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The Damning Details of Andrew Cuomo’s Behavior

A report issued by the state attorney general’s office finds that New York’s governor repeatedly touched women and created a culture of retribution.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
(Don Pollard/TNS)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo made unwanted advances against multiple New York state employees, creating a “toxic” working environment for women, according to a report issued by outside attorneys deputized by state Attorney General Letitia James.

The 168-page report, released Tuesday, includes unsparing detail of numerous instances when the Democratic governor touched or made suggestive remarks to women, both members of his staff and others, including a doctor who administered a coronavirus test for the governor during a televised event.

“I mean it was — he was like cupping my breast,” according to testimony from a woman identified as State Entity Employee #1. “He cupped my breast. I have to tell you it was — at the moment I was in such shock.”

A majority of New York legislators called on Cuomo to resign after harassment allegations against him surfaced this past winter. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins reiterated her call for Cuomo to step down on Tuesday. “Now that the investigation is complete and the allegations have been substantiated, it should be clear to everyone that he can no longer serve as governor,” she said in a statement.

Cuomo, now in his third term as governor, clearly has no intention of surrendering power willingly. He said he would soon release a document refuting the report’s findings. “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” he said Tuesday.

The question, then, is whether the Legislature will impeach him. The state Assembly has been running its own investigation, looking not only into the harassment allegations but Cuomo’s handling of nursing home deaths during the pandemic; construction problems with a bridge named after his father; and his possible use of state resources in preparing a book for which he received $5 million.

Last week, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie urged patience, suggesting that the report from the attorney general’s office, whatever its findings, would not necessarily be enough to trigger impeachment. Following its release, Heastie said, “The conduct by the governor outlined in this report would indicate someone who is not fit for office.”

“Stick a fork in him, he’s done,” says Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College.

Multiple Instances of Harassment

Investigators reportedly interviewed Cuomo for 11 hours on July 17. In the report, they say that his denials were not credible and that his behavior was in fact unlawful. James, the attorney general, said she will not be filing criminal charges.

When the allegations first emerged, Cuomo expressed contrition, insisting that he was only old-fashioned in using terms such as “honey” and never intended any harm. Having weathered the initial storm, Cuomo has become more combative in recent months.

“Harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said in May. “If I make someone feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment. That is you feeling uncomfortable.”

The report includes allegations that Cuomo has grabbed an assistant under her blouse; rubbed his hand along the stomach and back of a state trooper; and told a young aide he was “lonely and wanted to be touched,” among other unwanted advances and suggestive remarks. The investigators found such testimony to be credible, often corroborated by texts, audio recordings and contemporaneous reporting to friends or coworkers.

But as a legal matter, harassment is not limited to groping or lewd comments. It has more to do with sexism than sex, notes Vicki Schultz, a Yale law professor.

“Yes, the governor sexually harassed New York state employees, and other women, by physically touching them, and making repeated sexually suggestive and other gender-based comments, that were unwelcome and focused attention on the women’s sexuality, appearance and gender, when they wanted the focus to be on their ability and their jobs,” Schultz says. “But the work environment was also rife with larger patterns of bullying and abuse, in which the governor constantly yelled at, ridiculed, ignored, shunned or otherwise punished employees with whom he was displeased.”

Cuomo’s accusers, some but not all remaining anonymous, indeed made it clear that the governor had not only hit on them but demeaned them.

“I felt deflated and I felt disrespected and I felt much like smaller and almost younger than I actually am because kind of the funny part of it all is I was making this project happen,” said State Entity Employee #1, referring to the event at which the governor allegedly cupped her breast. “So we were there because, you know, the work that I had been doing and have continued to do… so it was just very, yeah, a moment of like, disempowerment.”

A Hostile Work Environment

The women working for Cuomo said they were fearful about reporting his behavior.

“As Trooper #1 noted, she knew – as did many other Troopers we interviewed – of ‘horror stories about people getting kicked off the detail or transferred over like little things’ that upset the governor,” the report states. “As she put it, ‘Everyone knows he’s very vindictive.’”

Women were not only afraid of losing what some considered their “dream jobs,” but faced retribution.

“The response from the governor’s office was not to investigate and address allegations or to adopt workplace reforms or to make any victims whole,” Schultz says. “Instead, as the report makes clear, the governor’s office either ignored the allegations, sought to discredit, transfer, or discourage the victims, or even actively retaliated against them.”

Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development official, was the first woman to go public with accusations against Cuomo. In response, top aides to the governor and outside advisers repeatedly characterized Boylan as “crazy” and released confidential and privileged files about her. They justified those actions by saying they were a necessary corrective to her complaints.

“However, the confidential internal documents were released to reporters only after Ms. Boylan made allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, and we do not find credible the claim that they were released only to rebut other statements Ms. Boylan had made days earlier about the manner in which she departed the Executive Chamber,” the report states.

On Tuesday, Boylan issued a series of tweets declaring that Cuomo’s attacks were not limited to women, stating that he had forced Bob Duffy to step down as lieutenant governor and had belittled Congressman Joe Morelle.

The report raises questions about whether Cuomo can be trusted to run his own office, let alone the entire state, suggests Michael Hendrix, director of state and local policy at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank (and occasional Governing contributor).

“You don’t have to read all 168 pages of the attorney general’s report to see words like ‘toxic,’ ‘vindictive,’ and ‘abusive’ appear over and over again in describing Gov. Cuomo and the culture of fear in his office,” Hendrix says. “The question now is whether Andrew Cuomo is politically among the walking dead.”

Hendrix notes that Cuomo has pulled off Houdini-like political escapes before. It appears increasingly unlikely he’ll be able to do so again.
Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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