The latest on NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo: Allegations of sexual harassment, hiding nursing home COVID-19 deaths

William Cummings, USA TODAY
·12 min read

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose political future looked golden 11 months ago, is now fighting for survival after multiple women, including former aides, accused him of sexual harassment and his administration acknowledged withholding data on COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

The New York governor has denied any wrongdoing and said he “never touched anyone inappropriately” and “never made any inappropriate advances” and that “no one ever told me at the time that I made them feel uncomfortable.”

Cuomo, now in his third term, faces investigations into both scandals and a growing list of critics that includes many of his fellow Democrats. He initially resisted ceding control of the sexual harassment inquiry, but referred the matter to New York Attorney General Letitia James amid bipartisan objection to his plan to appoint his own investigator.

Cuomo drew more criticism with a public apology in which he said was "truly sorry" if "some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation." The apology did not satisfy Cuomo's accusers or critics, who said by dismissing the incidents as misunderstood jokes, the governor was evading responsibility.

Since then, more women have come forward with harassment allegations against Cuomo, who has remained defiant amid growing demands for his resignation.

More: Multiple women said Andrew Cuomo harassed them. Now they face online harassment.

Democrats call for Cuomo to step down

On Thursday, the state Assembly launched what it is calling an impeachment investigation, giving its Judiciary Committee impeachment power to probe Cuomo's office and help determine whether his removal from office is appropriate.

Nineteen of New York's 27 congressional representatives are Democrats, and only five have not called for him to step down.

In what appeared to be a unified effort, 13 congressional representatives from New York issued statements calling for Cuomo's resignation within two hours of each other Friday morning, citing numerous misconduct allegations and his administration's efforts to hide the true COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes.

The lawmakers — including Ocasio-Cortez, Nadler and Democratic Congressional Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney — joined Long Island Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat who issued her call for Cuomo's resignation last week.

New York's Senate delegation — Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — also called for Cuomo's resignation in a statement Friday evening.

"Due to the multiple, credible sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York. Governor Cuomo should resign," the New York senators wrote.

'No way I resign': Cuomo defiant

Cuomo has flatly rejected calls for his resignation, declaring "There is no way I resign." He has maintained that defiant stance even in the face of the rapidly growing list of politicians calling for his removal.

Cuomo said those who want him to step down are being "reckless" and "bowing to cancel culture."

"Women have a right to come forward and be heard and I encourage that fully," Cuomo told reporters Friday. "But I also want to be clear: There is still a question of the truth. I did not do what has been alleged. Period."

'There is no way I resign': Cuomo refuses to quit amid scandals as top NY Dem says he should step down

First accuser: Lindsey Boylan

Lindsey Boylan, Cuomo's former deputy secretary of economic development and special adviser, wrote a 1,700-word post on the website Medium last week in which she said she was subjected to unwanted advances by Cuomo during her nearly two years working for the administration.

She said that on one occasion, the governor asked her if she wanted to play "strip poker" while they were traveling on a state-owned plane, and on another, he gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips as she was leaving his office.

Boylan, 36, first made the allegations on Twitter in December, but the story gained little national attention at the time amid then-President Donald Trump's efforts to challenge the results of the Nov. 3 election.

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Second accuser: Charlotte Bennett

In her Medium post, Boylan alleged Cuomo had "created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected." And on Saturday, a second accuser came forward to support that characterization.

Charlotte Bennett, 25, a former aide who left the Cuomo administration in November, tweeted, "For those wondering what it’s like to work for the Cuomo admin, read @LindseyBoylan’s story."

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In a story that ran Saturday, Bennett told The New York Times that Cuomo, 63, had made her uncomfortable with questions about her sex life, whether she would consider dating an older man and a comment that he would be willing to have a relationship "with anyone above the age of 22."

"I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared," Bennett told The Times.

Third accuser: Anna Ruch

Thirty-three-year-old Ruch said Cuomo made an unwanted advance at a New York City wedding in September 2019, the first time she had met him.

She told The New York Times on Monday that Cuomo placed his hand on her lower back, which was exposed. She then removed his hand, she said, and Cuomo grabbed her face with both hands and asked if he could kiss her. She then pulled away.

"I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed," Ruch told the Times, which included a photo of the moment Cuomo had his hands on Ruch's face in its reporting. "I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment."

Fourth accuser: Ana Liss

Ana Liss, 35, a former aide, said Cuomo asked her whether she had a boyfriend, once kissed her hand at her desk and greeted her at a reception where she was working with "Hey, sweetheart," a hug and a kiss on both cheeks.

The governor then put his arm around her lower back and waist as they posed for photo, Liss said. She said she eventually asked for a job transfer. In an interview, Liss said she was "not claiming sexual harassment per se," but felt the administration "wasn’t a safe space for young women to work."

Fifth accuser: Karen Hinton

Karen Hinton who worked for Cuomo when he was Clinton’s federal housing secretary in the 1990s, said Cuomo gave her an overly long and intimate hug after calling her to his hotel room for a conversation that turned to personal topics on a trip where she was serving as a consultant to the housing agency. Cuomo said Hinton’s account was "not true."

Sixth accuser: Unnamed Cuomo staff member

In the most serious allegation to surface yet, a member of Cuomo's staff alleged that he closed a door, reached under her blouse and fondled her after summoning her to the governor’s mansion in Albany for help with his cellphone, according to the Times Union of Albany.

The newspaper didn’t name the woman, who said that she told Cuomo to stop groping her and that he had touched and flirted with her previously. The Times Union’s reporting was based on an unidentified source with direct knowledge of the woman’s accusation.

The woman recently told a supervisor, and at least one of her bosses reported the allegation to a lawyer for the governor in recent days, according to the newspaper.

Cuomo called the report "gut-wrenching" in a statement and said: "I have never done anything like this."

Seventh accuser: Alyssa McGrath

A current executive assistant in Cuomo's office, Alyssa McGrath, 33, told The New York Times that the governor has remarked on her looks, commented about her marital status, and once stared down her shirt and commented about a necklace.

During a session in Cuomo's office, McGrath said, according to the Times, “I put my head down waiting for him to start speaking, and he didn’t start speaking. So I looked up to see what was going on. And he was blatantly looking down my shirt.”

McGrath said Cuomo is known to play favorites among employees who are women. She also said the sixth, unnamed accuser relayed her groping encounter to McGrath.

COVID-19 nursing home deaths

Cuomo's administration is already facing a federal investigation for its handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes before the call for an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations.

The federal investigation was launched after top aide Melissa DeRosa acknowledged holding back key death data and information from lawmakers and the public after receiving an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Justice last year.

Just under a year ago, Cuomo's daily press briefings during the first weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. brought calls for him to launch a late entry into the crowded Democratic presidential primary.

But the state's acknowledged undercounting of nursing home deaths from the coronavirus and the scrutiny over an order March 25 to allow nursing home residents in hospitals to return home with COVID-19 has put his political future in jeopardy.

More: Cuomo was a national star for COVID response. Nursing home deaths upended that.

Cuomo's initial responses to harassment allegations

When Boylan first came forward in December, Cuomo said that "the tweets were simply not true."

"Look, I fought for and I believe a woman has a right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has, but it’s just not true," he said.

The governor's office repeated his denial after Boylan's post on Medium last week and released a statement from four current and former aides who said they would have been on the October 2017 flight where Cuomo allegedly brought up strip poker.

"We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen," they said.

After Bennett spoke to The Times, Cuomo said in a statement: "I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported."

Cuomo apologizes for 'misinterpreted' comments

Cuomo apologized for any behavior that offended anyone, without addressing any specific claims against him aside from a vague reference to questions that "have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office."

"At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times," Cuomo said in his statement. "I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.

Cuomo said he now realized that he "may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended."

"I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that," he said.

More: As scandals engulf Andrew Cuomo, candidates eye 2022 run for governor

'That's not an apology'

Many found the governor's effort to apologize lacking, including Bennett, who criticized his apology.

“The governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior," Bennett said through her attorney.

"As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences," she said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that with his statement, Cuomo looked as if he was "letting himself off the hook."

"That’s not an apology," de Blasio said in a news conference, adding that Cuomo "seemed to be saying he was just kidding around."

"Sexual harassment is not funny," he said.

Democratic state Sen. Mike Gianaris said that rather than apologize, Cuomo appeared to be "shifting the blame onto the survivors."

"There's a big difference between 'I'm sorry if you were offended by what I did' and 'I'm sorry for what I did,'" Gianaris told NY1.

The political fallout

Last April, a Siena College poll put Cuomo's job performance rating at a high of 71% positive to 28% negative.

Last month , a Marist College poll showed 49% of New Yorkers approve of the job Cuomo is doing as governor, and 44% say they do not approve.

That was before the latest sexual harassment allegations were revealed.

Gianaris, the No. 2 Democrat in the New York Senate, told NY1 that amid the scandals roiling his administration, "whether or not the governor can continue is an open question."

Cuomo has indicated he might seek a fourth term as governor. But now, not only is his ability to win another term in question, but he also faces some calls from within his own party for his resignation or even impeachment.

"You are a monster, and it is time for you to go. Now," tweeted Democratic state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi.

Even before the sexual harassment allegations made headlines, Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim, who says Cuomo threatened to destroy his career over his criticism of the nursing home deaths, wrote an op-ed for Newsweek on Feb. 22 titled "It's Time to Impeach Andrew Cuomo."

Contributing: Joseph Spector and Jon Campbell, USA TODAY Network's New York State Team; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Andrew Cuomo: What we know about sex harassment claims, COVID deaths