After an ascendant 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is having a terrible 2021

After an ascendant 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is having a terrible 2021
Source: Seth Wenig, Reuters
As members of his party call for his resignation, it’s looking increasingly like Cuomo’s political aspirations beyond New York are eroding.

On Wednesday, February 24, Lindsey Boylan, a former aide of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, published a lengthy piece in which she accused Cuomo of “pervasive harassment” and repeated sexual advances during her time working in his office. As it turned out, Boylan was just the tip of the iceberg.

Three days later, The New York Times published the account of Charlotte Bennett, another former Cuomo aide who’s accused the governor of sexual harassment and making inappropriate sexual overtures. It took only two more days for a new accusation to come out, this one from Anna Ruch, a woman who encountered Cuomo at a wedding in New York City in 2019.

The recent bad press is an abrupt change for Cuomo, who spent much of 2020 receiving positive news coverage for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even that narrative has begun to crumble following a report by New York Attorney General Letitia James in early February that found the state had underreported nursing home deaths related to the virus.

Just last year, it appeared Cuomo, who is a Democrat, was set to ride his strong polling to the national political stage. Now, though, members of his own party have begun calling for his resignation and it’s looking increasingly like Cuomo’s political aspirations beyond New York are eroding.

First sexual harassment accusation

In a Medium piece entitled, “My story of working with Governor Cuomo,” Boylan, who is currently a candidate for Manhattan Borough President, outlined her experience working with Cuomo, who has been governor of New York since 2011. As Boylan explains in her piece, this is not the first time she has tried to share her story.

“In a few tweets [last December],” Boylan wrote, “I told the world what a few close friends, family members and my therapist had known for years: Andrew Cuomo abused his power as Governor to sexually harass me, just as he had done with so many other women.”

Boylan alleges in her piece that she has heard from other women who have had similar experiences with the governor.

Boylan came into Cuomo’s orbit when she became chief of staff at the Empire State Development agency. She describes being told by her boss that Cuomo had a crush on her and that she resembled a “better looking” version of one of his rumored ex-girlfriends.

Boylan alleges that Cuomo “[went] out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.” She also described being summoned to a private meeting with him, at which she felt uncomfortable, and being subjected to “his inappropriate gestures” despite her being married.

Boylan says Cuomo’s actions were “not-so-subtle reminders of the Governor exploiting the power dynamic with the women around him.” She also claims they were not limited to just her.

“The Governor’s pervasive harassment extended beyond just me. He made unflattering comments about the weight of female colleagues. He ridiculed them about their romantic relationships and significant others. He said the reasons that men get women were ‘money and power.’”

The harassment culminated with Cuomo kissing Boylan at a meeting without her permission. In September 2018, she resigned.

More accusations against Governor Cuomo

After Boylan published her piece, Cuomo denied the accusations with a statement from his press secretary describing them as “quite simply false.” However, within less than a week, two more sexual harassment accusations had surfaced.

On February 27, The New York Times published Charlotte Bennett’s account of working with Cuomo, which echoed many aspects of Boylan’s account, although, as she told the Times, the governor never tried to touch her.

Still, Bennett claims, he made it clear he wanted to sleep with her and asked her inappropriate personal questions about her sex life. Bennett was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in Cuomo’s administration.

Cuomo responded to the Times reporting by denying that he had ever acted inappropriately with Bennett. However, on March 1, The New York Times published another woman’s account of being harassed by Cuomo.

This woman, Anna Ruch, was not an aide to the governor. Instead, Ruch was a guest at a wedding at which Cuomo was also in attendance. She says Cuomo put his hands on her and asked to kiss her, though they had only just met. He attempted to kiss her, but she pulled away. A photo taken at the wedding and published in the Times article shows Cuomo with both his hands around Ruch’s neck.

Cuomo initially said he would ask for an independent review. However, his pick of a judge with ties to him to lead that investigation was immediately criticized, including by Democrats like New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cuomo has since given New York AG James the authority to pick the investigator.

With backlash increasing, Cuomo released another statement in which he acknowledged “some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”

The New York nursing home scandal

On January 30, a report from the New York AG’s office found “A larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than [Department of Health] data reflected.” The report’s findings raised the official number of deaths in state nursing homes from 8,500 to 15,000.

Additionally, the report found, “Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.”

Last year, critics of Cuomo, including Michael Caputo, former assistant secretary of public affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services, were critical of Cuomo’s response to the pandemic and blamed him for high nursing home deaths in the state.

Elsewhere, though, Cuomo was praised for his response and received his highest approval ratings of his time in office. The governor even published a book in October entitled, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.” While the book received good reviews and became a New York Times Bestseller, some news outlets noted the book did not acknowledge any missteps.

Now, those missteps are getting considerably more attention. Cuomo’s administration is currently facing a federal investigation into the nursing home deaths. The governor has denied that his administration intentionally covered up the nursing home death numbers, instead calling it a mistake, but that excuse doesn’t appear to be sitting well with critics, including members of his own party.

Following the last week of sexual harassment scandals, multiple members of the Democratic Party have called for Cuomo to step down as governor. That includes New York Representative Kathleen Rice, New York Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi.

On March 1, Cuomo’s brother, Chris Cuomo, who is a prime-time host on CNN, announced on his show that he would not be covering the story, but that others on the network would. Last year, both CCN and the host were criticized for interviews between the two brothers that featured viral-ready clips of brotherly rivalry but failed to press the governor on his administration’s failings.

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