New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) directly addressed the sexual harassment allegations against him at a Wednesday press conference, saying he now realizes his behavior made people “uncomfortable” but that he never touched anyone inappropriately.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it.”
He will not heed calls to step down, he told reporters.
“I’m not going to resign,” he said.
However, he added, “I never touched anyone inappropriately,” contradicting claims by two of his three accusers, one of whom said he kissed her without her consent and one of whom said he put his hands on her lower back and around her face.
When pressed by reporters to address a photo of him with one of his accusers, Cuomo said he now understands she was uncomfortable but that this wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary behavior.
“You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people ― men, women,” he said, defending himself. “It is my usual and customary way of greeting. You know that because you’ve watched me for more years than we care to remember.”
That’s his way of reaching out to his constituents and making them feel comfortable, he added. However, he admitted that his intention by the gesture does not matter.
“It doesn’t matter my intent,” he said. “What matters is if anybody was offended by it.”
Anna Ruch, the accuser in the photo who met Cuomo at a wedding, said Cuomo called her “aggressive” when she removed his hands from her lower back, and said he asked her if he could kiss her.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James is conducting an investigation into the allegations against Cuomo, two of which were made by former staffers. Cuomo said Wednesday he is cooperating with the probe but urges people not to form an opinion on the matter until the investigation is complete.
Whether Cuomo physically touched these women isn’t the only issue. The discomfort that Cuomo now freely admits to gets at the core of the problem. Making women uncomfortable in the workplace, in particular, sets up an environment where it’s more difficult for them to do their jobs.
The allegations from former employees are “textbook hostile work environment sexual harassment,” said Nancy Erika Smith, a lawyer who handles these types of cases and is best known for representing former Fox New Host Gretchen Carlson in her lawsuit against Roger Ailes.
One of Cuomo’s accusers, Charlotte Bennet, age 25, says the governor asked her if she was monogamous and if she’d ever had sex with an older man. Cuomo, who is 63, admitted to being “flirtatious” with her, Smith pointed out. “Unwanted flirtation by your boss is sexual harassment,” she said.
In Bennet’s case, she was transferred out of Cuomo’s office. It’s all too common for a woman who’s been harassed to then face career repercussions like a transfer.
In the case of Lindsey Boylan, another of Cuomo’s workplace accusers, she said she felt so harassed by him that she quit the governor’s office. “I’d call that constructive discharge,” Smith said, meaning she had no choice but to quit; effectively, it’s a firing.
Boylan commented that Cuomo essentially admitted to being unfit for office on Wednesday.
“How can New Yorkers trust you ... to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?” she tweeted.