ALBANY – Pressure for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign was building Thursday after a letter signed by 59 Democratic state lawmakers called for him to step down and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the chamber would conduct its own investigation into the embattled governor’s future.
Cuomo was under a new round of criticism after a sixth accuser Wednesday said the Democratic governor sexually harassed her.
The latest case was considered perhaps the most damning: The unnamed aide told her superiors that Cuomo groped her and tried to put his hand under her blouse at the governor’s mansion, according to the Times Union of Albany. That would counter Cuomo’s contention that he never touched anyone inappropriately.
On Thursday morning, the 59 Democratic lawmakers – 40 Assembly members and 19 senators – urged Cuomo to leave the office he’s held since 2011.
“The Governor needs to put the people of New York first,” the joint statement read. “We have a Lieutenant Governor who can step in and lead for the remainder of the term, and this is what is best for New Yorkers in this critical time.
“It is time for Governor Cuomo to resign.”
Cuomo has defiantly said he would not resign, saying he was elected by the people not politicians. He has denied touching anyone inappropriately or that he knew he made any women uncomfortable at the time.
He has urged lawmakers to wait until Attorney General Letitia James completes her investigation of the allegations.
Some lawmakers have agreed to wait to pass judgment on Cuomo until the investigation is complete.
But others said Cuomo has become too large a distraction amid the state’s effort to fight the COVID pandemic and reach a budget deal by April 1.
Plus, lawmakers say the number of new allegations against Cuomo puts them n a position where they need to respond more quickly.
“Wednesday’s allegation of groping was, frankly, for me, the last straw,” Sen. Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers, said in a statement Thursday.
She added, “I do not see how the State of New York can be led during this crisis by this Governor.”
If Cuomo continues to refuse to resign, he could face impeachment in the Legislature, and Heastie said Thursday the Assembly Judiciary Committee would first investigate before any action.
“The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious,” Heastie said Thursday evening. “The committee will have the authority to interview witnesses, subpoena documents and evaluate evidence, as is allowed by the New York State Constitution.”
An impeachment would start with a majority vote in the state Assembly, where Democrats hold more than 100 of the 150 seats and Republicans would certainly be on board with impeachment. If Cuomo were to be impeached, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would become acting governor while he awaits impeachment trial.
But it is uncertain whether Heastie would break from Assembly tradition: Democrats only vote on bills when they do not need Republican votes to pass; that means 76 Democratic votes are required.
So with 40 Democratic members in the Assembly calling on Cuomo to resign, Heastie would either need to partner with Republicans to oust Cuomo or get more Democrats on board.
And Cuomo’s wait-for-the-investigation position has gotten support from more than dozen Assembly members, including Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, who is the second in command.
If the Assembly were to successfully vote to impeach Cuomo, a trial would then be held jointly by the Senate and Court of Appeals. A two-thirds majority vote would be required to convict Cuomo and remove him from office.
So that means 46 votes would be required, which would need to be a mix of Democrats and Republicans. Democrats control 42 of the 63 seats in the Senate.
More:Female aide claims Cuomo inappropriately touched her at governor’s mansion: report
More:Amid increasing calls to resign, Cuomo finds few allies in Albany. How it happened
For his part, Cuomo has said allegations alone should not be the reason he should leave. He denied the latest claims, calling the description “gut wrenching.”
“You don’t know any facts, right?” Cuomo said Tuesday, before the details of the sixth woman’s claim became public. “You know allegations. You don’t know facts. Let’s operate on facts.”
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany