New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday after he was accused of sexual harassment by 11 current and former state employees.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” he said in a televised announcement of his departure, which will take effect in 14 days.
The three-term governor’s decision came as momentum built in his state's legislature to remove him by impeachment after the New York attorney general's office released the results of an investigation that found Mr Cuomo had sexually harassed at least 11 women.
Investigators said he subjected women to unwanted kisses; groped their breasts or buttocks or otherwise touched them inappropriately; made insinuating remarks about their looks and their sex lives; and created a work environment “rife with fear and intimidation".
The scandal cut short not only a career but a dynasty: Mr Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, was governor in the 1980s and ’90s, and the younger Cuomo was often mentioned as a potential candidate for president, an office his father famously contemplated seeking.
Even as the scandal mushroomed, Mr Cuomo was planning to run for re-election in 2022.
He still faces the possibility of criminal charges, with a number of prosecutors around the state moving to investigate him.
The string of accusations that spelt the governor’s downfall began to unfold in news reports last December and went on for months.
Mr Cuomo called some of the allegations fabricated, forcefully denying he touched anyone inappropriately. But he acknowledged making some aides uncomfortable with comments he said he intended as playful, and he apologised for some of his behaviour.
He portrayed some of the encounters as misunderstandings attributable to “generational or cultural” differences, a reference in part to his upbringing in an affectionate Italian-American family.
As a defiant Mr Cuomo clung to office, state officials launched an impeachment investigation and nearly the entire Democratic establishment in New York deserted him — not only over the accusations, but also because of the discovery that his administration had concealed thousands of Covid-19 deaths among nursing home patients.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that his resignation is “for the good of all New York".
The harassment investigation ordered by the attorney general and conducted by two outside lawyers corroborated the women’s accounts and added lurid new ones.
The release of the report left the governor more isolated than ever, with some of his most loyal supporters abandoning him and President Joe Biden joining those calling on him to resign.
New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote in a statement about his resignation following her investigation: “Today closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it's an important step towards justice.”
His accusers included an aide who said Mr Cuomo had groped her breast at the governor’s mansion. Investigators also found the governor’s staff retaliated against one of his accusers by leaking confidential personnel files about her.
As governor, Mr Cuomo touted himself as an example of a “progressive Democrat” who gets things done: since taking office in 2011, he helped push through legislation that legalised gay marriage, began lifting the minimum wage to $15 and expanded paid family leave benefits. He also backed big infrastructure projects, including airport overhauls and construction of a new bridge over the Hudson River that he named after his father.
At the same time the behaviour that landed him into trouble was going on, he was publicly championing the #MeToo movement and surrounding himself with women’s rights activists, signing into law sweeping new protections against sexual harassment and lengthening the statute of limitations in rape cases.
His tough-minded but empathetic response made for riveting television well beyond New York, and his stern warnings to people to stay home and wear masks stood in sharp contrast to then-president Donald Trump’s brush-off of the virus. His briefings won an Emmy Award and he went on to write a book on leadership in a crisis.
But even those accomplishments were soon tainted when it was learnt that the state’s official count of nursing home deaths had excluded many patients who had been transferred to hospitals before they succumbed to Covid-19.
News agencies contributed to this report