Andrew Cuomo has been replaced as New York governor following months of allegations of sexual harassment .
Democrat Kathy Hochul became the first female governor of New York at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, following a brief swearing-in ceremony.
Mr Cuomo, 63, officially left office at 12:00am, two weeks after he announced he would resign rather than face a likely impeachment battle.
On his final day in office, Mr Cuomo released a pre-recorded farewell address in which he defended his record over a decade in the role and portrayed himself as the victim of a “media frenzy”.
Mr Cuomo’s resignation comes after an independent investigation overseen by state attorney general Letitia James concluded there was credible evidence he’d sexually harassed at least 11 women.
In his farewell remarks, Mr Cuomo struck a defiant tone, saying the attorney general’s report that triggered his resignation was designed to be “a political firecracker on an explosive topic, and it did work”.
“There was a political and media stampede,” he said.
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Despite his resignation, Mr Cuomo faces further legal problems.
An aide who said he groped her breast has filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.
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Separately, Mr Cuomo is facing a legislative investigation into whether he misled the public about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes to protect his reputation as a pandemic leader and improperly got help from state employees in writing a book that may net him $5 million.
Ms Hochul, who said she didn’t work closely with Mr Cuomo and wasn’t aware of the harassment allegations before they became public, has vowed no one will ever call her workplace “toxic”.
“I have a different approach to governing,” Ms Hochul said last week, adding: “I get the job done because I don’t have time for distractions, particularly coming into this position.”
She has announced the planned appointments of two top aides: Karen Persichilli Keogh will become secretary to the governor and Elizabeth Fine will be Ms Hochul’s chief legal counselor.
Ms Hochul’s ascent to the role of governor is a history-making moment in a capital where women have only recently begun chipping away at a notoriously male-dominated political culture.
For the first time, a majority of the most powerful figures in New York state government will be women, including state senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the attorney general, and the chief judge, Janet DiFiore. The State Assembly is led by a man, speaker Carl Heastie.
However, Ms Hochul will inherit immense challenges as she takes over an administration facing criticism for inaction in Mr Cuomo’s final months.
COVID-19 has made a comeback, with new cases up nearly 1,370% since late June, and hospitalisations are climbing as schools prepare to go back in September.
She faces tough choices on whether to mandate masks or vaccines for certain groups, and whether to reinstate social distancing restrictions.
Meanwhile, the economy remains unsettled. Jobs lost during the pandemic have been coming back, but unemployment remains double what it was two years ago.