New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned following an inquiry that concluded he sexually harassed 11 women, mounting legal pressure and demands for his departure by US President Joe Biden and others.
It is a startling downfall for a man once seen as a possible US presidential contender.
Mr Cuomo, a Democrat who had served since 2011 as governor of the fourth most-populous US state, made the announcement after New York Attorney General Letitia James on August 3 released the results of a five-month independent investigation that concluded he had engaged in conduct that violated US and state laws.
In a televised 20-minute address, Mr Cuomo again denied any wrongdoing although he said he accepted “full responsibility” for offending the women through what he characterised as ill-conceived attempts to be affectionate or humorous.
He said he had concluded that fighting the accusations while remaining in office would paralyse state government and cost taxpayers millions of dollars at a time when the coronavirus pandemic still poses a major threat.
“I think, given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government – and therefore that’s what I’ll do,” he said, adding that his resignation would take effect in 14 days.
The investigation, detailed in a 168-page report, said that Cuomo groped, kissed or made suggestive comments to women including current and former government workers – one a state trooper – and retaliated against at least one woman who accused him of sexual misconduct.
Mr Cuomo denied wrongdoing.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat from western New York, will take over as governor of the state of more than 19 million people until the end of Cuomo’s term in December 2022 as outlined in the state’s constitution, becoming the first woman to hold the post.
Mr Cuomo’s resignation marks the second time in 13 years that a New York governor has stepped down in scandal, after Eliot Spitzer quit in 2008 over his patronage of prostitutes.
Mr Cuomo also became the latest powerful man taken down in recent years following the rise of the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment that has shaken politics, Hollywood, the business world and the workplace.
His resignation spared Mr Cuomo from possible removal from office through impeachment proceedings in the state legislature.
An ongoing impeachment investigation had only promised to intensify.
Mr Cuomo, 63, was elected to three terms as governor, as was his late father Mario Cuomo.
He previously served as US Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary from 1997 to 2001 under former president Bill Clinton.
Andrew Cuomo gained prominence last year early in the COVID-19 pandemic after delivering daily news conferences as his state became the US epicentre of the public health crisis.
The civil investigation concluded that the actions of Mr Cuomo and his senior advisers violated multiple state and federal laws but James did not pursue criminal charges.
Local prosecutors are free to do so, meaning Mr Cuomo still could face legal jeopardy.
Local prosecutors in Manhattan, Nassau County, Albany County and Westchester County said after the report’s release that they are looking into the matter and have requested evidence from the independent inquiry.
New York City’s mayor said Mr Cuomo should face criminal charges.
Mr Cuomo had for months denied mounting allegations of sexual harassment – and renewed those denials after the investigative report was issued.
But what was left of his political support crumbled after the findings were made public.
Hours later, Mr Biden — a friend of the governor for years — told reporters at the White House: “I think he should resign.”
Investigators concluded that Mr Cuomo and his aides created a “toxic” and “hostile” workplace in an office gripped by bullying, fear and intimidation.
The complaints about sexual harassment emerged after broader criticism by Democratic politicians in New York that Mr Cuomo governed through intimidation.