Lauded nationwide last year for his no-nonsense coronavirus briefings, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was clinging to his political life Wednesday as prosecutors opened criminal inquiries into sexual harassment allegations against the powerful Democrat.
As Donald Trump sowed chaos last spring, Cuomo's televised pandemic press conferences comforted Americans and even led to clamor for a presidential run, but the 63-year-old now finds himself a political pariah.
New York state assembly Democrats are poised to complete an impeachment inquiry soon while four district attorneys are pursuing criminal investigations after Tuesday's bombshell report found Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women.
"If you assault a woman, you do something against her will sexually, that's criminal. I think he should be charged," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, told CBS on Wednesday.
The investigation concluded that Cuomo engaged in "unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous comments of a suggestive sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women."
It detailed allegations by 11 women that painted "a picture of a pattern of abusive behavior by Cuomo and his senior staff," said state Attorney General Letitia James said, announcing the findings.
The three-term governor came out fighting. He said he'd never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances and suggested he would not step down in a pre-recorded statement.
But pressure continued to build on Cuomo Wednesday as prosecutors in Manhattan, Westchester, and Long Island joined those in Albany in opening a criminal inquiry and requesting documents from James's investigation, which was only civil in nature.
The Westchester case relates to an allegation that Cuomo inappropriately touched a state trooper assigned to his protective detail on her stomach and hip.
"I can see a several counts of forcible touching and possibly sexual abuse -- all misdemeanors," Julie Rendelman, a former Brooklyn prosecutor, told AFP.
Cuomo has politics in his blood -- his father Mario Cuomo served three terms as the Democratic governor of New York state between 1983 and 1994 -- and is unlikely to go quietly.
He has long been part of the Democratic Party's moderate establishment: in 1990, Cuomo married Kerry Kennedy -- daughter of the late US Attorney General Robert Kennedy. They divorced 15 years later.
Cuomo received praise for pushing through the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York in 2011 and for raising the state's minimum wage to $15 in December 2019.
But he has increasingly clashed with left-wing progressives in the party in recent years who have long accused him of governing with hectoring, bulldog-like tactics.
Allies, including President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York City's likely next mayor, Eric Adams, quickly deserted him following the explosive report.
And on Wednesday The New York Times editorial board called on him to quit.
"He wants to survive because the only thing that matters to Andrew Cuomo is being governor of New York," Lincoln Mitchell, a politics expert at Columbia University, told AFP.
"But he's going to have a tough time when the President of the United States, who is the leader of your party, says that he should no longer be in office."
After Cuomo made it clear he had no plans to step down voluntarily, the Democratic speaker of New York's state assembly, Carl Heastie, said an impeachment investigation would be concluded "as quickly as possible."
"He can no longer remain in office," Heastie said.
If the lower house assembly approves impeachment articles, which now seems all but certain, Cuomo would become the first New York governor to be impeached in more than a century.
Cuomo would likely have to temporarily step down as members of the senate and several judges preside over the trial. At least two thirds of jurors must vote to convict to permanently remove him from office.
Although he has not officially announced a run, Cuomo is believed to covet a fourth term as governor, to surpass his father.