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The sexual harassment allegation against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, explained

A New York City Democratic candidate says Cuomo harassed her for years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks in front of a background depicting the curve of Covid cases.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gives a press briefing about the coronavirus crisis on April 17, 2020, in Albany, New York.
Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

“Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years. Many saw it, and watched.”

So said Lindsey Boylan, a candidate for Manhattan borough president and former adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a tweet thread Sunday morning.

Boylan, who appears to have worked for the governor’s office from 2015 to 2018, provided few specifics in the thread and stated that she has “no interest in talking to journalists” (Boylan also has not responded to Vox’s request for comment). But she did say, “I could never anticipate what to expect: would I be grilled on my work (which was very good) or harassed about my looks. Or would it be both in the same conversation?”

The governor’s office has denied the allegation. “There is simply no truth to these claims,” Caitlin Girouard, the governor’s press secretary, said in an email to Vox on Monday.

The report comes at a time of intense scrutiny for Cuomo, as he manages rising coronavirus infections and the vaccine rollout in his state. The governor has been among the most visible figures in the pandemic, gaining a devoted following for his straight-talking news conferences at a time when the president was denying reality, and even writing a book about it called American Crisis. He’s also reportedly been discussed as a possible attorney general in the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

But Boylan says that would be a mistake, tweeting, “There are fewer things more scary than giving this man, who exists without ethics, even more control.”

Her allegation could complicate his political future. It also raises new questions about the working environment within New York state government, which has seen several officials accused of harassment or other misconduct in recent years.

Cuomo isn’t the only New York official to be the subject of recent harassment allegations

Boylan, 36, worked for the governor’s office as a deputy secretary of economic development and a special adviser to the governor, according to LinkedIn. Since her departure, she has been a public critic of the governor and his office, according to the New York Times. In 2019, for example, she called into question the office’s support for working parents. She also described her experience working there as “beyond toxic” and “endlessly dispiriting.”

And now Boylan has gone public with a more specific report: that Cuomo sexually harassed her over a period of years. Though she provided few details, she did describe her frustration with the experience and others’ inaction. “Not knowing what to expect” was “the most upsetting part aside from knowing that no one would do a damn thing even when they saw it,” Boylan tweeted.

“And I *know* I am not the only woman,” she added.

No other women appear to have yet come forward with public allegations of harassment by Cuomo. But other New York State officials and employees have been the subject of such reports in recent years. In 2017, for example, a former state employee reported that Sam Hoyt, who had recently resigned from his job as a senior-level state official, had sexually harassed and assaulted her (Hoyt denied the allegations but said the two had a consensual relationship). And in 2018, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned after the New Yorker reported that four women had accused him of physical abuse.

Cuomo has bristled in the past when asked if the New York state government has a problem with harassment, as Dana Rubinstein and Jesse McKinley note at the Times. When asked by reporter Karen DeWitt about harassment in state government in the wake of the Hoyt allegations, the governor responded, “When you say it’s ‘state government,’ you do a disservice to women, with all due respect, even though you’re a woman.”

“It’s not government, it’s society,” he added. “It’s not just one person in one area.”

The allegation could complicate Cuomo’s political future

Now the allegations about New York government go right to the top. And it’s coming at a time when Cuomo’s political career is at a crossroads.

New York state doesn’t have term limits, and Cuomo has said he will seek reelection in 2022. But he’s also been discussed as a candidate for higher office (even though he ended up nixing a run for president in 2020). That’s especially true since his handling of the pandemic earned him points with New Yorkers and Americans nationwide.

Cuomo has gained fame for his gruff news conferences announcing Covid-19 rates and restrictions, his dad jokes about not being “a turkey” by flouting pandemic rules on Thanksgiving, and his weird taste in posters. His book about handling Covid-19 in New York was criticized by some who questioned his decision to release it in October with the pandemic very much ongoing, but was also a New York Times bestseller. He’s also gained the affection of some liberals by sparring with President Trump.

Given all this, it’s not surprising that he’s reportedly being considered for a role in the Biden administration. But Cuomo is also facing a wintertime coronavirus surge in New York, which could force a shutdown in New York City in a matter of weeks — and, potentially, call his pandemic success into doubt. And now, the governor who signed high-profile anti-harassment legislation in 2018 is facing a harassment allegation himself.

Even though Cuomo denies the allegation, it is sure to force, if nothing else, added scrutiny into his past and the culture of the government he runs.

“I’m angry to be put in this situation at all. That because I am a woman, I can work hard my whole life to better myself and help others and yet still fall victim as countless women over generations have,” Boylan tweeted. “I hate that some men, like @NYGovCuomo abuse their power.”