Amid new accusation and calls for resignation, Cuomo implores: “wait for the facts”

Photo by Mike Groll, Governor’s Office
May 23, 2020 – Albany, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo provides a coronavirus update during a press conference at the Executive Mansion. After a sixth accuser has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment by the governor, a growing list of lawmakers is calling on Cuomo to resign.

As details emerge about a new alleged sexual harassment incident by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — this one reportedly occurring in the Governor’s Mansion late in 2020 — the list of state lawmakers calling for the governor’s resignation or impeachment continues to grow.

The Albany Times Union reported late Tuesday that a sixth woman has come forward with allegations that the governor acted inappropriately toward her. According to the Times Union and other news reports Thursday morning, the woman accused Cuomo of reaching under her blouse and touching her without her consent at his mansion last year. During the incident, the woman, a member of the governor’s Executive Chamber staff, was called to the mansion to assist Cuomo in a work related matter. 

According to the Times Union report, the woman’s supervisors alerted the governor’s counsel of the allegations on Monday,  though  during a press conference on Tuesday, Governor Cuomo said he was, “not aware of any other claim.”

“As I said last week, this is very simple, I never touched anyone inappropriately. As I said last week, I never  made any inappropriate advances. [As I] said last week, no one ever told me, at the time, that I made them feel uncomfortable,” Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday during a press conference on opening new vaccination sites. “Obviously there are people who said after the fact, they felt uncomfortable. Nobody told me at that time.”

Reporters on Tuesday asked Cuomo about his statements concerning allegations of assault by then State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in 2018. Within hours of the story appearing in the New Yorker, Cuomo issued this statement:

“No one is above the law, including New York’s top legal officer. I will be asking an appropriate New York District Attorney to commence an immediate investigation, and proceed as the facts merit,” Cuomo said in his May 7, 2018 statement. “My personal opinion is that, given the damning pattern of facts and corroboration laid out in the article, I do not believe it is possible for Eric Schneiderman to continue to serve as attorney general, and for the good of the office, he should resign.”

Nearly three years later, Gov. Cuomo said on Tuesday: “Yeah. There’s obviously allegations and then there are allegations, right? And there’s a spectrum of allegations, there’s capital crimes, there’s physical violence, right? Down to more minor allegations. I told them what I told you, which is, I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never made any inappropriate advances. No one ever told me, at the time, that I made them feel uncomfortable or awkward.”

“Women have the  right to come forward,” Cuomo continued. “The  answer here was, ‘let’s have  an investigation and get the facts on the actual allegations.’ That’s the smart way, you have an allegation, let’s find out what the facts were. You can allege something, might be true, might be not true, you might have misperceived, there may be other facts, so let’s get the facts. And  that’s what the investigation does and that’s what the attorney general is doing. And that’s what we should all respect.”

When asked about his plans for running for a fourth term, Cuomo said, “”First, today is not a  day for politics, right? I’m focusing on my job. My job is vaccines, getting a budget done, [and] rebuilding New York.”  

“Second, you don’t know all the facts, right? You know allegations. You don’t know facts. Let’s operate on facts. And we have an investigation, qualified investigators picked by the attorney general. Let’s get the facts and we can have a discussion on the facts. “


Lawmakers React

In the wake of the newest accusation, there have been more calls for the governor to step down, as well as calls for patience while the Attorney General’s investigation unfolds. 

One of the longest-serving state legislators, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, called for Cuomo to step down on Tuesday night.

“Multiple and growing credible allegations of sexual harassment and recent reports detailing the cover-up of the true COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes are extremely disturbing and make it clear that Governor Cuomo is no longer the right governor for New York,” said Gottfried, the chair of the Assembly Health Committee. “It is clear that it is best for New York for Governor Cuomo to resign.”

Other Democrats are also asking the governor to step down, even before the Attorney General’s investigation is launched. While Gottfried is one of the longest-serving state lawmakers in Albany, new legislators are also coming forward, saying it is time for Cuomo to step aside.

“I commend the women who have stepped forward to share their experiences. The stories are heartbreaking and I believe they are the truth,” said Sen. John Mannion, D-Geddes. “These brave New Yorkers have established a credible pattern of abhorrent and possibly criminal behavior by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The nursing home lies and the attempt by senior officials to cover it up are also unforgivable and indefensible.

“These issues rise above the level of partisan politics or ideological fights – maintaining the public’s trust in government requires those of us in elected office to hold ourselves to a higher standard of conduct. The governor has clearly failed to meet that standard,” Mannion continued. 

“The ability of the governor and his aides to lead New York is compromised beyond repair. It’s time for them to do the right thing and step aside for the sake of all New Yorkers.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a possible 2022 candidate for governor, called for Cuomo to be held accountable after the sixth accuser came forward Tuesday.

“There is no other way to say it; Andrew Cuomo is a national embarrassment. There are now at least six women who have stepped forward to allege that they have been victimized by Cuomo, and no one would be the least surprised if more accusations come to light,” said Zeldin in a press release. “Cuomo’s pattern of abusing his power for his own twisted needs is inexcusable, unforgivable, and should be his everlasting legacy. For every woman he has sexually harassed, every person he has bullied, and every senior citizen death he has covered up, we must all work to hold Cuomo accountable and remove the stain he has put on the Governor’s office.”

Zeldin went on to encourage New Yorkers to hold Cuomo accountable by signing their name to 

New York Attorney General Letitia James has announced that Joon Kim and Anne Clark will lead the investigation of sexual assault allegations against Gov. Cuomo.

“We are committed to an independent and thorough investigation of the facts,” said James on her website. “Joon H. Kim and Anne L. Clark are independent, legal experts who have decades of experience conducting investigations and fighting to uphold the rule of law. There is no question that they both have the knowledge and background necessary to lead this investigation and provide New Yorkers with the answers they deserve.”

“I am saddened that recent accusations of misconduct toward women have led to calls for the Governor to resign or be impeached,” said former U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey in a statement Wednesday. “I believe that these charges deserve to be heard. Attorney General Letitia James has appointed two outstanding attorneys to conduct an independent investigation. At least until they have reported their conclusions, the Governor should remain in office.”

Revoking Executive Power

The latest round of accusations comes after the Democratic Majority in the Senate on Saturday advanced legislation to strip Gov. Cuomo of his temporary emergency powers that were given to him at the start of the pandemic. The powers gave Cuomo the authority to issue executive orders to allow for a quicker response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think everyone understands where we were back in March and where we are now. We certainly see the need for a quick response but also want to move toward a system of increased oversight and review. The public deserves to have checks and balances,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousin in a press release. “This legislation creates a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected.”

The bill, S.5357/A.5967, will revoke Cuomo’s authority to issue new executive directives, require authorization by the Legislature or local elected officials before extending or modifying directives and would require the governor to respond publicly to comments from the Legislature or local officials if a directive is extended.

The legislation will also require the governor to create a searchable database of all executive actions that remain in force and allow the Legislature to terminate a state disaster emergency by concurrent resolution.

The governor signed it on Sunday, March 7.

Senate Republicans have called the repeal of Cuomo’s emergency powers a “sham” since the legislation allows him to extend and modify mandates. 

“The governor is under multiple criminal investigations by the State Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice. There is a dark cloud hanging over Albany and the entire State Government because of his conduct,” said Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt in a statement. “Make no mistake — in passing this useless bill, Democrats are not only continuing to abdicate their constitutional oaths as duly elected legislators –they are complicit with Cuomo in any crimes he and his administration may have committed while in office.” 

Senate Republicans’ dissatisfaction with this legislation is due in part to the fact that bills introduced by Republicans looking to strip away Cuomo’s emergency powers were shot down 22 times in the last year, pointing to bills S.5254 and S.2246 as examples. 

“This bill does not address the concerns that my colleagues and I have been expressing for months, and just puts lipstick on a pig,” said Republican Assemblyman Mike Lawler in a March 5 press release.

The accusers

Beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 24, six women have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment by the governor. 

Initially, two former Executive Chamber employees came forward with allegations of sexual harassment at the hands of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A third woman, not an employee but the friend of a mutual acquaintance, came forward with a story of inappropriate behavior at a wedding reception in the fall of 2019. This week, three additional women have stepped forward with allegations of abuse. 


Lindsey Boylan: 

Boylan, 36, worked as deputy secretary and special advisor to Cuomo for three years. She recounts her experience dating back to 2016, nearly a year into the beginning of her involvement with the state government. In her story with Medium last Thursday, she stated, “Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”  Bennett shared with the New York Times that Cuomo’s questions about her personal and romantic life felt like “an entreaty to a sexual relationship.” 

According to Boylan, the physicality of their encounters began to escalate, with Cuomo touching her arm, leg, or lower back, and even kissing her without her consent. Boylan asserts that she was frequently asked about her whereabouts and was expected to be present at the governor’s events, even if she had no practical reason for being there. In an exchange of emails, the Director of the Governor’s Office, Stephanie Benton, reportedly told Boylan in an email to look up Lisa Shields, an ex-girlfriend of Cuomo’s, who he allegedly said looked like she could be Boylan’s sister. According to the email, Cuomo stated that Boylan would be, “the better looking sister.” Boylan added that Cuomo would continue to refer to her as Lisa, and not Lindsey. 

All of this implicit and explicit harassment contributed to Ms. Boylan’s overwhelming feelings of nervousness and danger in her position, she said.


Charlotte Bennett:

Bennett, 25, was an executive assistant and health policy advisor for Cuomo. Like Boylan, she was often asked unwarranted questions pertaining to her sex life and intimate relationships. According to Bennett’s interview with the New York Times, Cuomo would ask her questions such as whether or not she thought age made a difference in one’s relationship, or whether she had been sexually active while in her current relationship. He also allegedly disclosed with Bennett that his age preference is 22 years or older. Reflecting on the situation, Bennett told the New York Times she was, “wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

From these encounters, Bennett felt as though Cuomo had other intentions than mentorship and genuine concern. She recalled that a pivotal point in her growing discomfort and fear of Cuomo was when he stated “You were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed,” repeatedly when she discussed her scheduled speech about being a survivor of sexual assault, at Hamilton College. She described the feeling in that particular moment as, “something out of a horror movie.”

Bennett has been an activist for sexual assault survivors prior to these allegations and states that there was a feeling of obligation to other victims of sexual harassment to tell her story. She said wanted to counter the way Mr. Cuomo, “wields his power.”


Anna Ruch:

Anna Ruch, 33, was celebrating her newlywed friends in September of 2019, when Cuomo had made a toast to the new marriage. Shortly after, Ruch had approached Cuomo to thank him for the kindness of his words. He allegedly proceeded to place his hand on her lower back to which she instantly reacted and removed his hand. He then asked audibly if he could kiss her to which Ruch was appalled. Ruch stated that as she began to pull away, he continued to bring himself closer. 


Ana Liss:

Liss, 35, held a position as a policy and operations aid for Gov. Andrew Cuomo from 2013 to 2015. According to the Wall Street Journal, Liss has stated that she understood Gov. Cuomo’s advancements as harmless flirtations. As time went on, she began to realize that it was patronizing, and that it reduced her from an educated professional to, “just a skirt.” Boylan shared a similar sentiment in her story, in which she spoke to the existence of a “struggle to be taken seriously by a powerful man who tied my worth to my body and my appearance.”

According to Wall Street Journal and New York Times reports, Liss stated that there were occasional questions on her dating life, compliments on her physical appearance and physical touch involved, similar to what others who worked under Gov. Cuomo’s administration alleged. On one occasion, she stated that Gov. Cuomo kissed her hand. On another occasion, she said that the governor hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks and then wrapped his arm around her lower back and grabbed her waist. These circumstances didn’t bring Liss to express any formal complaints but rather an office transfer and the decision to seek mental health counseling back in 2014. Due to the work environment, Liss recalls having drank heavily through that year and resigned from the Executive Chamber of 2015. She now works as the director of the Department of Planning and Development for Monroe County, in New York.


Karen Hinton:

Hinton, 62, served as a paid consultant for Cuomo when he was U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration. According to an interview with The Washington Post, she stated that Cuomo had asked for her to be sent to his hotel room dating back to the year 2000. When she reached his hotel room, she recalls him embracing her in what she felt was a very long and intimate embrace. When she attempted to pull away, he pulled Hinton back and closer to his body. She was able to back away and proceeded to leave the hotel room.



A sixth accuser:

On Tuesday, March 10th, a sixth accuser has come forward, according to the Albany Times Union. The female staff member is unnamed but was a former aide to Gov. Cuomo as well. She had been working with Gov. Cuomo at the Executive Mansion in Albany last year, where she claims that Gov. Cuomo reached under her blouse and touched her inappropriately. The woman’s supervisor had only been made aware of the matter recently and the allegations proceeded to be notified to the Governor’s Council on Monday by other employees in the Executive Chamber. Currently, the sixth accuser has remained anonymous and unable to be reached to provide any further statements. Gov. Cuomo has denied this accusation as well, and has stated that he was not made aware of this allegation nor was he notified of anyone having been uncomfortable.

Cuomo made an attempt to apologize for his actions toward Boylan and Bennett on Sunday, Feb. 28, prior to Ruch coming forward. 

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.” Cuomo has since received an influx of backlash for brushing off his actions as “jokes” in his recent statement. 

The governor issued a statement that same day: “I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.” 

Regarding Hinton’s allegations this week, Gov. Cuomo has stated “Every woman has a right to come forward. That’s true. But the truth also matters. What she said is not true. She has been a longtime political adversary of mine.”

Many state lawmakers are urging the governor to resign or are calling for an independent investigation. “Whether it’s a member of the legislature or the Governor’s office, as a matter of policy and moral code we have an obligation to act. All allegations of sexual harassment including those made against the Governor, must be investigated thoroughly,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.

Sen. Alessandra Biaggi released a full statement on Sunday. “As a New Yorker, a legislator, Chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, and a survivor of sexual abuse, I am calling for Governor Cuomo to resign,” said Biaggi.

On March 1, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement in response to Boylan, Bennett, and Ruch’s allegations, saying “He seemed to be saying I was just kidding around.” He added, “Sexual harassment is not funny. It’s serious and it has to be taken seriously and he was clearly just letting himself off the hook…We need the whole truth of what happened and we need to make sure that it never happens again.”

On Sunday, March 7, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins said, “We have allegations about sexual harassment, a toxic work environment, the loss of credibility surrounding the Covid-19 nursing home data and questions about the construction of a major infrastructure project. New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it. We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign.”

Shortly after Stewart-Cousins’ statement, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie released his own statement: “We have many challenges to address, and I think it is time for the governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York.”