TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s string of scandals in 2021 continued over the weekend, as a second woman accused the New York leader of sexually harassing her while she worked with him in Albany, drawing outcries from national, regional and local elected officials. The matter is being officially passed to New York Attorney General Tish James for an investigation.
The new scandal comes just as the furor over Cuomo’s approach to COVID-19 in New York’s nursing homes began to die down, though the situation is now under federal investigation. That scandal led to another, in which a New York State Assembly member said that Cuomo had threatened to “destroy” him over the Assemblyman’s nursing home criticism.
Then last week, Lindsey Boylan, the former Chief of Staff at New York’s economic development agency Empire State Development, accused Cuomo of making inappropriate comments towards her and even kissing her against her will once. Cuomo denied the accusation, but it was followed by another from a woman named Charlotte Bennett, who told the New York Times that Cuomo had asked her inappropriate questions about her personal life and romantic relationships. Bennett said that the conversation made it clear to her that Cuomo “wanted to sleep with (her)” and that she was soon transferred to another job in the capital after reporting the incident to Cuomo’s chief of staff.
Cuomo released a statement in response to the New York Times story and resulting backlash on Sunday, acknowledging that at times his conversations and comments could have been misinterpreted or made “others feel in ways that I never intended.” He said that he didn’t recognize the power dynamics that came with his office when making those comments.
“To be clear, I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to,” he said.
New York State Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, who has already had to issue two different statements on Cuomo scandals in her first seven weeks in office, joined with a large group of fellow Democratic Assemblywomen saying that Cuomo should officially refer the case to James for an independent, powerful investigation.
“There is a need for an independent investigation into the recent sexual harassment allegations with unfettered authority to subpoena witnesses, to seek the production of documents, and to bring whatever charges are warranted,” reads the letter. “The Governor’s proposal to appoint someone who is not independently elected, has no subpoena authority and no prosecutorial authority is inadequate.”
I stand with my fellow Assemblymembers to demand a fair and impartial investigation of the accounts from two former employees of Governor Cuomo. AG @TishJames must be given full control and authority to investigate these accounts immediately. pic.twitter.com/kJWZWS4TjJ
— Anna Kelles (@annakelles) February 28, 2021
The letter concludes by saying that if the allegations “prove credible, the Governor must be held accountable.”
Other local representatives provided their own commentary. Senator Tom O’Mara, who represents the 58th District in the New York State Senate, called for a special prosecutor to be appointed and for them to handle the investigation.
“It is past time for the appointment of an independent Special Prosecutor to deliver the truth, at every level, of the Cuomo administration,” O’Mara said in his statement. “Governor Cuomo does not get to dictate the terms of the investigation and certainly not pick his own investigator. That is not how this works. This is about the victims, not the perpetrator.”
Representative Tom Reed, who serves the 23rd Congressional District of New York in the House of Representatives, also offered his thoughts over the weekend. Reed, a Republican, has publicly flirted with the idea of running for governor of New York and has harshly criticized Cuomo’s handling of the nursing home scandal.
“These incidents of sexual harassment and pattern of abuse are abhorrent and have absolutely no place in our society, let alone the highest rungs of government,” Reed told 18 News. “Such behavior is disturbing and unacceptable. Governor Cuomo must be held accountable under the law to ensure justice is served.”