ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, one of America’s most prominent governors, is facing one of the most serious challenges of his decade in office following claims he sexually harassed, or was inappropriate with, at least six women — including four who worked for him in state government.
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.
The fourth accuser, Ana 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 fifth accuser, Karen Hinton, says Cuomo hugged her in an “inappropriate” and “unethical” embrace in a California hotel room 21 years ago.
The sixth accuser’s identity is being withheld at this time, but she is reportedly a member of the governor’s executive chamber staff.
Cuomo, 63, said 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:
Liss, 35, was a policy and operations aide in the Cuomo administration for two years who first joined in 2013 as part of a fellowship and left in 2015, according to the WSJ, She was the third former Cuomo aide to come forward with accusations of inappropriate workplace behavior by the governor.
Liss said 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 she originally believed her interactions with the governor were “harmless fun” and later found his actions patronizing.
Liss told the WSJ that the governor regularly asked her and other administration officials about their dating lives, touched them, commented about their physical appearance, and added that longtime staffers told some women they should wear high heels when the governor was in Albany.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said no one was compelled to wear high heels.
Liss keeps a framed photo of her and Governor Cuomo from a May 6 reception at the Albany Executive Mansion where she described one of the governor’s alleged inappropriate interactions with her, according to WSJ.
“She said the governor hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks and then wrapped his arm around her lower back and grabbed her waist,” the WSJ report said. “They turned to a photographer, who took a picture that shows Mr. Cuomo’s hand around her waist.”
“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.”
Liss works for Monroe County as the director of planning and development, the County Executive Adam Bello says she’s shown “tremendous strength” in coming forward. Bello said in a Saturday statement:
“Ana has shown tremendous strength in speaking about her experiences and the emotional trauma that resulted from her time working for the Governor. 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.
Sexual harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and degrading or abusive behavior can never be tolerated, whether in the workplace or anywhere else. The tone for workplace culture is set at the top, and it is the responsibility of any leader to build a culture of respect and dignity for all persons, where all employees feel safe and know they are valued. We owe it to each of the women who have shared their experience to fully investigate their claims, and to expedite the investigation. The people of New York deserve nothing less.”
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.”
In a statement to our sister station 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 Post report also includes 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 those accusations in another statement sent to our sister station 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.”
These reports come after New York legislative leaders voted to modify Gov. Cuomo’s emergency COVID-19 powers Friday amid the ongoing investigations into whether his administration covered nursing home deaths, as well as multiple sexual harassment allegations.
The 6th woman
A sixth person came forward accusing the governor of inappropriate conduct. Her identity is being withheld at this time, but she is reportedly a member of the governor’s executive chamber staff.
According to reports, the governor’s office learned about the sixth woman’s allegation over the weekend, and it was sent to the investigators appointed by the attorney general.
According to reports, the woman told a supervisor that Cuomo inappropriately touched her while she was at the governor’s mansion for work.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.