ALBANY – In a prerecorded speech he dubbed his “farewell address," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo condemned the investigation and ensuing “media frenzy” that led to his decision to resign in disgrace from the job he has held since 2011.
To the very end, Cuomo is leaving office slamming the recent investigation by Attorney General Letitia James, which included explosive sexual harassment allegations against him and which is now being looked at by five district attorneys for possible criminal violations.
“I am a fighter and my instinct is to fight this, because it is unfair and unjust in mind," he said of the allegations against him, but said his remaining in office would create governmental paralysis at a key moment in time.
The 63-year-old governor, who days ago already moved out of the executive mansion in Albany, started his remote address shortly after noon, 12 hours before he is due to formally resign from office to make way for his successor, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat who will become the state’s first female governor.
Hochul is set to be sworn in at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday in a private ceremony at the State Capitol.
"Kathy Hochul will become governor, and I believe she will step up to the challenge. We all wish her success," Cuomo said.
Cuomo is leaving his job in humiliation, following allegations he sexually harassed multiple women, and faced certain impeachment by state lawmakers over those claims brought by women, including young staffers. He also was facing criticism and investigations into use of state resources to write a book on his response to the Covid-19 pandemic – which led to a $5.1 million book deal – the undercounting of Covid deaths last year among New York nursing home residents, and claims that he pushed to the head of the line family and friends to get priority Covid tests.
Meanwhile, as she prepared to take the oath as governor, Hochul unveiled some more members of her new inner team.
Karen Persichilli Keogh will be Hochul’s secretary to the governor, making her the highest ranking, non-elected individual in state government. She comes most directly from head of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and is a former senior staffer to then U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, and has done work for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Her husband, Mike Keogh, is a partner at Albany lobbying powerhouse Bolton-St. Johns. The couple lives in Brooklyn. Melissa DeRosa, the outgoing secretary under Cuomo, also had ties to that firm: Her father is a partner there.
Elizabeth Fine was tapped by Hochul to be her counsel, a job that oversees everything from negotiations with the Legislature on legal aspects of policy and fiscal matters to all-things-legal related to the governor’s executive chamber operations. Fine is executive vice president and general counsel at Empire State Development, the state’s chief economic development agency, and she is a former general counsel of the New York City Council and then-counsel to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
Cuomo spent many of his final hours in a role he has cherished many times since becoming governor: commander-in-chief of a state government responding to a natural crisis. In this case, he “deployed assets” and monitored weather forecasts and urged New Yorkers to be safe during the landfall yesterday of Hurricane Henri, which turned out to be less damaging than first estimates.
Cuomo, a former state attorney general and son of the late liberal icon Mario Cuomo, who served three terms as New York governor, was first elected governor in 2010. His reign has included major policy victories and no shortage of scandals, including the most recent ones and the corruption case related to the Buffalo Billion development initiative.
Cuomo used his 16-minute speech to tout his accomplishments, from marriage equality rights to crackdown on certain gun sales and possession. But he also took some parting shots, especially at the most liberal side of the Democratic Party for embracing policies like defunding police agencies to huge tax ideas that, he said, harm the economy and force business to leave the state.
Cuomo briefly highlighted what he believes are his successes. He noted that “Buffalo is building back” without mentioning his most controversial area project, RiverBend, that was the subject of what became a wide-ranging bid rigging case by federal prosecutors of the governor’s Buffalo Billion program.
And he gave what he called “my advice” on how to address rising Covid caseloads, hospitalizations and deaths. While he has, or had, powers through his health department to enact certain mandates, even with the expiration of the Covid state of emergency in June, Cuomo waited until his final speech to say he believes teachers must undergo mandatory vaccinations before schools resume and that private businesses must mandate of vaccination for all large gatherings. He said such ideas require a new state law to make such mandates and to ensure that local police and health agencies enforce the ideas.
In the end, Cuomo sought to portray a more humble, far less brash image of himself than he did on Jan. 1, 2011 when he first became governor. The weight of his dramatic fall from the mountain of New York State government politics was clear on his face during the prepared remarks.
“Thank you for the honor of serving as governor of New York," Cuomo said.