Cuomo, under fire, says he never intended to hurt anyone

Cuomo Under Fire

A local attorney who specializes in sexual harassment cases says when reviewing them, what matters is how the victims interpreted the interactions with Cuomo, not his intentions.

(Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

(WIVB)– Gov. Andrew Cuomo broke his silence Wednesday when he gave an update on the coronavirus before he addressed the sexual harassment allegations he faces from two former aides.

“I am sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience,” Cuomo said.

The governor also said he has no plans to resign after three women, including two former aides, went public with the allegations.

Lindy Korn, a local attorney who focuses on sexual harassment cases, said it takes a lot of courage for someone to make a complaint public.

“It’s not something that makes you happy to have your picture in the paper for alleging this,” Korn said.

“It is difficult and most of the time you’re shamed and you’re blamed and you’re not believed.”

Cuomo is still in the hot seat as lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum have called out his alleged behavior. Some even called for his resignation.

First, former Cuomo aide Lindsay Boylan posted a personal account on a website detailing her alleged experiences with the governor. Among the allegations she made against the third-term governor is that he kissed her in his office in 2018.

“How can New Yorkers trust you @NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you “don’t know” when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?” Boylan tweeted shortly after the governor finished his news conference on Wednesday.

Cuomo adamantly denies Boylan’s allegations.

Then the New York Times reported the account of another Cuomo aide, Charlotte Bennett, who accused the governor of asking her questions about her sex life and whether she ever had sex with older men. She is 25 and Cuomo is 63.

Cuomo said in a statement that he thought he mentored Bennett and denied making any advances toward her. He did address his own behavior by stating that he often teases staffers in a “playful” manner, but he now understands 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.”

He repeated much of this on Wednesday and appeared to be most embarrassed by the complaint made by Bennett. When the governor was asked to whom is he apologizing, he described the encounters with Bennett.

Debra Katz, Bennett’s attorney, said the governor was not acting as a mentor to her client, and “his remarks were not misunderstood.”

“The Governor’s press conference was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information, and New Yorkers deserve better,” Katz stated in a prepared statement Wednesday.

Two days ago, the New York Times reported the account of a third woman, Anna Ruch, who accused the governor of inappropriate conduct at a 2019 wedding ceremony, including asking if he could kiss her and cupping her cheeks in his hands. A photo of the interaction was taken by one of Ruch’s friends.

The Attorney General’s Office will oversee the sexual harassment investigations by an independent law firm she selects with the power to subpoena, which Cuomo had initially tried to avoid.

Cuomo was already reeling from a scathing Attorney General report that found his administration significantly undercounted by as much as 50% the number of nursing home residents who died from the novel coronavirus.

Republicans have been calling for his resignation and Cuomo’s almost daily interactions with the public and reporters for coronavirus updates have come to a halt since the allegations surfaced.

He broke that silence Wednesday during a live update on the coronavirus effort, when he addressed the allegations. He also said he would not resign.

Korn said when reviewing sexual harassment cases what matters is how the victim interpreted the interactions, and not what the other person may have intended.

“When there’s a pattern, meaning more than one, one usually helps the other,” Korn said.

What makes these allegations more unusual is when you consider how Cuomo advocated for and supported women to have stronger protections in the workplace against behavior he is now accused of participating in.

On the governor’s website is a section titled, “New York’s Promise to Women: Ever Upward.”

“Governor Cuomo knows that when women succeed, New York succeeds, and he has made historic achievements to advance women’s equality with robust women’s rights agendas in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020,” the website states.

The legislation included pay equity, new workplace harassment protections, and extending the statute of limitations for rape in the second degree and third degree.

“And yet we have these allegations, which if proven true could lead to him having committed sexual harassment,” Korn said.

“If after an investigation, if he himself committed this harm, it is very lifelike.”

Korn said sexual harassment reduced to its most basic definition is power and the abuse of that power. When the harassment comes from a superior, it could be even more harmful to the victim, she said.

“If they are made to be fearful about things that their boss says regarding sex or sexual innuendos, it’s a very stressful, uncomfortable, unhealthy environment,” she said.

Jay Jacobs, the state democratic party chairman, said Cuomo is facing serious allegations but “we’re going to stand as we have stood with the governor.”

Jacobs said he considers Cuomo a good friend and that he does banter with people.

“I’m not here to say that I don’t believe the allegations,” Jacobs said.

“I have no basis doing that. All I’m saying is I know the governor as I’ve seen him. To me, it’s uncharacteristic for him to do such a thing. Banter? No. That I’ve seen and I can see that. I don’t see him as a malicious bad person.”

Jacobs said the governor can be “very playful” at times and maybe some might see him as crossing the line, but he has never known him to do that.

“And yet, I’ve heard him kid around with people and make jokes, but not in a malicious way,” Jacobs said.

“From his point of view, he believes he did not intend to make anybody feel uncomfortable. They apparently did. And that I would only describe as a mistake in that fashion, so people make their mistakes and they are human.”

Jacobs cautioned people to not rush to judgment.

“The facts are not all out,” he said.

“There are two sides to a story that deserve to be aired fairly and then we’ll see where it goes. And if it goes in a direction that’s not favorable to the governor, then so be it.”

Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here.

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