Cuomo Faces Democratic Calls to Resign as New Claim Emerges
(Bloomberg) -- Andrew Cuomo faces more calls to resign from fellow Democrats after a third woman came forward to accuse the New York governor of inappropriate behavior on Monday.
New allegations of Cuomo making unwanted advances toward women come as the governor is already fighting investigations into whether his administration covered up the true number of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes in the state. The state’s first Covid-related death was one year ago Monday, but the governor has stayed out of the spotlight as controversy around him swirls.
U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice became the first Democratic member of Congress to call for Cuomo to resign, saying Monday, “the time has come.” Rice is a former district attorney of Nassau County on Long Island.
Two former aides have already accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. On Monday, a third woman, who has not worked for him, Anna Ruch, told the New York Times that Cuomo touched her back and face at a wedding and asked if he could kiss her in a way that made her feel “confused and shocked and embarrassed.”
A spokesman for Cuomo referred to a statement from Sunday night in which he said his actions “have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation,” and that he was sorry “to the extent anyone felt that way,” according to the Times.
Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The governor has not held a televised pandemic briefing, considered must-see TV, since Feb. 19, and his public schedule is empty.
On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James received a letter from the Cuomo administration granting her a legal referral, which gives her the ability to select an independent law firm to conduct an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the governor.
In the letter, Cuomo’s special counsel directed all state employees to cooperate fully with the sexual-harassment review and said the findings will be made public when the inquiry is finished. The lawyer who will handle the inquiry hasn’t been named.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” James said in a statement Monday.
Separately, the Cuomo administration on Monday hired a prominent criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor to defend the governor’s office over allegations he mishandled Covid-related nursing-home deaths.
Elkan Abramowitz has represented Cuomo in previous controversies. His clients include Woody Allen and Fox News anchor Ed Henry.
Abramowitz said his firm had only been retained in relation to the nursing-home inquiry, not Cuomo’s sexual-harassment claims. Azzopardi deferred comment to Abramowitz. The Wall Street Journal previously reported the Abramowitz hire.
The White House stopped short of criticizing Cuomo. Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that the Biden administration would wait for an investigation announced Sunday to be carried out before commenting further.
“We certainly support that process and we’ll wait to see that through,” she said.
Cuomo’s scandals threaten to undercut the carefully crafted image that earned him the moniker of “America’s Governor” in the early days of the pandemic and sparked talk of a presidential run.
He said he wanted to seek a fourth term as governor in 2022.
“The problem is he’s being squeezed on the left and the right, and if there are more accusations of sexual harassment or governmental incompetence or corruption, he’s going to have a very difficult time surviving,” said veteran Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “He has very few friends.”
He is also alleged to have bullied and personally threatened lawmakers who raised questions about his controversies. Cuomo has denied all allegations, but did issue something of an apology in response to his second accuser for what he called “playful” but “insensitive” behavior late Sunday.
On Saturday, the Times published accusations from former aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, that Cuomo asked her about her sex life and used other intimidating behavior. Her claims came less than a week after former economic aide Lindsey Boylan, who accused Cuomo of harassment in December, detailed her experience in a Medium post.
Cuomo’s Sunday statement was originally in reference to these allegations.
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,” he said in the statement. “I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended.”
Cuomo also urged supporters not to harass his accusers. “You should stop now -- period,” he said.
On Monday, Bennett said Cuomo’s apology didn’t cut it. “The governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior,” according to a statement from Bennett sent by her attorney, Debra S. Katz.
“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,” Bennett said. “It took the governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice.”
Boylan, who is now running for Manhattan borough president, called on the governor to resign.
Cuomo, the elder son of former three-term New York Governor Mario Cuomo, has held the governor’s seat since January 2011. Last year, he became the first New York governor to chair the National Governors Association, representing states in Washington.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has feuded often with Cuomo, said the governor “should no longer be in public service” if he “purposefully used his power to try to force someone to have sex with them.”
De Blasio said that Cuomo’s administration should also be investigated over the allegations of hiding the number of nursing home deaths.
“We need to make sure there’s full investigations here of everything that happened,” he said. “What was covered up and why, and did they have any connections to campaign contributions to the governor from the nursing home industry.”
The harassment allegations prompted another round of calls for the state legislature to revoke the emergency powers afforded to Cuomo early on in the pandemic and for an independent investigation into Covid-19 deaths linked to nursing homes.
James released a report on Jan. 28 alleging the Cuomo administration undercounted Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, and may have obscured data available to assess the risk to patients.
The state revealed that thousands of deaths that occurred in hospitals or outside the facilities, should have been included in state counts of nursing home deaths. More than 12,300 patients from New York nursing homes, assisted living, and adult care facilities have died since March 2020, according to Feb. 25 state data. Another 3,000 patients are presumed to have died of the disease, but their causes of death have not been confirmed.
The U.S. Justice Department, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York are reported to have launched investigations into the administration’s handling of nursing homes.
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