ALBANY, NEW YORK (AP) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged for the first time on Sunday that some of his behavior with women “may have been insensitive or too personal,” and said he would cooperate with a sexual harassment investigation led by the state’s attorney general.
In a statement released amid mounting criticism from within his own party, the Democrat maintained he had never inappropriately touched or propositioned anyone. But he said he had teased people about their personal lives in an attempt to be “playful”.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” he said.
Cuomo, one of America’s most prominent governors, is facing the most serious challenge of his decade in office following claims he sexually harassed at least two women who worked for him. Democrats in New York and around the nation aren’t rallying to his side, leaving him increasingly isolated from traditional allies. His partial admission of wrongdoing came after a day of wrangling over who should investigate his workplace behaviour.
By day’s end, Cuomo acquiesced to demands that Attorney General Letitia James control the inquiry. James said she expected to receive a formal referral that would give her office subpoena power and allow her to deputise an outside law firm for “a rigorous and independent investigation”.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly,” said James, a Democrat who has been, at times, allied with Cuomo but is independently elected and had emerged as a consensus choice to lead a probe.
Calls for an investigation mounted after a second former employee of Cuomo’s administration went public on Saturday with harassment claims. Charlotte Bennett, a low-level aide in the governor’s administration until November, told The New York Times Cuomo asked questions about her private life.
Her accusation came days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development adviser, elaborated on harassment allegations she first made in December.
Boylan said Cuomo subjected her to an unwanted kiss and comments about her appearance. Cuomo, 63, said he had intended to be a mentor for Bennett, who is 25. He has denied Boylan’s allegations.
Over several hours on Sunday, James and other leading party officials rejected two of Cuomo’s proposals for how an investigation might proceed. Under his first plan, a retired federal judge picked by Cuomo, Barbara Jones, would have reviewed his workplace behaviour.
James rejected the plans, demanding a formal referral giving her office authority to subpoena documents and witness testimony.