New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is refusing to step down after three women made sexual harassment claims about him in the past month. He publicly apologized Wednesday, March 3 in his first public appearance since the scandal started, saying he was “embarrassed” by his actions, but that he did not touch anyone inappropriately. He asked New Yorkers and fellow Democrats to wait until the investigation from New York Attorney General Letitia James was complete before “forming an opinion.”
Most Democratic Party leaders in the state, including state senators, are taking a similar “wait and see” approach. However, a growing number of Democrats are also asking him to step down, including U.S. representative for a Long Island district and former Nassau County District Attorney, Kathleen Rice, who tweeted Monday that “the governor must resign.” Protesters outside of Cuomo’s New York City office also called for his resignation.
In a CBS News segment, New York State Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs urged people to wait until the results of the investigation were known, saying “I think overwhelmingly there’s a sense that we should be fair about this. We don’t want to look back at it sometime in the distant future and think that maybe we rushed this.”
The first woman to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment in recent weeks was Lindsey Boylan, who worked as an aide from 2015–2019. She published an essay on Feb. 24 detailing several interactions with Cuomo, including one where he suggested they play strip poker. He also allegedly gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips during a one-on-one meeting they had in 2018. In December 2020, she had outlined some of her experiences in a series of tweets, saying “this was the way for years.”
The governor has denied these claims.
Another woman accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment is 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, a former aide who said in an interview with The New York Times that Cuomo asked her about her sex life in a private meeting in June 2020. He reportedly asked whether she was monogamous and if she’d slept with older men. She reported the incident to Cuomo’s chief of staff. Bennett was later transferred to another position with an office that was “on the opposite side of the Capitol.”
A photo of Cuomo with another young woman, Anna Ruch, at a 2019 wedding has also surfaced. Ruch claims he touched her bare lower back and kissed her on the cheek without permission. In his address, Cuomo said there are hundreds of photos of him kissing men and women, saying it is a “customary way of greeting” people.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people uncomfortable. It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it,” Cuomo said.
These allegations are not the only incriminating claims Cuomo is facing right now. Cuomo was initially hailed for his leadership in the earlier months of the pandemic, but his reputation has been tainted after allegations surfaced that his administration withheld data on the alarming number of nursing home deaths to cover up the full extent of COVID-19’s severity. During a private meeting with state lawmakers in February 2021, Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide, said the administration withheld the data over fears that Trump’s Justice Department would use it against him at the time.
This semi-admission led the federal prosecutors and the FBI to open an investigation. Now, Democrats in New York are seeking to strip Cuomo of his COVID-19 emergency powers, meaning he would have to consult with the legislature before making any decisions related to the pandemic.
In regard to the sexual harassment investigation, Attorney General James, a Democrat, will likely hire an outside firm to open a civil investigation into the sexual harassment allegations. The investigation will likely leave room for other claims and, if they emerge, investigators will be able to subpoena office records, text messages, emails and witnesses to testify — including Cuomo himself.
Bennett’s lawyer, Debra S. Katz, told The New York Times that she expects the report will find Cuomo’s administration failed to act on Bennett’s allegations, which is against the law. She has also asked anyone else who may have experienced sexual harassment from Cuomo to step up.
In an interview with CBS News, Katz asserted the severity of the allegations.
“This is far more significant than ‘the governor is embarrassed.’ He engaged in unlawful sexual harassment and he needs to acknowledge that,” Katz said.