In a pair of news reports Saturday, two more former aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo accused him of sexual harassment, a development that led New York state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to join calls for Cuomo, a Democrat, to resign.
“For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign,” Stewart-Cousins, also a Democrat, said in a statement Sunday.
As of Sunday, five women have come forward to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment. Most recently, Ana Liss, a former policy and operations aide to Cuomo from 2013 to 2015, told the Wall Street Journal the governor repeatedly inquired about her personal life, touched her, and on one occasion even kissed her hand. According to the Journal, Liss’s allegations were backed by recollections from multiple anonymous former staffers.
Separately, Karen Hinton — a former Cuomo aide who also worked with the now-governor as a consultant when he led the New York Department of Housing and Urban Development — told the Washington Post in a piece published Saturday that Cuomo invited her to his hotel, asked her personal questions about her marriage, and hugged her repeatedly in a manner that was “very long, too long, too tight, too intimate” when she attempted to leave.
“He pulls me back for another intimate embrace,” Hinton told the Post of the encounter. “I thought at that moment it could lead to a kiss, it could lead to other things, so I just pull away again, and I leave.”
Multiple people also confirmed to the Post that Hinton detailed the encounter to them shortly after it occurred in 2000, with one friend stating that Hinton was “really creeped out. It really freaked her out.”
Cuomo’s office has dismissed both accounts in statements to the Wall Street Journal and to the Washington Post, casting Hinton as “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” and claiming that hugs and kisses — the behaviors that make up the alleged inappropriate and unwanted physical contact — are just “what people in politics do.”
Liss and Hinton are far from the only former aides to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment and misconduct. Both stories are backed by additional anonymous accounts from others who have worked with or for Cuomo — including that of a federal official who told the Post Cuomo kissed her on the cheek in front of colleagues shortly after she began work at HUD — and they are the fourth and fifth named accusers to emerge in recent weeks.
Previously, two other former aides — Lindsey Boylan, now a candidate for Manhattan borough president, and Charlotte Bennett — accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. A third woman, Anna Ruch, who did not work with Cuomo, recounted meeting the governor at a friend’s wedding, and says he attempted to kiss her.
Whoa at this pic: A young woman says Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked if he could kiss her at a wedding, and put his hands on her face— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) March 2, 2021
Anna Ruch said she felt “uncomfortable and embarrassed” when he did this https://t.co/oxb5fbBqO3 pic.twitter.com/4IdxDp62WL
Ruch’s allegations are also backed by a photo of the encounter. Her story, as well as Bennett’s, was first reported by the New York Times. Boylan first accused Cuomo of misconduct in an essay posted to Medium in February this year.
According to Bennett, Cuomo asked her about her sex life and whether she was interested in older men, among other comments.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the Times of a June 5 encounter with Cuomo in his Albany office. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Cuomo is facing a flurry of misconduct allegations right now
In addition to a slew of sexual harassment allegations, Cuomo is also facing at least two other closely linked scandals that have left his political career in jeopardy.
One revolves around his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York: Despite a star turn for Cuomo early in the crisis, when New York City was far and away the hardest-hit area of the country, new reports suggest that the Cuomo administration deliberately manipulated nursing home death statistics to cast New York’s response in a more favorable light — and to shield the governor from criticism.
According to the New York Times, Cuomo aides — none of whom had a background in public health — rewrote a report first produced by New York state health officials to remove a statistic revealing how many nursing home residents died from the virus in the state.
Additionally, a report by New York Attorney General Letitia James found that the Cuomo administration initially undercounted those nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent, according to the New York Times. After the attorney general’s report was released in late January, the state provided new data that increased the reported number of nursing home deaths in New York by more than 40 percent.
Cuomo’s response to the nursing home scandal has also spun off into a scandal in its own right: In February, New York Assembly member Ron Kim, who is also a Democrat, said Cuomo allegedly threatened Kim’s career in politics over his criticism of Cuomo’s handling of nursing home deaths in New York, after comments Kim made to the New York Post detailing a call Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa had with lawmakers about the deaths.
“Gov. Cuomo called me directly on Thursday to threaten my career if I did not cover up for Melissa and what she said. He tried to pressure me to issue a statement, and it was a very traumatizing experience,” Kim told CNN last month.
Kim also alleges that Cuomo told him, “We’re in this business together and we don’t cross certain lines, and he said I hadn’t seen his wrath and that he can destroy me.”
According to the Post, Cuomo “was often consumed by rage and irritation toward [staffers], only to be kind and charming in their next interactions. They found the sharp contrast to be deeply disorienting, with some saying it even drove colleagues to suffer emotional breakdowns.”
In the same story, Kim told the Washington Post that Cuomo’s behavior was a pattern.
“He feels untouchable,” Kim said of Cuomo. “Whether it’s verbal or physical abuse, or threatening lawmakers or journalists for doing their jobs, it’s come to a level where it’s so normalized that he doesn’t think twice about behaving that way.”
Cuomo says he isn’t going anywhere
Despite the mounting and diverse set of misconduct allegations facing Cuomo, it’s unclear what the future holds for him. James, the New York attorney general, has opened an independent civil investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, and Saturday’s revelations have already intensified pressure on the governor to step down of his own accord.
Already this month, one member of New York’s congressional delegation, Rep. Kathleen Rice, has called on Cuomo to resign, and on Sunday, New York state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did so as well.
“New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign.”
Stewart-Cousins’s statement is a blow to an already embattled Cuomo, but it’s not especially surprising: Stewart-Cousins indicated in an interview Thursday that she would call for Cuomo’s resignation if more sexual harassment allegations surfaced. Since then, two more women — Liss and Hinton — have gone on the record accusing Cuomo of sexual misconduct.
New York state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie supported Stewart-Cousins’s stance in a statement Sunday and called the allegations against Cuomo “deeply disturbing,” though he did not explicitly issue his own call for Cuomo to resign.
“I too share the sentiment of Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins regarding the Governor’s ability to continue to lead this state,” Heastie said. “I think it is time for the Governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York.”
Thus far, however, Cuomo has resisted calls to resign, though he issued an apology of sorts for his conduct at a press conference Wednesday.
“I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation, for me as well as other people, and I’ve learned an important lesson,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone. I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”
He also reiterated his refusal to step down on Sunday prior to Stewart-Cousins’s statement, telling reporters on a conference call that “there is no way I resign.”
If Cuomo were to resign, however, he would be replaced by New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who would be the first woman to hold the office.
Even if he does stay in office, the recent tide of scandals could undercut Cuomo’s political future in the state. He will be up for reelection in 2022, if he does choose to seek a fourth term as New York governor, and as Politico points out, he might well face a difficult primary to claim the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
“Whether he resigns or not, there will be no shortage of candidates in 2022,” one anonymous source told Politico of Cuomo’s plight. “Donors and consultants have begun reaching out to prospective candidates because they see the writing on the wall.”
Finally, Cuomo’s eventual political fate could have far broader implications for the Democratic Party: As Vox’s Anna North has written, “what happens next” — whether resignation, impeachment, or an eventual primary repudiation — “will show how Democrats handle sexual misconduct allegations against one of their own more than three years after the Me Too movement started making headlines.”