New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has apologised following sexual harassment allegations against him but has refused to stand down.
In his first public appearance since three women accused him of inappropriate touching and offensive remarks, the Democrat said he had “learned an important lesson”.
“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.”
The governor said he had never touched anyone inappropriately but he did admit it was “custom” for him to greet people with kisses and hugs.
He had said on Wednesday that “sensitivities and behaviour” had changed and that what he considered his “customary greeting” was no longer acceptable.
When he was asked about stepping aside, the third-term governor replied: “I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I’m not going to resign.”
Former aide Lindsey Boylan, 36, said Mr Cuomo harassed her during her employment and once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet.
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Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, 25, said he had asked her if she ever had sex with older men.
Mr Cuomo, 63, has denied both allegations and in a statement on Sunday, he dismissed his behaviour as a way of being “playful”.
Both women rejected this along with his Wednesday apology, with Ms Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz, saying it “was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information”.
Ms Boylan wrote on Twitter: “How can new Yorkers trust you to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?”
The third woman, Anna Ruch, came forward on Tuesday and said Mr Cuomo touched her back and face and asked to kiss her moments after they met at a wedding in 2019.
Ms Ruch, 33, told the New York Times she was “so confused and shocked and embarrassed” by the encounter.
The 63-year-old Democrat governor has denied any wrongdoing in both cases, but amid growing criticism from his own party has agreed to comply with an investigation by New York’s attorney general.
The state’s independently elected attorney general. Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, is selecting an outside law firm to conduct the investigation and document its findings in a public report.
Asked what he was saying to New Yorkers, Cuomo said: “I’m embarrassed by what happened… I’m embarrassed that someone felt that way in my administration. I’m embarrassed and hurt and I apologise that somebody who interacted with me felt that way.”