Just months ago, New York Governor Cuomo’s face was plastered on television daily giving updates about his response to the pandemic. His televised banter over COVID-19 disagreements with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and their misaligned thoughts on how to best flatten the curve were both laughable and sad. I began to look forward to those conversations that spring as COVID-19 numbers rose in New York state, making it the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. I was there for the banter.
Between those televised reports about the progress to flatten the curve in New York and the daily reports from the governor, I found myself with a newfound admiration and respect for Governor Cuomo — and then I began to lose it based his administration’s mishandling and cover-up of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. And now, there are seven different women and seven different reasons I’ve completely lost my admiration and respect for Governor Cuomo.
In an article she wrote in mid-February, Governor Cuomo’s first accuser, Lindsey Boylan, talks in great detail about what six other women have similarly shared about Cuomo’s alleged inappropriate behavior and sexual advances. Lindsey states in her Medium essay, “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. His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences.”
She goes on to say, “In a few tweets, I told the world what a few close friends, family members and my therapist had known for years: Andrew Cuomo abused his power as Governor to sexually harass me, just as he had done with so many other women.” Her story about the unwanted advances began in 2016. We’ve come to learn that her story is not singular to her.
Charlotte Bennett is the second woman to accuse Governor Cuomo, coming forward in late February. She told CNN that Governor Cuomo was lonely, and struck up inappropriate conversations with her. The article states: “Bennett said the governor told her he was looking for a girlfriend and also asked if she was sensitive to intimacy. She said she was in Cuomo’s office last June taking dictation when he made the remarks. And then he explains, at that point, that he is looking for a girlfriend. He’s lonely, he’s tired.” From these accounts, it sounds like the Governor let his loneliness get the best of him, interfering with any kind of rationale he possessed.
Anna Ruch, the third accuser of Cuomo, has said that he asked if he could kiss her at a wedding they both attended in New York City. Karen Hinton, a former Cuomo top aide and the fourth accuser, told News 4 about a situation which allegedly happened 21 years ago: “He started asking me personal questions. I was uncomfortable with that conversation. So I stood up to leave and he walked across from his couch and embraced me intimately. It was not just a hug. It was an intimate embrace. I pulled away. He brought me back. I pulled away again and I said ‘look, I need some sleep, I am going.'”
Ana Liss, the fifth accuser of Governor Cuomo, states that when she worked for him in Albany the environment was toxic. In 2013, when Ana said these harassment took place, she shares, “I’m not claiming sexual harassment per se. I’m just saying that it wasn’t a safe space for young women to work or for women in general.” She told the Wall Street Journal that she felt diminished by Cuomo’s behavior; less like a professional and more like “just a skirt.”
The sixth woman to accuse Governor Cuomo reportedly will not be identified and has chosen not to press charges against Governor Cuomo. In an incident that allegedly took place last year, the woman, an aide in Cuomo’s administration, said that he groped her in the Executive Mansion.
The seventh and most recent woman to call Governor Cuomo out is Jessica Bakeman, a journalist tasked with covering the administration. She said she endured years of sexual harassment and inappropriate comments since the start of her career in 2012. In an essay she wrote in New York Magazine, she states, “The only opening in the circle was right next to the governor, so I hovered outside the perimeter and listened. Without pausing his anecdote, he took my hand, pulled me into his body and put his arm around my shoulder. He left it there, and kept me pinned next to him, for several minutes as he finished telling his story. I stood there, my cheeks hot, giggling nervously as my male colleagues did the same. We all knew it was wrong, but we did nothing. Sexual harassment is so ubiquitous in Albany we often don’t call it what it is.”
We’ve heard story after story of where Governor Cuomo overstepped and stupidly touched women without asking for permission first. All of the allegations are concerning for so many different reasons, but one of the biggest is that it seems he does not value women in the way leaders — and men in general — should.
Governor Cuomo is not some odd anomaly, a lone wolf who goes harassing or touching women who don’t want to be touched. He is part of a deeply-ingrained “boys’ club,” who believe that it is their right to harass women in the hopes that someone will willingly say yes to their advances. There are apparently lots of politicians who think this way, including former presidents like Bill Clinton who take their power to a whole new level of entitlement. That type of behavior is wrong, inappropriate, and reckless.
In a statement released on February 28th, Governor Cuomo stated, “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.” He also said, “I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”
It seems like the sort of half-baked “apology” we’ve come to expect in situations like these: my actions were misinterpreted, I was just joking around, sorry if you took it the wrong way.
This won’t end with these accusations against Governor Cuomo. It’s a larger issue within our society, and it runs much deeper than seven women. It is an issue with men who believe it’s their right to take what they want, whenever they want, from any woman they want, and then try to atone for it with a sorry-but-not-sorry statement. Governor Cuomo’s actions have put his legacy on the line and made women and his staff members alike feel uncomfortable. It’s time to hold him — and everyone else who does the same — accountable.