The conclusion of the pandemic’s first year has ushered in a new and far less rosy chapter for Andrew Cuomo — the New York Governor who, just months ago, was lauded as a champion for his handling of the state’s coronavirus pandemic and landed a sparkling book deal with leadership advice on the subject.
In just one week, the Democratic governor has faced multiple allegations of inappropriate conduct and workplace sexual harassment, including accusations from two former aides.
Lindsey Boylan who served in the state’s economic development agency and served in Cuomo’s administration from 2015 until 2018, published an essay detailing a series of disturbing interactions with the governor. The allegations included an instance when she said Cuomo suggested they “play strip poker,” and that had once allegedly kissed her on the lips without her consent.
Cuomo has denied those allegations.
Charlotte Bennett, another former aide, detailed a series of uncomfortable encounters with her former boss to The New York Times, including alleged overtures for a sexual relationship while alone in his state Capitol office last June.
A third woman, who does not share work history with Cuomo, alleged unsolicited touching at a wedding in 2019.
Cuomo, for his part, has spent much of the week trying to distance his actions from some of the more egregious types of behavior that have cast a shadow in the wake of the MeToo movement. Cuomo maintained during his first public briefing since the two additional women came forward that he had never “touched anyone inappropriately.”
“The governor’s press conference was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information, and New Yorkers deserve better,” Bennett’s harassment lawyer, Debra Katz, told the Times.
In a CBS News interview Thursday evening, Bennett said that she perceived the governor’s alleged sexual overtures as indication that he saw himself as “untouchable.”
Cuomo’s dominant presence in New York politics, and the accusations of a third-term governor wielding power for self-interested ends and being beyond the grasp of accountability comes as the New York legislature moved to strip Cuomo of the emergency pandemic powers this week.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) last month said it was time to restore “checks and balances” for the governor, who had enjoyed additional emergency powers to drive a quick pandemic response since last spring. The move gets ahead of the expiration of the powers set for April 30.
Stewart-Cousins had also separately weighed in on New York Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations, saying during a CNN interview this week: “If the investigation shows that something inappropriate did happen, I think he would have to resign.”
She elaborated on those comments in a Thursday interview with local network Spectrum News when asked at what point the governor would lose her support: “Any further people coming forward, I would think it would be time for him to resign.”
Cuomo on Wednesday expressed contrition, saying he was both “embarrassed” and had “learned an important lesson.”
“I do not believe that I have ever done anything in my public career that I am ashamed of,” he said, adding that he felt “badly” his words had caused discomfort.
But even after Cuomo rebuffed calls for his resignation, he was further battered by another report that landed late Thursday.
The Times revealed an effort by some of the governor’s senior aides to rewrite a report on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, likely as part of a broader effort to preserve the image of the long-serving governor, whose missteps amid the pandemic have increasingly come under scrutiny.
A final version of the report concealed a staggering number of nursing home deaths occurring until June, as the Cuomo administration publicly cited a figure that was roughly 50 percent lower than the one identified by state health department officials.
While Cuomo has previously attributed efforts to withhold true accounting of the total death toll of nursing home residents to concerns that the Trump administration would launch a politically-motivated inquiry, the Times’ report shows evidence of the masking effort far before the arrival of federal requests for the data.
Cuomo will face a separate investigation overseen by the state attorney general regarding nursing home deaths.