Melissa DeRosa’s rise and fall as Cuomo’s top aide

Cuomo Crisis
Andrew Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and Gov. Andrew Cuomo speak during a news conference on Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. — Melissa DeRosa has worked closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo since 2013, and her road to top aide included family influence and major political figures, all culminating in a history-making appointment to a powerful position. She recently announced she has resigned from her position.

An Albany native, DeRosa was exposed to politics at an early age — her father was a lobbyist for the Public Employees Federation and is now a partner at a private lobbying firm. She attended the private school, Albany Academy for Girls alongside now-Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.

As an undergrad at Cornell University, DeRosa spent a summer in the office of former Sen. Hillary Clinton. She continued her education at Cornell, earning a Master’s in Public Administration.

She served as acting chief of staff for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned over allegations of physical abuse, and also led former President Barack Obama’s Political Action Organization, “Organizing for America” before joining Cuomo’s office in 2013.

DeRosa started as a communications director and worked her way up to chief of staff in 2015. Two years later, she was named secretary to the governor, becoming the first woman in history to hold the role — the highest appointed position in the state.

She spearheaded the governor’s campaigns to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and enacted paid family leave policies. She was a key advisor to the governor, especially on his handling of the pandemic and was always seated 6 feet away from him during his daily COVID-19 briefings.

DeRosa resigned Sunday night on the heels of a report that found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women.

In a statement, DeRosa said that serving the people of New York had been “the greatest honor of my life.” But she added that “Personally, the past two years have been emotionally and mentally trying.”

She didn’t give a more specific reason for her resignation.

“I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such talented and committed colleagues on behalf of our state,” she said.

DeRosa’s departure comes as Cuomo has dug in for the fight of his political life despite the threat of criminal investigations and widespread calls for his impeachment.

Scores of Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have urged him to leave office or face an impeachment battle he probably cannot win.

About two-thirds of state Assembly members have already said they favor an impeachment trial if he refuses to resign. Nearly all 63 members of the state Senate have called for Cuomo to step down or be removed.

Cuomo, who has denied touching any women inappropriately, has largely been holed up in the governor’s mansion since the release of a 168-page report written by two independent attorneys selected by the state attorney general to investigate his behavior.

His lawyers have attacked the credibility and motives of his accusers.

DeRosa, who often defended Cuomo when he faced public criticism, was mentioned 187 times in the attorney general’s report, which detailed the administration’s efforts to discredit some of his accusers.

The report described DeRosa as a central figure in his office’s retaliation against one of the women, Lindsey Boylan, after she became the first person to speak out publicly. The administration released internal memos showing that Boylan had, herself, been the subject of complaints about toxic workplace behavior.

The investigators’ report also revealed some tension between DeRosa and Cuomo: She told investigators she was so upset with the way Cuomo had handled a conversation with one of his accusers, former aide Charlotte Bennett, that she angrily got out of his car when it stopped at a traffic light.

“She told the governor, ‘I can’t believe that this happened. I can’t believe you put yourself in a situation where you would be having any version of this conversation,’” the report said.

Meanwhile, the governor’s lawyers have promised what will likely be a drawn-out fight to stay in office, and few see him as willing to quit.

If Cuomo leaves office before the end of his term in 2022, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would take over.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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