It says a lot that Andrew Cuomo became a media darling even as his policies caused thousands of deaths in New York nursing homes, but now, suddenly, is the subject of impeachment talk because three women have accused him of mild or borderline sexual harassment. What it suggests to me is that our priorities are skewed and that our culture is becoming frivolous.
The allegations of sexual harassment show Cuomo to be a boor, something many of us already suspected. Reasonable people can disagree as to whether the allegations are just cause for removing him as governor.
The fact that Cuomo sent New Yorkers infected with the coronavirus back to nursing homes where, inevitably, they became super-spreaders is a far more serious matter. And if, as may well be the case, he committed federal crimes when asked by the Justice Department about this scandal, this is just cause for removal and for criminal prosecution.
Let’s look at the three sets of sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo. The first came from former top staffer Lindsey Boylan.
She claims that in December 2016, Cuomo told her he had a “crush” on her. In a separate incident, he allegedly alluded to a cigar box he had received from Bill Clinton. She understood this to be an allusion to Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Her understanding was almost surely correct, but it’s not sexual harassment to make a joke about Clinton’s affair.
Then, in October 2017, Cuomo allegedly suggested — maybe jokingly, maybe not — that he and Boylan play strip poker. Finally, in 2018, he allegedly gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips.
If true, this scenario may present an actionable claim of sexual harassment in the legal sense. If so, it’s one of the mildest cases I’ve heard of, and I practiced law in this area.
The second accuser, Charlotte Bennett, claims that last June, Cuomo asked her a number of questions about her personal life, including whether she had been intimate with older men. She also says he talked about being open to a relationship with a woman in her 20s. Bennett is 25.
It doesn’t sound like Cuomo actually asked Bennett to enter into a sexual relationship with him, although that is probably where the conversations were headed. It certainly doesn’t sound like he conditioned her employment, or any term thereof, on such a relationship.
Cuomo’s conduct was obviously inappropriate. However, it seems like, at best, a borderline case of sexual harassment in the legal sense.
The third accuser, Anna Ruch, says that Cuomo placed his hand on her bare lower back at a September 2019 wedding and then, after she removed it, placed his hands on her cheeks and asked if he could kiss her. Ruch apparently had never met Cuomo before.
Asking for a kiss from a stranger is boorish, but it’s not sexual harassment. Placing one’s hands on a woman is problematic, but apparently there is no allegation that Cuomo touched a private part. How much worse than Joe Biden’s hair sniffing, etc. is the conduct Ruch alleges?
Additional allegations of sex-related impropriety by Cuomo may well emerge. The current allegations, even if true, are not sufficient reason to cut short the term of the voters’ choice for governor, in my opinion. If Cuomo seeks another term, voters can decide whether these allegations are a deal-breaker.
As I said, reasonable people can disagree with me about this judgment. But I don’t consider anyone who gushed over Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic to be reasonable.