Pandemic and harassment
Cuomo was already facing a serious political crisis due to the concealment of deaths in nursing homes during the pandemic. That issue, already under investigation by the courts, shattered the image of leadership and good management of the crisis that he achieved last year and put him in the target not only of Republican politicians but also of some of the members of his party. Efforts to withdraw the emergency powers with which he has exercised almost total control of the response to the pandemic were intensified and the first calls for his resignation or impeachment appeared.
A veteran and experienced politician, Cuomo was weathering that crisis, although in recent days he served to expose his aggressive style, in which many have denounced fear and intimidation as tools. But what is consuming his political capital at breakneck speed are accusations of harassment, which not only portray a pattern of behaviour but also collide with his history of actions and public statements against sexual harassment.
Last week one of her former government employees, Lindsay Boylan, gave details in an online post of bullying incidents she had previously discussed in generic terms. These began in 2016 and included an unwanted kiss on the lips and a suggestion to play strip poker.
On Saturday, Charlotte Bennett, another former Albany government employee, joined the charges. In interviews with The New York Times,’ the young woman described conflicting interactions with the governor last spring, of which she spoke with superiors and that motivated her to change her position in the government before leaving it definitively last November. He, for example, asked her about her personal life, including whether she was monogamous, whether she had slept with older men, or what she thought about the age difference in relationships (she is 25 and he is 63). Bennett, who is a survivor of a sexual assault, has also annoyed how the governor seemed obsessed with that part of his life.
Maybe An Apology
Although Cuomo initially responded to Bennett’s disclosures with a statement denying anything inappropriate on Sunday, with the scandal simmering, he issued a longer statement. “I understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in a way that I never intended,” he wrote. He also insisted that he never touched anyone inappropriately and never made any propositions and apologized for comments that he said:
were misinterpreted as unwanted flirting
At work sometimes I think I’m being a joker and I make jokes that I think are funny, sometimes I joke with people in what I think is a folksy way,
he also wrote.
Nobody seems to laugh.
Cuomo also announced that he would seek an “external and independent” investigation, but the one he planted was widely rejected. He first proposed that it be run by a former federal judge (with whom he had ties). He then suggested that it be shared by the state attorney general, Democrat Letitia James, and the chief justice of the state, but James refused because he would have had limited powers. And Cuomo had to end up giving in and on Monday he granted full authority to the Democrat, who already took the colours out of her in January with a revelation about the deaths of the elderly in nursing homes and who, to avoid shadows of politicization, is going to commission the investigations to an out-of-government law firm.
It was also on Monday that the third complaint also appeared in the Times, this one from a woman who was not part of the government. It was made by Anna Ruch, a 33-year-old woman who coincided in 2019 at a wedding with Cuomo, who touched his bareback, called him “aggressive” when she removed his hand and then grabbed his face (as shown in the photo published by the Times) and asked to kiss her.
Rising Unwanted National attention
At the local level, calls for Cuomo to resign or to support impeachment have skyrocketed. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who maintains a tense and explosive relationship with the governor, said on CNN on Monday that
if the accusations are proven, he cannot govern.
At the national level, Cuomo puts the Democratic Party in a bind, which was scalded by the case of former Senator Al Franken (who was forced to leave the seat due to accusations that later in many cases lost credibility) but has also tried to be a voice of supporting women in the #MeToo movement or during Supreme Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation.