Cuomo’s Top Aide Resigns Amid Harassment Claims Against Governor

Melissa DeRosa, the highest-ranking aide to Andrew Cuomo, resigned on Sunday as the embattled New York governor contends with possible criminal charges over numerous sexual harassment claims and a potential impeachment trial.

DeRosa, who had remained one of Cuomo’s chief defenders throughout multiple scandals, said she would step down from her post as secretary to the governor after what she called a difficult couple of years on the job.

“The past 2 years have been emotionally and mentally trying,” she said in a statement provided to Bloomberg News. “I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such talented and committed colleagues on behalf of our state.”

Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The daughter of a prominent Albany lobbyist, DeRosa began working for Cuomo as his communications director in 2013, and rose to become secretary to the governor in 2017. One of the few people to pierce the governor’s fiercely guarded inner circle, DeRosa became known as one of Cuomo’s top enforcers even as she cultivated a reputation as a women’s rights advocate.

Her staunch loyalty highlighted how Cuomo deftly surrounded himself with women who defended his aggressive behavior while helping him burnish an image of a leader who champions women.

DeRosa spent the last year publicly defending Cuomo against claims he sexually harassed his staffers, covered up nursing home deaths and misused public funds to write a $5 million book. With her resignation, Cuomo is left with even fewer allies as calls to resign across New York and Washington grow louder.

Cuomo Enforcer

DeRosa has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing but she features prominently in many of the scandals swirling around Cuomo, including a report released last week by state Attorney General Letitia James that said Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women.

DeRosa, 38, was mentioned nearly 200 times in the report, which described her as a key architect in discrediting Cuomo’s accusers, pressuring former employees to surreptitiously record telephone conversations with the women, and lining up supporters to defend the governor’s actions.

In one instance, after a former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan accused the governor last December of sexually harassing her, DeRosa asked a former lawyer to Cuomo for her “full file,” according to James’s report. DeRosa then tried to distribute Boylan’s personnel details to reporters, in violation of retaliation laws, the report found.

Boylan named DeRosa specifically in a Feb. 24 blog post in which she accused Cuomo of kissing her and inviting her to play strip poker on a government-funded plane trip, claims Cuomo denies.

“It was all so normalized — particularly by Melissa DeRosa and other top women around him — that only now do I realize how insidious his abuse was,” Boylan wrote. Boylan did not say DeRosa was present during the trip or kiss.

The attorney general’s report also outlined how DeRosa had got into a “heated exchange” with a local Albany newspaper in hopes of killing a story about whether state laws were changed so Cuomo could hire an inexperienced state trooper to his personal detail. DeRosa testified that she thought the inquiry was sexist and yelled at the editor of the Albany Times Union, which didn’t publish the story.

DeRosa also told investigators she confronted Cuomo in a car after former staffer Charlotte Bennett accused the governor of sexual harassment.

“I can’t believe that this happened,” DeRosa said she told the governor, according to the attorney general’s report. “I can’t believe you put yourself in a situation where you would be having any version of this conversation.” DeRosa told investigators when the car stopped at a red light, she got out and left.

After more sexual-harassment allegations became public, at Cuomo’s request, DeRosa garnered 50 women’s signatures on a letter that described him as “strong, tough, respectful, inclusive and effective,” the report said.

Covid Claims

DeRosa also played a central role in the Covid-19 response by the administration, which has been accused of concealing the extent of Covid deaths at nursing homes to avoid political repercussions.

During a February meeting between the governor’s staff and Democratic state legislators, DeRosa said the Cuomo administration feared the data “was going to be used against us,” according to a leaked transcript that was later shared by the governor’s office. “Basically, we froze.”

On Sunday DeRosa did not comment beyond her statement. But in an interview with Bloomberg in March, she described the emotional cost of her job. “Media accounts have reduced me to a caricature, but I’m a human being who truly believes in and cares deeply about government and public service,” she said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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