Twelve hours before he was officially set to leave his third term as New York’s governor, marking the beginning of the end of his political career in public office, Andrew Cuomo issued a prerecorded video farewell, a likely final rebuke against his opponents and a defence of his legacy from the executive chair in Albany.
The once-ascendant Democrat – a former federal housing secretary and state attorney general before his three terms as governor – was due to leave office at midnight, passing the office to Lt Gov Kathy Hochul, after announcing his resignation in the wake of widespread reports of sexual harassment allegations, investigations into nursing home deaths in the state during the Covid-19 crisis, and the likelihood of a weeks-long impeachment investigation should he remain in Albany.
Following a weekend of extreme weather from Tropical Storm Henri, during which he returned to virtual updates on the state of the emergency that echoed his widely viewed coronavirus briefings, Mr Cuomo’s chief aide Melissa DeRosa announced that he has “no interest” in running for office again.
In his 16-minute speech, which was also broadcast in Times Square, the 63-year-old once again dismissed the state attorney general’s report charting the allegations of sexual abuse against him, criticised progressive action following a “defund the police” movement, and called on Congress to reinstate the full deduction for state and local taxes.
“Demonising business is against our collective self-interest,” he said. “We can end income inequality without ending incomes.”
He defended the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis and warned state and local officials to brace New York for the “immediate threat” from the Delta variant amid a surge in infections and hospitalisations across the US.
“Political procrastination is Covid collaboration,” he said in a warning to lawmakers.
“We didn’t get everything done that we wanted to, or even everything we should have done,” he said. “And we didn’t always get it quite right. But I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that everyday I worked my hardest, I gave it my all and I tried my best.”
During his final moments in public office, the governor sought to highlight his administration’s policy achievements and defend his governance, which he said has shown “a new paradigm of government in this state” that “actually works, and actually works for people”.
He will leave office with an extraordinary campaign war chest, likely amassed in his anticipation of running for a fourth term in office.
But he also leaves behind criticism and investigations into allegations of using state resources to work on his book about his response to the coronavirus pandemic and claims that he prioritised Covid-19 tests for his family and friends, all during a crisis in the state that has led to the deaths of more than 53,000 New Yorkers.
In his final hours, as Henri stormed across the northeastern US, the governor harked back to the role that placed him on an international media pedestal, as a commander leading a crisis, when he stood in sharp contrast to the chaos from inside the White House under Donald Trump. As such, he used his final speech to announce his belief that teachers should be vaccinated from Covid-19 before schools open for the 2021-2022 school year, and that private businesses across the state must also impose requirements for large gatherings. He said that such requirements would require new laws to mandate them.
Mr Cuomo also characterised scrutiny into government reports of his alleged abuse as “moments of intense political pressure and media frenzy that may cause a rush to judgment”, weeks after he had called on the public to await the results of investigations before doing so.
Instead, Mr Cuomo criticised the 165-page report from New York attorney general Letitia James as one “designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic”.
“And it worked,” he added. “There was a political and media stampede… I am a fighter, and my instincts are to fight because it is unfair and unjust in my mind.”
Ms Hochul, who will be sworn into office just after midnight on Monday as the state’s first-ever female governor, will “step up to the challenge” to lead the state, Mr Cuomo said.
“We all wish her success,” he added.
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