NEW YORK — At least two more former aides of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have come forward with accusations of inappropriate behavior by the governor, as more staffers accused him of creating a hostile work environment, according to new reporting by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.
Ana Liss was a policy and operations aide in the Cuomo administration for two years. She first joined in 2013 as part of a fellowship and left in 2015, according to the Journal.
Earlier Saturday evening, the Washington Post dropped a story citing interviews with over 20 former Cuomo staffers alleging a toxic workplace, including an aide named Karen Hinton who said he “summoned her to his hotel room and embraced her twice – the second time after she had already pulled away – during an uncomfortable encounter when he led HUD & she was a PR consultant for the agency.” Cuomo served as HUD Secretary from 1997 to 2001.
Liss and Hinton are the third and fourth former aides to come forward alleging the governor inappropriately interacted with them. This includes former aide Lindsey Boylan and former health policy advisor Charlotte Bennett. Anna Ruch, who was not an aide to the governor, also came forward with accusations of inappropriate behavior.
In her interview with the Journal, Liss says the governor “asked her if she had a boyfriend, called her sweetheart, touched her on her lower back at a reception and once kissed her hand when she rose from her desk.”
The report notes that Liss originally believed her interactions with the governor were “harmless fun” and later found his actions patronizing.
“Ms. Liss and other current and former administration officials said the governor regularly asked them about their dating lives, touched them and commented about their physical appearance,” the report read. “Longtime staffers told some women they should wear high heels when the governor was in Albany, according to Ms. Liss and other former staffers. [senior adviser Rich] Azzopardi said no one was compelled to wear high heels.”
Liss keeps a framed photo of her and Gov. Cuomo from a May 6 reception at the Albany Executive Mansion where she described one of the governor’s alleged inappropriate interactions with her.
“She said the governor hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks and then wrapped his arm around her lower back and grabbed her waist. They turned to a photographer, who took a picture that shows Mr. Cuomo’s hand around her waist.”
WPIX’s affiliate station News 4 in Buffalo reached out to the governor’s office and received a statement from Senior Adviser Rich Azzopardi.
“Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years, watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures,” Azzopardi said. “At the public open house mansion reception, there are hundreds of people and he poses for hundreds of pictures. That’s what people in politics do.”
In a statement to PIX11 News, Peter Ajemian, Cuomo’s director of communications, denied Hinton’s account of her encounter with Cuomo in a hotel room.
“This did not happen,” he said. “Karen Hinton is a known antagonist of the governor’s who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made up allegations from 21 years ago. All women have the right to come forward and tell their story — however, it’s also the responsibility of the press to consider self-motivation. This is reckless.”
The Washington Post story also includes interviews with two male aides who worked for Cuomo in the New York governor’s office who say he routinely berated them with explicit language, as well as three women, all of whom worked in the governor’s office as young staffers in recent years, who say “Cuomo quizzed them about their dating lives. They say they did not view the encounters as propositions, but rather as part of an office culture they believed was degrading to young women.”
Azzopardi responded to the accusations of a hostile workplace in another statement sent to PIX11 News.
“The people of this state elected the governor to represent them four times during the last 14 years and they know he works day and night for them,” he said. “There is no secret these are tough jobs, and the work is demanding, but we have a top tier team with many employees who have been here for years, and many others who have left and returned. The governor is direct with employees if their work is sub-par because the people of New York deserve nothing short of excellence.”
Liss currently works as Director of Planning and Development for Monroe County. Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, a Democrat, released a statement Saturday night.
“Ana has shown tremendous strength in speaking about her experiences and the emotional trauma that resulted from her time working for the governor,” Bello said. “She is a valued member of my team since joining Monroe County over a year ago. I support Ana fully, as well as the other courageous women coming forward to share their stories.
These reports come after New York legislative leaders voted to modify Gov. Cuomo’s emergency executive COVID-19 powers Friday amid the ongoing investigations into whether his administration covered nursing home deaths, as well as these accusations of workplace harassment.