Americas

Cuomo, in Rare Public Appearance, Says: ‘I Didn’t Do Anything Wrong’

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In recent months, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has striven to convey a sense of normalcy during a period of profound turmoil, holding a series of tightly controlled events where he is often surrounded by aides or supporters, and seldom by reporters.

Since mid-December, Mr. Cuomo has not been in the same room with any reporter allowed to ask a question, citing concerns over the coronavirus, even when speaking in cavernous locales like the Javits Center or Belmont Park. He has taken questions every week, but it has been done remotely, with his staff choosing the reporters and controlling their microphones, sometimes preventing follow-ups.

Such strategies have been in greater use since late February, when a series of sexual harassment allegations engulfed Mr. Cuomo, prompting journalists’ organizations to suggest that the governor is dodging the press.

On Monday, Mr. Cuomo broke the four-month-old streak with an appearance at the State Fairgrounds in Syracuse in front of about a dozen print and television reporters.

He promptly made news, flatly denying that he had ever sexually harassed anyone or had done “anything wrong” — a subtle shift from previous remarks where he acknowledged making statements that might have made employees uncomfortable or been perceived as “unwanted flirtation.”

Standing outside on a brisk, sunny day, Mr. Cuomo, 63, also addressed the ongoing investigation by the state attorney general, Letitia James, who has hired two outside lawyers to run the inquiry into the sexual harassment claims. He predicted her report would not find any wrongdoing.

“The report can’t say anything different,” said Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, “because I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The sexual harassment investigation by Ms. James is just one of four known inquiries into Mr. Cuomo’s personal behavior and professional conduct, including an impeachment investigation underway by the State Assembly, which also touches on allegations that the governor engaged in unsettling behavior toward women.

The governor’s handling of nursing homes is also under examination by federal authorities, as is the possible misuse of state resources — including state employees — to work on his 2020 book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.” That investigation is also being overseen by Ms. James.

Mr. Cuomo’s advisers have accused Ms. James, a fellow Democrat, of “political self-interest‎,” saying that she wants to run for governor, and have argued that any employees that worked on the book did so as volunteers. On Monday, however, Mr. Cuomo said his administration did not have any documentation showing that employees opted in to do such volunteer work.

“I didn’t have them sign a volunteer form if that’s what you’re asking,” the governor said. “The question is did they volunteer. And I’m saying yes, they volunteered.”

On the issue of nursing homes, too, Mr. Cuomo characterized such inquiries as politically motivated, citing a 2020 inquiry by the Trump Department of Justice. He did not address a probe by the Eastern District of New York that was initiated after President Biden was sworn in.

Even though most of the state’s Democratic leaders called on Mr. Cuomo to resign in the wake of sexual misconduct — including published reports accusing him of groping the breast of a much-younger female aide at the Executive Mansion — he has refused to consider stepping down, a position he reiterated on Monday. Mr. Cuomo has previously said he has never “touched anybody inappropriately.”

Polls have shown a continued erosion in support for Mr. Cuomo, who has said he wants to seek a fourth term next year. More than half of the registered voters who were polled would rather support a different candidate in 2022, according to a recent Siena College poll, even though a slim majority of residents in heavily Democratic New York still do not want him to immediately resign.

After a record $212 billion state budget was passed in early April, the governor had seemingly begun to find his political rhythm over the last week, appearing at an event alongside the Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who has called on him to resign. (Ms. Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat, has since reiterated that she wants the governor to resign.)

His public-facing strategy to control his news conferences has also included a steady dose of good news, such as new vaccination sites and loosening of virus-based restrictions.

On Monday, he continued that pattern, announcing a reopening of the State Fair in August — a major economic force in upstate New York — along with new rules to allow more spectators at sporting events and to increase capacity at venues like gyms and casinos.

Still, the bulk of the questions that Mr. Cuomo faced had to do with the spring’s scandals rather than the summer’s fair. In addition to denying all allegations against him, Mr. Cuomo also said he did not regret asking several young female aides to help him at the Executive Mansion, something he reframed as a commitment to hiring and promoting women in his administration.

Asked why various people have made allegations about his behavior in recent months, Mr. Cuomo suggested that their motives were myriad. “People are venial, people want attention, people are angry, people are jealous,” the governor said. “Who knows why people spread rumors?”

Source: Read Full Article