ALBANY, N.Y. (WROC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed sexual harassment allegations publicly for the first time during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing.
Three women have accused the governor of inappropriate behavior, two of the women worked for the state government at the time of the alleged harassment.
“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward and I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It wasn’t intentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it. And frankly I am embarrassed by it and that’s not easy to say, but that’s the truth.
“But this is what I want you to know, and I want you to know this from me directly,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I never touched anybody inappropriately. I never touched any inappropriately. I never knew at the time that I was making any feel uncomfortable. I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable and I certainly never ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do. I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts please before forming an opinion and the attorney general is doing that review and I will fully cooperate with it and then you will have the facts and make a decision when you know the facts.
Full statement from the governor:
“I also want you to know that I have learned from what have been an incredibly difficult situation for me, as well as other people and I’ve learned an important lesson,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it. And I will be the better for this experience.”
Despite calls from both sides of the aisle for his resignation, the governor said he is not going to step down.
“I’m not going to resign,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I work for the people of the state of New York. They elected me and I’m going to serve the people of the state of New York. And by the way, we have a full plate: We have COVID, we have rebuilding, we have rebuilding New York City, we have a terrible financial picture, we have vaccines. So no I’m going to do the job the people of New York state elected me to do.”
Though the governor insisted he never touched anyone inappropriately, he said his intent isn’t want matters.
“It doesn’t matter what my intent was,” Gov. Cuomo said. “What matters is if anybody was offended by it. And I could intend no offense, but if they were offended by it then it was wrong, and if they were offended by it I apologize, and if the were hurt by it, I apologize, and if they felt pain from it, I apologize. I did not intend it, I didn’t mean it that way, but if that’s how they felt, that’s all that matters and I apologize.”
The governor said he will continue to work on the budget and the ongoing legislative negotiations despite the investigation.
“I’m going to cooperate with the attorney general’s investigation and do the budget,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Remember we did a budget last year in the spring, in the heat of COVID where it was the most intense period of my life, of this government’s life, of this state’s life. We did both and we’ll do both here.”
Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the governor and one of the highest ranking females in the Cuomo administration echoed the sentiments of waiting until the investigation is complete until jumping to conclusions.
“I would just ask that everyone refrain from judgement until the attorney general’s investigation is complete,” DeRosa said. “I am incredibly proud of the work this administration has done to further women’s rights, to expand women’s protection in and out of the workplace, and I’m also proud that in my time as secretary we’ve seen more women rise. I don’t think that this diminishes any of that and I look forward to the work that we will continue to do.”
One of the women, Lindsey Boylan, said that during her more than three years in the Democrat’s administration, Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs,” compared her to one of his rumored ex-girlfriends and once remarked they should play strip poker.
Another woman, Charlotte Bennett, told The New York Times that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she had ever had sex with older men.
The third woman, Anna Ruch, says the governor placed a hand on her bare lower back at a 2019 wedding reception before grabbing her face and asking if he could kiss her.
Cuomo, 63, said Sunday he would cooperate with a sexual harassment investigation led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
In a statement released amid mounting criticism from within his own party, the governor said that he had never inappropriately touched or propositioned anyone, but he said he had teased people and made jokes about their personal lives in an attempt to be “playful.” He said he now understands that some of his interactions had been “insensitive or too personal.”
Democrats in New York and around the nation aren’t rallying to his side, leaving the governor increasingly isolated from traditional allies.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, said they wanted the attorney general to handle the investigation. Republican leaders had, for days, called on James to launch a probe. On Sunday, Republican state Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt called on Cuomo to resign, a sentiment Orrt reiterated at a Monday press conference.
Here’s what we know about Cuomo’s accusers:
Boylan, 36, is a former state economic development official and aide of Cuomo, and is currently running for Manhattan Borough President.
She worked for the Cuomo administration for over three years, and first leveled public accusations against the governor in a December tweet:
Boylan served as a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor. In December she made allegations in a post on the website Medium, more than two months after she first spoke up about alleged mistreatment by Cuomo.
Boylan said the kiss happened at the end of a one-on-one meeting with Cuomo at his New York City office.
“As I got up to leave and walk toward an open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips. I was in shock, but I kept walking,” she wrote. “The idea that someone might think I held my high-ranking position because of the Governor’s ‘crush’ on me was more demeaning than the kiss itself.”
Boyland said Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs,” compared her to one of his rumored ex-girlfriends and once remarked they should play strip poker.
Cuomo’s spokesperson Caitlin Girouard said last week that all Boylan’s “claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.”
Personnel memos written in 2018, obtained by the AP, indicate Boylan resigned after she was confronted about complaints she belittled and yelled at her staff. Boylan said those records “were leaked to the media in an effort to smear me.”
In her post, she offered a different reason for her departure, saying her relationship with Cuomo’s “senior team — mostly women — grew hostile after I started speaking up for myself. I was reprimanded and told to get in line by his top aides, but I could no longer ignore it.”
Boylan said Cuomo created a culture of pervasive sexual harassment, including making unflattering comments about female colleagues’ weight, ridiculing their romantic relationships and having roses delivered to them on Valentine’s Day.
She added that two other former Cuomo staffers privately told her that they two were sexually harassed by the governor, but Boylan did not identify them.
Bennett, 25, was a health policy adviser in the Democratic governor’s administration until November.
She told The New York Times that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she ever had sex with older men.
Cuomo said in a statement Saturday that Bennett was a “hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID” and that “she has every right to speak out.”
“I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate,” Cuomo’s statement said. “The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”
Bennett told the Times her most disturbing interaction with Cuomo happened June 5 when she was alone with him in his Albany office. She said Cuomo started asking her about her personal life, her thoughts on romantic relationships, including whether age was a factor, and said he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.
Bennett said she also dodged a question from Cuomo about hugging by saying she missed hugging her parents. She said Cuomo never touched her.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the Times. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Bennett said she informed Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, about the interaction less than a week later. She said she was transferred to another job on the opposite side of the Capitol. At the end of June she also gave a statement to a special counsel for Cuomo.
The governor’s special counsel, Beth Garvey acknowledged that the complaint had been made and that Bennett had been transferred as a result to a position in which she had already been interested.
Garvey said in a statement that Bennett’s allegations “did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct” and Bennett “was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.”
“The determination reached based on the information Ms. Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms. Bennett’s wishes,” Garvey said.
Bennett told the newspaper she decided not to push for any further action by the administration. She said she liked her new job and “wanted to move on.”
A statement from Bennett Monday:
“The Governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior. As we know, abusers – particularly those with tremendous amounts of power – are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences. It took the Governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice.
In a clear effort to perform a sensitivity that he simply does not possess, the Governor has implied that he wants his supporters to stand down and respect my decision to speak out. In coming forward I fully expected to be attacked by those who reflexively question the honesty or motivation of those who report sexual harassment. I am not deterred by these voices. Instead, I have focused on the overwhelming love and support I have received from friends and strangers alike. Thank you for holding space for me and lifting me up in what has been one of the most vulnerable moments of my life.
Coming forward was an excruciating decision. I decided to share my story because I had faith that I would be supported and believed. This is often not the case. Sharing my experience was only possible because of past survivors who stood up and told their stories. I hope that my story helps other survivors feel like they can stand in their truth.
To survivors reading this: I believe you. I see you. I hear you. Your story is valid, your pain is real and your anger is justified. I am sending you my love, support and solidarity. You are carrying an unbelievable burden — one that takes time and energy to untangle. Each journey, including my own, is a long and winding one. No two are the same. That said, I believe we can empower each other. For anyone who needs to hear this, know I am holding space for you, too.
“To the Governor’s survivors: I am here. Lindsey is here. You do not have to say a single word. But if you choose to speak your truth, we will be standing with you. I promise.”
Boylan said in Twitter postings Saturday night that she was proud of Bennett and alleged Cuomo “tried to destroy many, including me, in the press.”
“You are not going to derail or destroy any more lives,” she tweeted.
Ruch, 33, offered her account of the governor’s inappropriate behavior in a report with The New York Times Monday.
Ruch, a former member of the Obama administration and the 2020 Biden campaign according to The Times, claims she met the governor at a September 2019 wedding reception.
She says Cuomo placed his hand on her bare lower back, and when she removed his hand with hers, remarked that she seemed “aggressive” and put his hands on her cheeks and asked if he could kiss her.
“You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people: Women, men, children, etc.,” Gov. Cuomo said Wednesday. “You can go find hundreds of pictures — kissing people; men, women it is my usually and customary way of greeting, you know that because you’ve watched me for more years. By the way, it was y father’s way of greeting people.”
The New York Attorney General’s office confirmed they saw Anna Ruch’s account in the New York Times Monday night and officials will decide whether to incorporate it into the just-launched investigation into the governor’s conduct. Ruch’s account is distinct from the prior two in that she did not work for Cuomo.
Both Boylan and Bennett tweeted support for Ruch Monday night: