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A Democratic Dynasty Crumbles With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Resignation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A Democratic dynasty crumbled today. New York's three-term governor, Andrew Cuomo, resigned in the face of allegations that he sexually harassed, and, in some cases groped, 11 women. The son of Democratic icon Mario Cuomo defended himself but also apologized for behavior that he admitted was insensitive and disrespectful. NPR's Brian Mann is in New York City today and joins us now.

Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, so Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly said that he would fight these allegations, and he even began today's press conference with a defiant tone. But then, came this. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW CUOMO: And I think that, given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing. And, therefore, that's what I'll do.

CHANG: And now he says he's going to leave office in 14 days. What do you think changed between his previous defiance and now?

MANN: Yeah, this was a shocking turnaround, Ailsa. Right in the middle of the speech, he just pivoted, dropping that combative tone, acknowledging it's time to go. But, look, he just wasn't getting any traction with his defense. I spent the last day speaking with his longtime allies, and they all told me Cuomo had no path forward. Earlier today, Cuomo's attorney tried to argue publicly that Cuomo was being railroaded, but she also acknowledged members of the state assembly handling Cuomo's impeachment had made up their minds that he would have to leave.

CHANG: Of course, all of this comes after serious allegations of misconduct against Cuomo, which were detailed in a report last week by the state attorney general's office. Can you just remind us - what did that investigation find?

MANN: Yeah. They alleged Cuomo engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment that included talking with state employees about their private lives, their dating, their sexuality in ways that women described as creepy, and some women told investigators they felt they were being groomed for personal relationships with the governor. Others, including a state trooper, said Cuomo touched their bodies in ways that made them uncomfortable. Cuomo denied doing anything criminal or impeachable, but today apologized for treating women in ways he acknowledged was disrespectful and insensitive.

One of the women who made these allegations against the governor, Lindsey Boylan, tweeted a statement today praising all the women who came forward, as well as investigators who, quote, "pursued the truth despite intimidation and threats of retaliation." There are multiple probes, Ailsa, that are underway now by county prosecutors into whether any of Cuomo's alleged behavior warrants criminal charges.

CHANG: Right. Well, we did mention that Cuomo is part of a political dynasty. He was part of the Clinton administration. He took on a national profile during this pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about his legacy? I mean, I'm still processing that we're even using the word legacy with Andrew Cuomo now.

MANN: Yeah, it's a sudden shift. And now this legacy is in shambles. Many of the Democratic Party's most influential figures, people who had been his friends, called for him to resign. Cuomo tried to make the case today he'll be remembered for other things - passing tough gun control laws, pushing for same-sex marriage. He also often challenged former President Donald Trump, a fellow New Yorker, when Trump was in the White House. But Cuomo did acknowledge today that this chapter of his career has been devastating. He described listening to news coverage with his daughters.

And what he said was that he's been, you know, sitting - literally, sitting on the couch, listening to these ugly accusations. He said he saw the hurt in their eyes. It is important, though, Ailsa, to say that critics have always pointed to a darker side of Cuomo's political brand. You know, before these allegations surfaced, Cuomo faced serious charges that he shut down a probe of state corruption in order to protect himself. And there have also been these troubling allegations that his staff concealed the real number of COVID-19 deaths in New York's nursing homes.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, Cuomo will be gone, out of office, by the end of the month. What happens next?

MANN: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take over now. She issued a statement saying she believes it was the right thing for Cuomo to go, saying she's ready to lead. She comes from western New York, and she'll be New York's first female governor. It is also, Ailsa, less than a year now to the Democratic primary. Cuomo's departure is going to open up a big field. Hochul will be one of the candidates, likely. We'll also be watching to see if New York Attorney General Letitia James files for the race. She's a Democrat, and her office created that report that was so devastating to Cuomo. If she jumps in, she'll be formidable.

CHANG: That is NPR's Brian Mann in New York City.

Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.