[guest post by JVW]
Emmy-award winning governor Andrew Cuomo of New York seems to be dying a death of one thousand cuts (oh, there I go again mixing up metaphors from what I used in the title) as more allegations of sexual harassment and bullying begin to emerge. Five days ago, former Cuomo aide Lindsay Boylan published a Medium post adding details to a series of Tweets that she first Tweeted out in December, directly accusing the governor of objectifying her, inappropriately placing his hands on her, and making crude suggestions and innuendo, including one that he probably learned from his former boss. Ms. Boylan relates the story of being summoned alone into the governor’s office one evening:
I was escorted into the Governor’s office, past the desks of administrative assistants and into a room with a large table and historical artifacts. The door closed behind me. It was my first time in his Albany office. The Governor entered the room from another door. We were alone.
As he showed me around, I tried to maintain my distance. He paused at one point and smirked as he showed off a cigar box. He told me that President Clinton had given it to him while he served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The two-decade old reference to President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was not lost on me.
Class act that guy is. According to Ms. Boylan, this behavior culminated in the governor giving her an unwanted kiss on the lips one day in 2018. Ms. Boylan would resign from her post that September. After she Tweeted about his behavior in December, Ms. Boylan says that two other female former Cuomo staffers contacted her to relate similar experiences.
And perhaps one of them was Charlotte Bennett, who last week accused the governor of prying into her romantic life, informing her that he was open to the idea of dating women in their 20s (Ms. Bennett is 25, the same age as one of the governor’s daughters; Gov. Cuomo is 63), and generally leaving her with the impression that he longed for a bit of the ol’ hey-hey with her. Though the governor apparently at no point made physical contact with Ms. Bennett (all of this took place this past spring, as coronavirus was ravaging the Empire State), he did speak to her about his loneliness since his last relationship ended in 2019 and expressed the desire to be able to hug somebody, with Ms. Bennett understanding that she was expected to volunteer for the role (instead, she parried his clumsy advance). He also, according to Ms. Bennett, fixated upon the fact that she was a past sexual assault victim in a way which made her uncomfortable.
And just today came yet another accusation from an attractive young woman, though this time it is a member of the media rather than an ex-staffer, this time it is an allegation lodged against the Cuomo team as a whole rather than against the governor personally, and this time it pertains to bullying — an practice in which the governor and his administration have a long and ignoble history — rather than sexual harassment. Here is her story via Twitter:
I have something to say today. pic.twitter.com/qz0EkC5cD5
— Lindsay Nielsen (@Lindsayon10) February 28, 2021
Sure, it’s not nearly as aggravating as the behavior to which Ms. Boylan and Ms. Bennett were subjected, but it does give us a pretty decent insight into the mindset that permeates the Cuomo Administration, and this, in my opinion, makes it far easier to view the allegations from the other two women as being highly probable.
The governor seems to understand that this problem isn’t going away (and we have thus far made no mention of the avalanche of bad publicity that is finally catching up with his wrongheaded and dishonest handing of the COVID situation this past spring), and is taking tentative steps to repair his image. While continuing to deny inappropriate physical contact with his two accusers, he does concede that his remarks are sometimes “insensitive and too personal” and that they are easily misconstrued “in ways I never intended.” He officially apologized to the women, while still insisting that his remarks have been “misinterpreted.”
But it may be too late. Republicans understandably mostly loathe the governor and have no real interest in throwing him a lifeline, and there are a number of ambitious Democrats in New York who would love to see Andrew Cuomo take early retirement so that the corner office in Albany is in play two years from how. State Attorney General Letitia James, who is already needling the governor on the COVID situation, has opened an investigation into the women’s allegations. Mayor Bill de Blasio, happy that there is at last another New York politician (and one with whom he has had a frosty relationship) who is the focus of New Yorkers’ ire, is gleefully twisting the knife. Even a nominal ally like Hillary Clinton is beginning to distance herself from the guy, though it could be that Mrs./Sen./Sec. Clinton took special umbrage over the governor’s alleged reference to her husband, cigars, and staffers. Keeping in character, Kirsten Gillibrand tried to dodge the issue last Thursday by claiming that she hadn’t yet had a chance to read Ms. Boylan’s essay, but earlier today joined with her Senate colleague Chuck Schumer (now, amazingly, the least detestable Democrat politician in New York) in calling for “an impartial investigation” (politician-speak for “it’s OK if you find him guilty”).
Since I am so good at making completely wrong predictions, here’s one: This all ends not with Cuomo resigning from office, but with an announcement that he won’t be running for reelection in 2022 and that he wants to spend his last two years in office leading New York back from the wreckage wrought by the pandemic. In return, Attorney General James’s investigation will determine that the governor is guilty of being too jocular and insensitive with staff, but she will make no determination as to whether Ms. Boyland’s allegation of physical contact is credible. The former governor can then join his brother for a nightly three-hour news/opinion/comedy/dance/debate program on CNN called “Sonny and Fredo: Real New Yorkers.”
Andrew Cuomo, like Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, and others, remind us the folly of investing too much faith in any particular politician to always conduct him or herself with discretion and dignity. I won’t be sorry to see him go, but also won’t be surprised if what ends up replacing him is in so many ways worse.
UPDATE – From nk comes this report in the New York Times about Cuomo behaving boorishly to a guest at a wedding the governor attended. It includes a picture which partially corroborates the wedding guest’s allegations that Cuomo touched her bare back, placed both hands on her cheeks, and asked her for a kiss.