The pending resignation of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over damning sexual harassment allegations has not only paved the way for the state to have its first Black woman serving as acting lieutenant governor, but it also means it will be the first time the state is led by two women.
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will leave her post to become acting lieutenant governor once the current Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul assumes her new leadership position in Albany — the first time the Empire State will have a woman governor.
Stewart-Cousins called Cuomo’s resignation “a somber day for the state of New York” but said it also “opens the door to a restorative future.”
It was a stunning turn of events following months of sexual harassment allegations that were ultimately confirmed exactly one week ago when New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James’ investigation concluded that all 11 women accusing the governor of creating a hostile and discriminatory workplace were telling the truth.
Stewart-Cousins, a state senator who has served in that position since 2006, said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday afternoon that she agreed with Cuomo’s resignation.
Stewart-Cousins said she was “surprised” that Cuomo resigned but that she believed “he did the right thing.”
She said she was among the chorus of legislative voices calling for Cuomo to resign since March in part because the allegations were “becoming a larger distraction” for the state government.
“We know the governor to be a fighter and there was that expectation that he was going to continue to fight,” Stewart-Cousins said. “But the reality is that we do have so much to do in New York.”
She added: “The litany of allegations and accusations were just piling up so this was the right thing to do.”
Stewart-Cousins thanked Cuomo’s accusers for coming forward and pledged “to work toward a safer, more inclusive more conscious workplace. That’s what this is, frankly, about.”
It may also be about the impeachment of Cuomo, which, as of Monday, was moving forward in the state assembly, which, like the U.S. House, decides whether to impeach. The State Senate, like the U.S. Senate, presides over the impeachment trial and decides whether to convict.
Stewart-Cousins, citing polling as well as sentiments from her Senate colleagues, suggested that impeachment may be off the table now that Cuomo has announced his resignation. Especially since an impeachment could “exhaust resources and attention” when “the real attention is supposed to be on the people who were are here to serve.”
Stewart-Cousins was an unwitting example of Cuomo’s disrespect of women last week when he tried to pass off a picture showing that the Senator was among his supporters. Except the Black woman pictured was not Stewart-Cousins.
At the time, Stewart-Cousins praised Hochul as a temporary replacement for Cuomo.
“We understand what’s important,” Stewart-Cousins said last week. “And what’s important is keeping our focus on making sure that New Yorkers are doing well.”
Stewart-Cousins represents the New York City suburbs of Greenburgh, Scarsdale, and parts of White Plains, New Rochelle, and Yonkers, all of which are in Westchester County.
Her political background runs deep including previously serving as a Westchester County Legislator, during which she was elected Majority Whip and Vice-Chair. In that capacity, Stewart-Cousins’s own human rights bill was enacted into law in Westchester County.
Tuesday was not the first time she’s made Black history, either, as she was the first Black person — woman or man — to be Director of Community Affairs for the City of Yonkers.
You can find out more about Stewart-Cousins on her official state bio.