New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a series of attacks on his political rivals and questioned the motives of state Attorney General Letitia James, the Democrat who oversaw an investigation that found he sexually harassed 11 women, in his farewell address on Monday, less than 12 hours before he leaves office.
Facing the prospect of being the first New York governor to be impeached in more than a century, Cuomo announced plans to resign on August 10. His deputy, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, will be sworn-in as his replacement early Tuesday morning.
In his final public remarks as governor, Cuomo touted some of his big-ticket accomplishments, including a series of infrastructure projects and passing marriage equality. But he mostly used the stage in an effort to cast doubt on the detailed report that ultimately made his position untenable and offer one last round of criticisms against the progressive Democrats who fought him on policy during his decade in office. The outgoing governor also blamed the media for its reporting on the allegations against him, suggesting reporters had been too quick to accept the results of the probe, which Cuomo and his team have sought to chip away at, without much success, since its release earlier this month.
“A firecracker can start a stampede, but at one point, everyone looks around and says, ‘Why are we running?’ The truth is ultimately always revealed,” Cuomo said in the opening salvo of his closing argument to the public. “The attorney general’s report was designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic and it worked. There was a political and media stampede, but the truth will out in time.”
Cuomo has repeatedly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct against him, allowing that he made mistakes, but always insisting that the more serious accusations were untrue.
In a speech that appeared to be as much about score-settling as setting out a more optimistic idea of his governing legacy, Cuomo took aim early at progressive and leftist lawmakers and activists.
“No governor in the nation has passed more progressive measures than I have, but I disagree with some people in my own party who called to defund the police,” Cuomo said. “I believe it is misguided. I believe it is dangerous. Gun violence and crime are savaging inner cities. Look at New York City. The majority of victims are poor, Black and brown.”
Hours later, in an email to New Yorkers subscribed to an official state account frequently used over the past year to share updates on the coronavirus – with information on shutdowns and reopenings; an “Exposure Notification App” and the latest on hospitalization numbers – Cuomo delivered another “farewell.” This one, though, dropped the political grousing and focused almost exclusively on touting his signature achievements in office.
The email message did not include, as Cuomo’s speech did, a final jab at the governor’s term-limited political foe and frequent punching bag, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Eric Adams will be the next mayor of New York City. I think he’ll bring a new philosophy and competence to the position, which can give New York City residents hope for the future,” Cuomo said earlier in the day – make his feelings clear, one more time, about the current mayor.
Despite the controversies that still linger over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – most notably his administration’s underreporting of nursing home deaths – Cuomo appealed to New Yorkers to remember the state’s progress since last spring, when it was the first American coronavirus epicenter.
“Don’t forget what we accomplished. We went from the highest infection rate in the nation to the lowest,” Cuomo said. “We did what no one thought could be done. Why? Because when the rest of the nation put their head in the sand and denied science and played politics, we faced up to the facts and we made the tough but necessary decisions.”
Though the state’s case rate is now lower than hotspots in the South and the number of vaccinations ranks high up the list, more than 54,000 New Yorkers have died since the virus reached American shores, the second highest rate – after New Jersey – of all 50 states, at 278 of every 100,000 people, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Cuomo concluded on a more conciliatory, almost regretful note.
After ticking off the specific successes, like the rebuilding of LaGuardia Airport, a new Penn Station in Manhattan and the launch of clean energy projects across the state, he said, “In sum, we didn’t get everything done that we wanted to – or even everything that we should have done. And we didn’t always get it quite right.”
“But I want you to know,” Cuomo added, “from the bottom of my heart, that everyday I worked my hardest, I gave it my all and I tried my best to deliver for you – and that is the God’s honest truth.”
This story has been updated with additional details Monday.