoing NY governor defends record, while raging at ‘political and media stampede’ over allegations against him; Kathy Hochul to take reins at midnight

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignation, August 10, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignation, August 10, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

ALBANY, New York (AP) — Andrew Cuomo defended his record over a decade as New York’s governor and portrayed himself as the victim of a “media frenzy” on Monday, as he prepared for a midnight power transfer that will make Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul the state’s first female governor.

Cuomo, a Democrat, was set to end his term at 11:59 p.m., just under two weeks after he announced he would resign, rather than face a likely impeachment battle over sexual harassment allegations.

Hochul was scheduled to be sworn in just after midnight by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, in a brief, private ceremony.

In a pre-recorded farewell address released at noon, Cuomo boasted of making government effective in his years in office, cited his work battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and struck a defiant tone on the harassment allegations.

He said the report that triggered his resignation — a scathing account of what Attorney General Letitia James said was sexual harassment or inappropriate touching of 11 women — as “designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic, and it did work,” Cuomo said. “There was a political and media stampede.”

But, he said, prolonging his fight in office “could only cause governmental paralysis and that is just not an option for you and not an option for the state, especially now.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo giving a farewell speech, August 23, 2021, in New York. (video screenshot, New York Governor’s Office via AP)

Some critics jumped on Cuomo’s last remarks as self-serving.

“100,000,000 opportunities to be a better leader. Chose himself every time. Goodbye, Governor Cuomo,” tweeted Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou,” a fellow Democrat.

The switch in leadership was happening in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Henri, which narrowly missed Long Island on Sunday, but dumped rain over parts of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River Valley.

The storm drew Cuomo back out into public view over the weekend, albeit briefly. He gave two televised briefings — warning New Yorkers to take the storm seriously, with the same mix of scolding and reassurance that once made his daily COVID-19 briefings popular.

In a statement released to some news organizations, Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, said the governor was exploring his options for what to do after he leaves office, and had “no interest in running for office again.”

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa is joined by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as she speaks to reporters during a news conference, in New York, on September 14, 2018. (AP/Mary Altaffer, File)

Hochul, also a Democrat, will inherit immense challenges as she takes over an administration facing criticism for inaction in Cuomo’s distracted final months in office.

COVID-19 has refused to abate. Schools are set to reopen in the coming weeks, with big decisions to be made about whether to require masks for students or vaccination for teachers. The state’s economic recovery from the pandemic is still incomplete.

Hochul will need to quickly build her own team of advisers who can help steer the administration for at least the next 16 months.

She announced the planned appointments Monday of two top aides: Karen Persichilli Keogh will become Secretary to the Governor and Elizabeth Fine will be Hochul’s chief legal counselor.

She plans to keep on Cuomo-era employees for 45 days to allow her time to interview new hires, but said she will not keep anyone found to have behaved unethically. At least 35 employees in the governor’s office have left since February, according to staff rosters.

Hochul, who said she did not work closely with Cuomo and was not aware of the harassment allegations before they became public, has vowed that no one will ever call her workplace “toxic.”

“I have a different approach to governing,” Hochul said Wednesday in Queens, adding, “I get the job done because I don’t have time for distractions, particularly coming into this position.”

New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to the media during a news conference at PS143, the Louis Armstrong School, August 18, 2021 in New York. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

Cuomo’s resignation will not end his legal problems.

An aide who said Cuomo groped her breast has since filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office. Separately, Cuomo was facing a legislative investigation into whether he misled the public about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes to protect his reputation as a pandemic leader and improperly got help from state employees in writing a pandemic book that may net him $5 million.

Hochul has already said she plans to run for a full four-year term next year. She will do so as the state Democratic party grapples with an internal struggle between moderate and liberal New Yorkers.

Hochul, who once represented a conservative Western New York district in Congress for a year and has a reputation as a moderate, is expected to pick a left-leaning state lawmaker from New York City as her lieutenant governor.

State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs praised Hochul as “formidable.”

“She’s very experienced and I think she’ll be a refreshing and exciting new governor,” he said.

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