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By Patrick McAuliffe

My Twitter account (@sadtrickmcawful, shameless plug) has become an official Andrew Cuomo hate account over the past few weeks. Back in October, I cataloged the Cuomo administration’s deliberate miscounting of the deaths in New York’s nursing homes, which the major news outlets have finally gotten around to reporting about. By itself, this should be enough to immediately remove Big Fredo from the governorship and destroy his public reputation, as he allegedly threatened to destroy NYS Assemblyman Ron Kim for leading the charge in the nursing home scandal. Cuomo seems unable to leave bad enough alone, however, and as of March 9th, six women have come forward to accuse the governor of sexual harassment over a period of over 20 years. For those that don’t blindly thirst after Cuomo or Democratic leadership at any level, no matter what they’ve done, this particular sequence of events can be frustrating and especially counterproductive for discussions about sexual harassment. Whether or not a woman is believed in the court of public opinion – propagated by pundits in mainstream media – has become a matter of the politics of the person being accused, and nowhere is this more evident than in Cuomo’s arrogant and insensitive responses to the recent storm of accusations.

Those in upstate New York may be familiar by now with Cuomo’s pattern of narcissistic behavior, making grand gestures to look good for the voters in major urban centers and relentlessly bullying and gaslighting anyone who criticizes him. Nowhere is this more evident than in his handling of the Moreland Commission. The commission, established by Cuomo and former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in July 2013, was created to provide recommendations for anti-corruption measures ranging from the conduct of public officials to reforming campaign finance laws. According to the New York Times, the Moreland Commission, originally established with an 18-month lifespan, was ended in March 2014 with “little fanfare and no advance notice”. Over the course of the nine months that they were permitted by the governor to operate, the commission repeatedly uncovered corrupt organizations or officials; when word reached the governor’s office that these organizations or officials had ties to him or his administration, Cuomo’s office pressured the members of the commission to retract their subpoenas or investigations. In the end, the state legislature passed a much more toothless pack of anti-bribery laws, directly recommended to them by the governor, than what the Moreland Commission could have accomplished. In a style reminiscent of a mob boss pressuring the authorities to look the other way, Big Fredo dissuaded those who could have made a serious dent in cleaning up New York politics.

More than six years later, Cuomo’s administration still handles perception problems the same way it handled the Moreland Commission’s investigation into the very people that founded it. Secretary to the Governor, Melissa DeRosa, in a February video conference call with state Democratic officials, admitted that the Cuomo administration covered up the true number of state nursing home deaths from COVID-19, according to the New York Post. DeRosa says that the administration “froze” when former President Trump’s Department of Justice sought to launch an investigation into New York’s death toll last August. NYS Assemblyman Ron Kim, a progressive Democrat representing Queens, was the first whistleblower on DeRosa’s admission of a coverup, having been a vocal critic of Cuomo’s handling of COVID in New York’s nursing homes. According to CNN, Kim and three other anonymous Democratic legislators alleged that Cuomo and officials from his administration had either explicitly or implicitly threatened retribution if they considered voting to strip him of his emergency powers or if they didn’t put out statements of support for the governor’s position. Assemblyman Kim has been the most vocal about these threats, saying that he received a call from Cuomo himself threatening to “destroy” him if he did not disavow his comments and put out a supportive statement for the governor. To only underscore Cuomo’s particular political style, during a regularly scheduled press conference the next day, Big Fredo cited Kim’s initial support for and then opposition to a 2015 nail salon bill that the governor had recommended to the legislature as the beginning of the assemblyman’s animosity towards him. It appears clear that Cuomo goes to any length to shift any sort of blame from him and his administration onto those he deems disloyal or critical of his actions.

It is vital to establish a timeline for each instance of sexual harassment that the women accusing Cuomo have made public, as well as the governor’s or his administration’s rather lackluster and sociopathic responses to each one. Peter Ajemian, Cuomo’s director of communications, sums up in a March 7th statement the governor’s attitude toward both these six women and all women afraid of speaking up to share their experiences of harassment or assault: “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.” Listed below are all women at the time of writing that are looking to score “cheap points”, as Ajemian says in the same statement (info taken from sources including The Washington Post, CNN, the New York Post, and the New York Times):

  • Lindsay Boylan, Feb. 24: In Dec. 2016, Cuomo told her he had a “crush” on her and suggestively made reference to a cigar box he received as a gift from President Clinton (which, in Boylan’s mind, was an allusion to the Monica Lewinsky scandal). In Oct. 2017, Cuomo suggested that the two of them play strip poker. In 2018, Cuomo gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips. The governor has obviously denied the accusations but ordered an investigation into these instances. 
  • Charlotte Bennett, Feb. 27: In June 2020, Cuomo asked personal questions about her dating life and whether she had been sexually intimate with older men. He also said that he would be open to a relationship with a woman in her 20s (Cuomo is 63, Bennett is 25). Cuomo responded by acknowledging that he may occasionally make jokes in poor taste.
  • Anna Ruch, Mar. 1: At a wedding in September 2019, Ruch, who is not a former or current member of Cuomo’s staff, was approached by Cuomo and touched inappropriately on her lower back and cheeks. The governor asked if he could kiss her when she moved his hand away from her back. Cuomo’s office responded by referring to his previous claims that his actions could have been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”
  • Karen Hinton and Ana Liss, Mar. 6: In 2000, when Cuomo was a member of HUD, Karen Hinton was summoned to his hotel room at night, where she attempted to and eventually succeeded in escaping from his unwelcome, extremely uncomfortable embrace. Meanwhile, from 2013-2015, Ana Liss was subjected to flirtatious gestures and invasive questions from Cuomo while working as a policy and operations aide. Cuomo’s office responded with dismissal to Liss’ claims, saying “That’s what people in politics do.” Meanwhile, Hinton’s claims have been met with outright hostility from the governor’s administration, and the statements from communications director Ajemian quoted at the start of this list were in response to Hinton’s accusations.
  • Member of Executive Chamber staff, Mar. 9: Late last year, an anonymous employee of Cuomo was groped under her skirt when summoned to help the governor with his cell phone at the governor’s mansion. Cuomo claims that he knew nothing of this most recent allegation, despite confirmation by the Times-Union that his administration was made aware of the allegation as early as over the previous weekend. 

I encourage anyone curious or angry about this issue to look into the allegations and the governor’s subsequent responses themselves; I’m trying to give a more abridged version. However, if one takes into account both the serious nature of sexual harassment allegations in society today and the past statements on sexual harassment that have come from the governor’s desk, one can come upon a very clear contradiction. From tweets and press conferences to legislative proposals, Cuomo has propped himself up since 2013 as a champion of defending women, vowing to return campaign donations from Harvey Weinstein and calling on two assemblymen accused of sexually propositioning members of their staff to immediately deny the claims or resign, according to the Washington Post. To see him and his staff act so flippant and, at times, hostile, in the face of allegations against him is something that the people of New York need to reckon with.

Remember when President Trump was reviled for more than four years because of sexual assault and harassment allegations against him? Remember when Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was turned into a character assassination in the court of public opinion? In spite of this, I’m willing to wager that any number of Cuomo fanatics go onto social media every day claiming that the women accusing him of harassment are either looking to cash in now that Big Fredo is under the microscope, or are part of some convoluted Republican conspiracy to get a red governor that will pardon Trump, or are somehow responsible for the unwanted attention they received. They explain it away! Chris Cuomo on CNN won’t even be covering his “Love Gov” brother’s saga of accusations. Maybe it’s because the Italian Stallion has more popular appeal than most people accused of sexual harassment; maybe it’s his warped psychology that prevents him from immediately apologizing and taking steps to make things right. Maybe it’s Maybelline, for all I know. Something about Cuomo and his fans makes them unable to believe the women coming forward, and hurts the future prospects of anyone hoping to get some recompense for the discomfort and humiliation they’ve suffered.

The narcissist inhabiting Albany may end up with another Moreland situation, as his longtime ally, State Attorney General Letitia James, is handling his sexual harassment investigation. If Cuomo is cleared, as I suspect he will be, and he refuses to resign or relinquish his emergency COVID powers easily, I want to remind the reader of the six names aforementioned in this article. Think of them and his ambivalent responses next time you consider buying his book, or simping for him on social media, or casting your vote in the next primary or general election. If the justice system finds no merit to the accusations against him – free from his influence or not – let Governor Cuomo know that you haven’t forgotten how he behaved when finally confronted with the consequences of his actions.

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