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Toxicity and Abuse from Governor Cuomo Comes to Light

Content warning: This article discusses sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Nearly a year has passed since New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began giving his televised daily COVID-19 updates. His initial strict lockdown policies garnered praise from other officials; however, information on Cuomo has drastically changed since last March, and now he is engulfed in two scandals: his underreporting the number of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes and, more recently, the sexual assault allegations against him from his previous coworkers. 

Multiple current and past aides have publicly addressed the sexual harassment they endured while working for the governor. After the first two women came forward, Cuomo responded to and denied the allegations on February 28, 2021. “To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to,” Cuomo said. He asked for an independent review to investigate the allegations. 

The allegations that sparked the investigation first became public in February when Lindsey Boylan published an article on Medium. In it, Boylan detailed the toxic workplace that Cuomo facilitated throughout her time working as the Chief of Staff at the New York State Economic Development Agency. “I’m compelled to tell my story because no woman should feel forced to hide their experiences of workplace intimidation, harassment and humiliation—not by the Governor or anyone else,” Boylan wrote. From the beginning of her time working with other senior staffers, she recalled hearing about inappropriate remarks the governor made about her physical appearance. 

Boylan recalled the first incidence of Cuomo establishing an inappropriate power relationship in 2016, when he invited her to his office alone during a holiday party. After Cuomo’s inappropriate actions and statements continued for two-years, Boylan was physically assaulted by the governor in 2018 when he kissed her on the lips as she was leaving a meeting she had with him.  

Charlotte Bennett, a former health policy adviser and executive assistant for the Cuomo administration, was the second woman to detail the sexual harassment she endured while working with the governor. Bennett worked with Governor Cuomo throughout 2020 and quit in November. The COVID-19 pandemic brought both national attention and loneliness to the governor, and Bennett stated in the interview that many of his verbal remarks mentioned his longing for romantic interactions.  

Bennett recalled in an interview with Norah O’Donell for CBS News that she told the governor about her work as an advocate for sexual assault reform and that she herself was a survivor of sexual violence. After disclosing this personal information, Bennett said that on May 15, 2020, Cuomo became “fixated” on her experience as a sexual assault survivor and repeatedly talked to her about it. She said she associated his behavior as one of an abuser who was trying to use a vulnerability to groom her to be more tolerant towards this type of behavior. 

Bennett said Cuomo’s inappropriate remarks came to a peak when the two were alone in his State Capital Office on June 5, 2020. He asked many questions about her sex life and her opinions about dating men older than her. This repeated sexual harassment led to Bennett reporting the inappropriate behavior and being transferred to a different position.  

Cuomo denied ever physically assaulting his coworkers but claimed that he would verbally tease them. “At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,” he said in an official statement, “I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.” Cuomo asked for an investigation into the allegations after the first two women came forward in February, which is currently underway.

Anna Ruch was the third woman to publicly discuss how inappropriately the governor had treated her. However, she did not work with the governor. At a wedding reception in 2019, Ruch briefly chatted with Cuomo before he touched her back without her permission. After she removed his hand from her back, he grabbed her face and asked to kiss her. Ruch’s shocked and uncomfortable reaction was captured by Ruch’s friend, who took a now-infamous picture of Cuomo grabbing Ruch’s face. 

Ana Liss worked as a policy and operations aide for the Cuomo administration from 2013 to 2015. During her employment, she said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that she had felt reduced to her physical appearance because of recurring comments made by the governor. Liss asked to transfer to a different office in 2014 following this repeated treatment.  

Karen Hinton, a consultant for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development when Cuomo was the Secretary, also recalled their previous toxic workplace relationship, and reported that Cuomo invited her to his hotel room. The two were not directly working together at the time, and Hinton assumed then-Secretary Cuomo wanted to catch up. Their conversation centered around her marriage and personal life. Hinton said in an interview with The Washington Post that when she got up to leave Cuomo longingly hugged her. The physical encounter translated as an intimidation tactic to Hinton.

A current aide has said that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by Governor Cuomo. The woman, who has chosen to remain unnamed, said that Cuomo groped her last year at his private residence while she was working as an aide to his campaign. 

Alyssa McGrath is the first current aide who has publicly come forward and accused the governor of sexual harassment. She and the unnamed aide spoke regularly about the mistreatment, McGrath stated in a New York Times article. During her three years of working with Cuomo, she recalls the governor creating an unprofessional work environment. Suggestive comments made by Cuomo on McGrath’s appearance and divorce were regular occurrences in the workplace.

Each story that these women have told shared a similar sense of fear that the governor instilled in them. Their allegations highlight how Cuomo took advantage of the inherent power imbalance between himself and his co-workers or subordinates. The women transferred or quit their jobs because of the governor’s actions, while he is still in the powerful position that facilitated this harassment. These accusations of a toxic workplace and sexual harassment have led many Democratic lawmakers to call for Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment. 

In response to these demands, Cuomo made it clear that he will not be resigning. “People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture, and the truth,” the governor remarked at the Albany State Assembly. The governor remarked that he plans to serve  as the governor that New York voted for, regardless of what his Democratic colleagues demand.

As a boss and leader, Cuomo sexually harassed many and created a toxic environment for women trying to thrive in their careers. He did agree to fully cooperate with the investigation, and the findings will be telling of the extent to which he fostered a destructive and abusive workplace.

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