ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Andrew Cuomo neared the end of his decade as New York’s governor Monday, as he prepared to relinquish his tight grip on government to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in a midnight power transfer that will break another glass ceiling for women in state politics.
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 be sworn in as New York’s first female governor just after midnight in a brief, private ceremony overseen by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore.
Cuomo used a noon public address to defend himself and his record, and again question the motives of investigators and women who have testified about sexual harassment at his hands. His spokesperson, Jordan Bennett, said the address was prerecorded, but wouldn’t say when or where the governor recorded the remarks.
“Prolonging this situation could only cause governmental paralysis and that is just not an option for you and not an option for the state, especially now,” Cuomo said.
The switch in leadership was happening in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Henri, which narrowly missed Long Island on Sunday but was dumping rain over parts of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River Valley, even after it was downgraded to a tropical depression.
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.
Perhaps if the storm had been catastrophic Cuomo might have been tempted to put off his resignation. But as the potential for danger diminished, he said there would be no change in his plans. “My final day is tomorrow,” he said Sunday.
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.
Cuomo’s resignation comes after an independent investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James concluded there was credible evidence he’d sexually harassed at least 11 women, including an aide who said he groped her breast and has since filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators also said Cuomo’s senior staff retaliated against at least one of those women and worked to undermine the credibility of others.
Cuomo insists he didn’t touch anyone inappropriately and called the allegations “unfair” and “untruthful,” but said he wouldn’t force the state to endure an impeachment trial he couldn’t win.
Cuomo compared the wide-ranging independent investigation to a “firecracker” starting a “stampede,” and claimed that the allegations against him have yet to be “scrutinized and verified.”
“The Attorney General’s report was designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic, and it did work,” Cuomo said. “There was a political and media stampede. But the truth will out in time. Of that, I am confident.”
Separately, Cuomo was facing a legislative investigation into whether he misled the public about COVD-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.
Cuomo has offered few hints about his plans or where he’ll live after leaving the Executive Mansion. He told New York magazine in a recent interview that he’s “not disappearing.”
In his resignation speech Aug. 10, he spoke with pride about his record of legalizing same-sex marriage, expanding paid family leave and boosting the statewide minimum wage to $15.
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 didn’t work closely with Cuomo and wasn’t aware of the harassment allegations before they became public, has vowed 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.”
Hochul has already said she plans to run for a full four-year term next year.
She’ll 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.