Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo emerged from his self-imposed exile on Sunday, using his first public appearance in more than six months to cast himself as a victim of “cancel culture” and to vow to reinsert himself in New York’s political discourse.
Speaking at God’s Battalion of Prayer Church, a Black congregation in Brooklyn, Mr. Cuomo defiantly told a sparse collection of about 100 congregants that he wanted to “tell my truth,” describing cancel culture as a “frightening” form of extremism and claiming he had been “vindicated” in the months since he resigned in August following a string of sexual harassment allegations.
The remarks, marked more heavily by the blame he placed on others for his downfall than by a display of contrition, were the most robust effort yet by Mr. Cuomo in his attempt to rehabilitate his reputation and salvage his legacy after his decade-long reign as governor ended abruptly in disgrace.
They came as Mr. Cuomo had been weighing how he might re-enter public life. Last month, he began spending $369,000 from his campaign account — which had more than $16 million, according to the latest filings — on a barrage of television advertisements that portrayed him as a victim of politically motivated “attacks.”
There are no tangible signs yet that Mr. Cuomo is planning to run for elected office this year, but he appeared to leave the door open for a political comeback at some point, saying, “God isn’t done with me yet.”
He told the congregants, “I have many options in life and I’m open to all of them.”
Indeed, the speech had strong political overtones. He ticked off some of his accomplishments as governor and dedicated a significant portion of his remarks to offering advice to national Democrats ahead of this year’s midterm elections. But the thrust of his speech appeared aimed at repairing his public image.
Echoing past remarks, he portrayed his resignation as a consequence of cancel culture — a phrase he repeated more than a dozen times — that he said had gripped the country and the Democratic Party, saying “Twitter and newspaper headlines have replaced judge and jury.”
Mr. Cuomo did not delve into the specifics of the allegations made against him by numerous women, including former government employees, which included instances of inappropriate comments, touching, kissing and, in one instance, groping the breast of a former aide.
Mr. Cuomo has denied the allegations.
As he has before, he portrayed his conduct toward women as a result of shifting generational norms, saying he may have been “old-fashioned and out of touch” and adding that, “I’ve learned a powerful lesson, and I paid a very high price for learning that lesson.”
The claims that the former governor engaged in inappropriate behavior were documented in a damning report in August following an investigation conducted by outside investigators and overseen by Letitia James, the state attorney general. Mr. Cuomo did not mention Ms. James by name on Sunday — he referred to her as “they” — but his camp has repeatedly attacked her since he resigned. A second investigation led by the State Assembly largely corroborated the report’s conclusions.
He accused CNN of firing his younger brother, Chris Cuomo, one of the network’s top anchors, who came under fire for privately advising his older brother on how to respond to the allegations, because “they were in the middle of a merger and afraid of the cancel-culture mob.”
“I resigned as governor, the press roasted me, my colleagues were ridiculed, my brother was fired,” Mr. Cuomo said during the half-hour speech. “It was probably the toughest time of my life.”
Mr. Cuomo stepped down as the entirety of the New York political class clamored for his resignation and he faced the threat of impeachment. But on Sunday, he sought to blame politics for his resignation.
He repeatedly noted how five district attorneys had not pressed charges against him after investigating some of the claims. He did not mention that some prosecutors said they had found the women credible, but concluded there were insufficient legal grounds to bring criminal charges. He pointed to the dismissal of those cases to argue that the entirety of the attorney general’s 168-page report was a sham, an argument that critics have said is misleading.
“The political sharks in Albany smelled blood,” he said, charging that they exploited the situation “to overturn an election.”
Mr. Cuomo, wearing a dark mask and suit with a periwinkle tie, delivered the remarks during the morning service at the Crown Heights church. The Rev. Al Cockfield, the church’s pastor for over 40 years, defended the former governor when the sexual allegations first surfaced last year.
The possibility of a rehabilitation-minded speech in a Black church — where he has turned before for political succor — had been privately raised in recent weeks, well before Mr. Cuomo actually took the pulpit.
Mr. Cuomo circulated several versions of the speech with a number of close advisers over the past few weeks, according to a person familiar with the discussions. During the drafting process, the person said, there were discussions about the tone, as well as the optics, with some advisers raising concerns that the speech might give the false impression that Mr. Cuomo intended to run for office this year.
There were also more pointed references to Ms. James and her office’s report that ultimately did not make the final speech, the person said.
On Sunday, Ms. James’s campaign issued a statement saying that Mr. Cuomo “won’t even spare a house of worship from his lies,” adding that New Yorkers “are ready to move forward from this sick, pathetic man.”
“Even though multiple independent investigations found his victims to be credible, Cuomo continues to blame everyone but himself,” the statement said.
Mounting a political comeback could prove to be a daunting challenge for Mr. Cuomo.
A recent poll from the Siena College Research Institute found that 80 percent of New Yorkers believe he made the right decision to resign. And onetime allies have said they do not see a role for him in public life.
The former governor drew applause at several points during his remarks and concluded by saying he was not yet “at peace” because “we have too much work to do to be at peace.”
“Let’s make some trouble,” Mr. Cuomo said, invoking John Lewis, the Democratic congressman and civil rights leader, who died in 2020. “Let’s make some good trouble, and let’s make this state the greatest state in the nation.”
He shook hands and posed for pictures with a number of churchgoers on his way out. One woman asked him whether he was “going to run again.” Mr. Cuomo paused for a moment and lowered his voice, telling her only that he was “contemplating.”
He later brushed aside questions from reporters outside the church from inside his car. Asked if he was thinking of running for office, he said only, “I said what I said.”
Mr. Cuomo, a fan of American-made muscle cars, then drove off down Linden Boulevard in a white BMW.
Katie Glueck contributed reporting.