Andrew Cuomo defended his record for a decade as governor of New York City and presented himself as the victim of a “political firecracker on an explosive subject” on Monday as he prepared for a midnight transfer of power who will make Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul the state’s first female governor.
Cuomo, a Democrat, was due to end his term at 11:59 p.m., just under two weeks after announcing he would step down rather than face an impeachment battle over allegations of sexual harassment he denies.
Hochul was to be sworn in just after midnight by the state’s chief justice, Janet DiFiore, in a brief private ceremony.
In a pre-recorded farewell speech, released at noon, Cuomo bragged about making government efficient, cited his work in combating the Covid-19 pandemic, and challenged the harassment allegations.
He said the report that triggered his resignation – a scathing account of what state attorney general Letitia James called sexual harassment or improper touching of 11 women – was “designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive subject, and it worked. ”.
“There was a political and media scramble. “
But he said prolonging his struggle for power “could only cause government paralysis and that is just not an option for you or an option for the state, especially now.”
Some critics have jumped on Cuomo’s last remarks as selfish.
“100,000,000 opportunities to be a better leader. Choose each time. Goodbye Governor Cuomo, ”tweeted state assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, another Democrat.
The change in direction came in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Henri, which narrowly missed Long Island but poured rain over parts of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley.
The storm brought Cuomo back in public view, albeit briefly. He gave two televised briefings – warning New Yorkers to take the storm seriously with the same mix of scolding and reassurance that once made his daily Covid-19 briefings popular.
In a statement, Cuomo’s senior aide Melissa DeRosa said the governor was exploring his options but had “no interest in running again.”
Hochul, also a Democrat, will inherit immense challenges as she takes over an administration facing criticism for inaction in Cuomo’s distracted recent months in power.
The Covid-19 refused to subside. Schools should reopen. The economic recovery from the pandemic is still incomplete.
Hochul will need to quickly build his own team of advisers who can help run the administration for at least the next 16 months. She announced the appointment of two senior staff: Karen Persichilli Keogh will become secretary to the governor and Elizabeth Fine will be Hochul’s chief legal advisor.
She plans to keep Cuomo-era employees for 45 days to give her time to interview new hires, but said she won’t keep anyone who behaved unethically. At least 35 governor’s office workers have left since February.
Hochul, who said she did not work closely with Cuomo and was unaware of the harassment allegations until they were made public, vowed no one would ever qualify her workplace of “toxic”.
“I have a different approach to governance,” Hochul said last week in Queens, adding, “I get the job done because I don’t have time for distractions, especially for this job.”
Cuomo’s resignation won’t end his legal problems. An aide who said Cuomo groped his chest filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff.
Separately, Cuomo was facing a legislative inquiry into whether he misled the public about Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes to protect his reputation as a leader of the pandemic and improperly obtained help government employees to write a book on the pandemic that could earn him $ 5 million.
Hochul said she plans to run for a full four-year term next year. It will do so while the state’s Democratic Party grapples with an internal struggle between moderates and liberals.
Hochul, who represented a conservative district in western New York state in Congress for a year and has a reputation for being moderate, is expected to choose a left-wing New York state lawmaker as lieutenant governor.
Democratic state president Jay Jacobs called Hochul “formidable.”
“She is very experienced and I think she will be a refreshing and exciting new governor,” he said.