*Trigger Warning, the following article discusses sexual assault in hopes of shedding light on the victims accounts*
When New York City was gripped by COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, former Governor Andrew Cuomo became one of many new household names – to the likes of immunologist Anthony Fauci – regarded as a hero in helping us “flatten the curve.”
This was a dark time in the city’s history but became the high point of Cuomo’s political career. In the spring of 2020, a Siena College poll found his favorability rating sat at an all-time high of 77%. But by the time New Yorkers were finally able to enjoy some semblance of normalcy again, Cuomo’s days of popularity had been overshadowed.
The pandemic – a political death sentence for governors across the country, including our very own Governor Gavin Newsom who stands the chance of being replaced by a Republican in a statewide recall race – had the potential to kick Cuomo out of office on its own. A report released by the state’s attorney general in January found Cuomo’s administration may have deliberately undercounted nursing home deaths by the thousands, prompting an FBI investigation that remains ongoing.
The final nail in the coffin, resulting in Cuomo’s resignation on Aug. 10, was a report released by the attorney general detailing sexual harassment claims from 11 women – allegations the former governor met with a combination of denial and downplay.
“I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let the government get back to governing,” he said.
By the summer of 2021, Cuomo had already been battling these accusations for the better part of a year. It started with a Twitter thread.
“Yes, Cuomo sexually harassed me for years. Many saw it, and watched,” tweeted Lindsey Boylan, a former aide in his administration, in December 2020.
Attorney General Letitia James’ 168-page report on the matter details alleged sexual harassment against Boylan, including but not limited to frequent comments about her appearance, inappropriate physical touching, non-consensual kissing, and a comment to the effect of, “let’s play strip poker.”
Among the other named victims in the report is Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser in Cuomo’s office. She alleges the former governor told her – a 25-year-old – he would be willing to date a woman as young as 22, made comments about being “lonely” and that he “wanted to be touched” during quarantine, and that he asked her whether she was monogamous, among other incidents.
The report details a culture of harassment, touchiness, and disrespect toward women that’d become normal in the presence of Cuomo, from kisses on the cheek to full-blown groping.
Executive assistant Alyssa McGrath said the governor would often probe her about her marital status, and that she once caught him peering at her chest, followed by a comment on her necklace that was inside her shirt. Ana Liss, a former Executive Chamber aide, said she was addressed almost exclusively as “sweetheart” or “darling” and that the governor liked to get touchy with her, including placing his hand on her waist.
“[F]or whatever reason, in his office the rules were different,” Liss said in the report. “It was just, you should view it as a compliment if the Governor finds you aesthetically pleasing.”
Some of the victims had their names in the report, but not all.
A woman identified in the report as “Trooper #1” described numerous occasions when Cuomo would run his finger along the length of her torso and back. She also alleges he asked her why she would want to get married because it makes “your sex drive goes down.”
Another woman identified as “Executive Assistant #1,” recalled a specific incident in the governor’s mansion when she says Cuomo reached under her shirt and grabbed her breast. She said he would also touch her butt during hugs. (This assistant grew visibly upset during a March 3 press conference where the then-Governor claimed he’d never “touched anyone inappropriately.”)
Other incidents in the report include Cuomo telling a doctor before the press, “you make that gown look good,” calling a woman “aggressive” for moving his hand from her back, and Cuomo brushing his hand in the area between an energy worker’s shoulder and breast – below her collarbone – at a public event.
“I didn’t know how to report what he did to me at the time and was burdened by shame,
but not coming forward now would make me complicit in his lie, and I won’t do it,” said Virginia Limmiatis, the energy worker.
Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Hochul succeeded Cuomo as governor effective Aug. 24, becoming the first female governor of New York.