Melissa DeRosa, a fixture next to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for months during his coronavirus news conferences, resigned late Sunday on the heels of a report that found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, leaving the governor without his top aide as he faces the prospect of impeachment.
DeRosa, who had been one of Cuomo’s most fierce defenders and strategists, said in a statement sent to multiple new organizations that serving the people of New York had been “the greatest honour of my life.”
But she added that “Personally, the past two years have been emotionally and mentally trying.”
She didn’t give a more specific reason for her resignation.
“I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such talented and committed colleagues on behalf of our state,” she said.
DeRosa’s departure comes as Cuomo has dug in for the fight of his political life despite the threat of criminal investigations and widespread calls for his impeachment.
Scores of Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have urged him to leave office or face an impeachment battle he probably cannot win.
About two-thirds of state Assembly members have already said they favour an impeachment trial if he refuses to resign. Nearly all 63 members of the state Senate have called for Cuomo to step down or be removed.
More punishing news for the governor is expected Monday when an Assembly committee meets to discuss possible impeachment proceedings and “CBS This Morning” is scheduled to broadcast the first TV interview from an executive assistant who accused Cuomo of groping her breast.
In her first public interview in which she identified herself, Brittany Commisso told CBS and the Times-Union newspaper, of Albany, that what Cuomo did was a crime and that he “needs to be held accountable.”
Commisso has said Cuomo reached under her shirt and fondled her when they were alone in a room at the Executive Mansion last year and on another occasion rubbed her rear end while they posed for a photo. She was the first woman to file a criminal complaint against Cuomo.
“He broke the law,” she said in an excerpt of an interview scheduled to be aired in full on Monday.
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct unless they speak out publicly, as Commisso has done.
Cuomo, who has denied touching any women inappropriately, has largely been holed up in the governor’s mansion since the release of a 168-page report written by two independent attorneys selected by the state attorney general to investigate his behaviour.
His lawyers have attacked the credibility and motives of his accusers.
DeRosa, who often defended Cuomo when he faced public criticism, had been with the administration since 2013. She got the title “secretary to the governor” in 2017, and was probably the most recognizable face in the administration after Cuomo.
She appeared by his side in most of his news briefings and often fielded policy questions from reporters when the governor didn’t know enough details to answer.
DeRosa was mentioned 187 times in the attorney general’s report, which detailed the administration’s efforts to discredit some of his accusers.
The report described DeRosa as a central figure in his office’s retaliation against one of the women, Lindsey Boylan, after she became the first person to speak out publicly. The administration released internal memos showing that Boylan had, herself, been the subject of complaints about toxic workplace behaviour.
The investigators’ report also revealed some tension between DeRosa and Cuomo: She told investigators she was so upset with the way Cuomo had handled a conversation with one of his accusers, former aide Charlotte Bennett, that she angrily got out of his car when it stopped at a traffic light.
“She told the governor, `I can’t believe that this happened. I can’t believe you put yourself in a situation where you would be having any version of this conversation,”' the report said.
The governor’s lawyers have promised what will likely be a drawn-out fight to stay in office, and few see him as willing to quit.
“My sense is from what I’m hearing is he’s still looking for ways to fight this and get his side of the story out,” state Democratic party Chairman Jay Jacobs said in an interview with The AP. But Jacobs added: “I just think that he’s going to, at some point, see that the political support is just not anywhere near enough to even make an attempt worthwhile.”
Cuomo lawyer, Rita Glavin, told CNN on Saturday that he had no plans to resign.
She called the attorney general’s report “shoddy” and “biased” and “an ambush.”
Dozens of state lawmakers who were once hesitant to call for Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment told the AP in recent interviews that they were swayed by the heft of the report.
“I think the majority of us feel that the governor is not in a position to lead the state any longer, and that’s not a temporary position,” said Assembly member John McDonald, a Democrat whose district includes Albany.
The state Assembly’s judiciary committee planned to meet Monday to discuss when to conclude its months-long investigation into whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo.
The investigation has focused on sexual harassment and misconduct, the administration’s past refusal to release how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19, the use of state resources for Cuomo’s $5 million book deal and efforts to prioritize COVID-19 tests for the governor’s inner circle in spring 2020, when testing was scarce.
Some lawmakers want an impeachment vote in days, but committee members say the probe could wrap up in a month. State law requires at least 30 days between an Assembly impeachment vote and Senate impeachment trial.
Assembly member Amanda Septimo called for urgency, saying Cuomo was damaging the Democratic Party nationally.
“I’m willing to put money on how soon we see Cuomo’s face on an attack mailer somewhere in Ohio,” she said.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would take over for Cuomo if a majority of the 150-member Assembly votes to impeach him.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said Saturday that Cuomo could face misdemeanour charges if investigators substantiate Commisso’s complaint. At least five district attorneys have asked for materials from the attorney general’s inquiry to see if any of the allegations could result in criminal charges.
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