Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York should be held accountable for deplorable conduct. According to a report issued by New York’s attorney general, he undercounted the COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes by more than 40 percent and implemented policies that may have contributed to it at the same time he was taking bows for leadership during the health care crisis.
On Wednesday, Cuomo said he’s not going anywhere. But there has been mounting pressure on him to resign. The pressure relates to sexually suggestive comments and inappropriate conduct he allegedly directed toward women, two of whom worked for him. The question is whether resignation is the proper penalty for that conduct — and why now? Cuomo’s bullying is well known, and sexual harassment allegations made several months ago by one of the women were essentially ignored. It’s true that other women have come forward. But this is also happening while the Cuomo administration is under federal investigation for its handling of the nursing home deaths, and that’s a background factor, too.
New York voters hired Cuomo and they should be the ones to fire him, if they so choose. But there’s a timing problem. If Cuomo chooses to seek another term, he’s not up for reelection until 2022. That leaves it to fellow Democrats, assorted political enemies, and the media to push him out. Of course, he can resist like Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia did in 2019 after a medical school yearbook photo appeared to show him in blackface. Northam, who at first acknowledged the picture, then later insisted the photo “was definitely not me,” refused to yield to resignation calls and remains in office.
Unfortunately for Cuomo, a cellphone photo clearly shows the governor with his hands cupping the face of a distressed-looking Anna Ruch, in September 2019. Ruch told The New York Times she encountered Cuomo at a wedding, during which he put his hand on her bare lower back and asked if he could kiss her. She never worked for him, but there’s documentation of their uncomfortable contact.
Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years. Many saw it, and watched.— Lindsey Boylan (@LindseyBoylan) December 13, 2020
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? This was the way for years.
Meanwhile, sexual harassment accusations made by two women who did work for him will be scrutinized by a team of outside investigators. One former top staffer, Lindsey Boylan, tweeted back in December that Cuomo sexually harassed her for years. She followed up with a Medium post that detailed inappropriate comments she said he made to her, including a suggestion they play strip poker. She also said he gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips. He has denied her accusations. Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old staffer who ultimately left her state job, said Cuomo, 63, asked her questions about her personal life, such as whether she had sex with older men. In response, he issued a statement in which he apologized for inappropriate remarks that may have been “misinterpreted.”
There’s no defense for Cuomo’s actions. He’s a first-class jerk, whose conduct appears to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But once again we are left to ponder the mish-mash of standards and consequences regarding sexual misconduct, especially in the public sector. In the 2016 election, Americans elected Donald Trump as president despite multiple accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The next year, allegations of sexual assault made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein went public, turning the rallying cry #MeToo into a movement. In 2018, under pressure from fellow Democrats, US Senator Al Franken of Minnesota resigned after several women accused him of unwanted kissing and touching. Also in 2018, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faced an accusation from Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her decades ago when they were in high school. Kavanaugh famously fought back, and now sits on the Supreme Court. Trump still got 74 million votes in the 2020 election, even after a woman accused him of rape. Representative Madison Cawthorn, a freshman Republican from North Carolina, is under renewed scrutiny for allegations that he sexually harassed classmates in college. On social media, his actions are being compared with Cuomo’s.
Why are Democrats pushed to resign? There has been talk of impeaching Cuomo, but that would require support from a legislature dominated by Democrats.
It’s so much easier for everyone if he simply goes away. The sexual harassment allegations can help make that happen. Now it’s up to him to decide how much pounding he wants to take from a hammer of his own creation.