Widely praised for his determination during the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic in New York, state governor Andrew Cuomo has stared down calls for his resignation after a disturbing photo emerged this week from a 2019 wedding.
Governor Cuomo is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards two women who worked in his office, with a third woman coming forward and supplying an image to The New York Times that appears to catch him in the act.
The photo shows Anna Ruch, wearing an uneasy expression across her face, as Cuomo clasps her cheeks in both hands. She told the Times that Cuomo asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at the wedding. She also alleged he stroked her lower back, which was left uncovered by the cut-out of her dress.
The image was taken by a friend on the woman's mobile phone in September 2019 and sparked a visceral reaction as one of the country's most recognisable Democrat politicians faces a slew of sexual harassment allegations.
"This Cuomo photo captures the #MeToo experience that millions of women put up with everyday," read one headline.
The New York Post emblazoned its front page with the image, describing the woman's "look of fear".
On social media, many were left disturbed by the moment captured in the image.
"Yikes. The look on her face says it all," one Twitter user remarked.
Cuomo: 'I truly and deeply apologise for it'
On Wednesday (local time) Cuomo faced the media and apologised for his behaviour, getting emotional at times, but said he intends to remain in office.
Speaking sombrely in his first public appearance since the three women accused him of inappropriate touching and offensive remarks, Cuomo apologised and said he “learned an important lesson” about his behaviour around women.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologise for it.”
Asked about calls for him to step aside, the 63-year-old third-term governor said: “I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I’m not going to resign.”
Cuomo acknowledged “sensitivities have changed and behaviour has changed” and that what he considers his “customary greeting” — an old-world approach that often involving kisses and hugs — is no longer acceptable.
But the allegations against the governor go beyond aggressive greetings.
Former aide Lindsey Boylan accuses Cuomo of having harassed her throughout her employment and said he once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet. Another former aide Charlotte Bennett said Cuomo once asked her if she ever had sex with older men.
Both women rejected Cuomo’s earlier apology, doubling down on their disgust after he issued a statement Sunday (local time) attempting to excuse his behaviour as his way of being “playful.”
Cuomo said he will “fully cooperate” with an investigation into the allegations being overseen by the state’s independently elected attorney general. Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, is in the process of selecting an outside law firm to conduct the probe and document its findings in a public report.
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