Column: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is definitely icky. But should he resign?
What is there to say about the awful behavior of a man like Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that has not been said a million times already?
Nothing and everything.
Just as every snowflake is unique, and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, every boorish man with power leaves his own despicable trail of harassment.
In this, Cuomo seems to have succeeded on multiple fronts; not only is he a widely disliked political bully, he is also, if recent reports are accurate, a creeper who specializes in inappropriate remarks to young women.
Cuomo’s reputation as the no-nonsense governor who responded firmly early on in the pandemic made him a hero. But that seems to have been a case of premature adulation.
Since then, he’s been accused of seriously underreporting the number of New York COVID-19-related nursing home deaths, and — worse — of implementing a brief, disastrous policy that sent thousands of infected patients back to their nursing homes, where they likely infected many others.
As for his interpersonal skills, last month he was accused of threatening to “destroy” Democratic state Assemblyman Ron Kim for calling on Cuomo to apologize to families who had lost loved ones to COVID-19 in nursing homes. Cuomo denies he made such a threat. But Kim has not relented and has since accused Cuomo of criminally mishandling nursing home patients.
All that would be bad enough.
But now, three women have stepped forward to say that Cuomo sexually harassed them.
Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo aide who is running for Manhattan borough president, told the New York Times that she was informed in January 2016 by her boss that Cuomo “had a crush” on her. Last week, in a post on Medium, she wrote that she was told she looked like his former girlfriend, and the governor began calling her by the girlfriend’s name, Lisa. “It was degrading,” wrote Boylan.
In December 2016, she wrote, Cuomo summoned her to his office in the state Capitol in Albany, where he showed her a cigar box given to him by former President Clinton. “The two-decade-old reference to President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was not lost on me,” Boylan wrote.
In October 2017, as she sat with her knees nearly touching his on his government jet, she says he said, “Let’s play strip poker.” He denies it. Maybe he was making an ill-advised joke about their proximity, but saying such a thing is a form of sexual harassment.
She resigned in September 2018, after Cuomo kissed her on the lips as she was leaving his office, she says.
Another former Cuomo aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo asked embarrassing questions about her sex life last spring, including whether she had ever been with an older man. He also told her, according to the New York Times, he was open to a relationship with a woman in her 20s. Cuomo is 63; Bennett is 25.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me,” said Bennett, who was transferred to a new job away from Cuomo’s office after she reported the harassment last June to Cuomo’s chief of staff.
A third young woman, a veteran of the Obama White House, Anna Ruch, said the governor — whom she had never before met — put his hand on her bare back at a wedding in September 2019. When she removed his hand, she says, he told her she was being “aggressive,” then cupped her face with his hands and asked if he could kiss her.
“I didn’t have a choice in his physical dominance over me at that moment,” Ruch told the New York Times. “And that’s what infuriates me. And even with what I could do, removing his hand from my lower back, even doing that was not clear enough.” Her account is corroborated by a photo of the moment Cuomo held her face. He looks like a carnivore about to swoop down on his prey; she looks properly alarmed.
“I think every woman in America — so many of us — have been triggered by the photo in a way that was deeply uncomfortable,” New York Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas told the Wall Street Journal.
Her voice has joined a growing chorus of the state’s Democrats demanding that Cuomo resign.
Should he? I don’t think so, but he could do a hell of a lot better than he did on Saturday, when he issued a mealy-mouthed non-apology, and a denial that he’d inappropriately touched anyone, a claim belied by the photo of him clutching Ruch’s face.
“I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation,” Cuomo said in his written statement. “To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
At the height of 2017’s MeToo revelations, Democratic Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was accused of far less egregious behavior that dated back to his career as a comedian. He was forced to resign, something Franken and many Democrats have come to regret. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the first senator to call for Franken to resign, has been notably wishy-washy about Cuomo, her fellow New Yorker, insisting that various investigations take their course. Maybe she has come to regret her haste in the Franken case, but she’s also been notably silent about Cuomo’s accusers, who deserve her explicit support.
There was a time when Cuomo’s brand of intimidation and abuse was chalked up to the price of working for a powerful man, or, say, bumping into one at a social event like a wedding.
Younger women were expected to feel grateful, or excited by, the attention of a Mr. Big. And the Mr. Bigs almost certainly felt they were bestowing something of value on a subordinate.
I’m glad to say, those days are over, as Cuomo is belatedly discovering.
“The American people are smart, and they are paying attention,” he wrote in his new memoir, “American Crisis.” “Even if there isn’t legal accountability, there will be political accountability on Election day.”
Of course, he was talking about Donald Trump’s eventual comeuppance at the ballot box, but he just as easily could have been talking about himself.
Cuomo has announced he will seek a fourth term next year. Let the voters decide if he is fit to remain in office.
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