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Cuomo’s Twilight Zone

Wed, 08/04/2021 - 17:47

Editorial

If there was any doubt before that Andrew M. Cuomo should no longer be governor of New York, a scathing report this week from the state attorney general’s independent investigation into his pattern of serial sexual harassment of women should have erased it entirely. The accounts of his often bizarre predatory behavior toward female staff members and even strangers are horrifying and have been corroborated by interviews with more than 170 people, sworn testimony, more than 74,000 documents, and contemporaneous text messages by his victims. The investigators concluded that his denials lacked credibility and were inconsistent with the weight of evidence they uncovered. The report is damning and worth reading in full.

Two things stand out from the investigators’ conclusions: that the governor had engaged in sexual harassment and that his office’s response violated its own policies and in the case of one victim was illegal retaliation. The State Assembly is expected to begin impeachment proceedings soon.

The incidents described in the report are detailed and credible. Among them is that his own aides “developed an internal unofficial protocol to try to protect the governor from being alone with young women on the executive chamber staff.” Some of his top staff in “private text messages called him a creep and noted that had they acted that way towards women they would be fired on the spot,” the report observed.

The governor’s actions followed a pattern. There would be suggestions about clothing, comments about hair, legs, or makeup. Groping was common, with his hands grazing women’s butts or uncomfortably placed on women’s chests while posing for a photograph. He would ask if the women liked older men or if they cheated on their husbands. He would say he was lonely and asked if they could help find him a girlfriend. There was unwanted kissing and inappropriately close hugs in which the victims reported having to arch their backs to avoid his pelvic area.

In a previously unreported accusation, an unnamed state trooper without the requisite service time was elevated to the governor’s security detail at his request. He then inappropriately touched her more than once and had asked her why she did not wear a dress. Also new is an account that Mr. Cuomo grabbed an employee of an unnamed state-affiliated entity by the backside during a meeting.

One staff member who had been the subject of multiple assaults of this sort told investigators that had she acted forcefully in response she would have been escorted out by state police and likely fired. She and others described a toxic atmosphere in which “people got punished and screamed at if you do anything where you disagree with him or his top aides.” Another said that the double standard made it seem to her that the executive office was in its own “twilight zone.”

Mr. Cuomo must have panicked as stories about him became public and he led an effort to discredit the women. On the day Lindsey Boylan became the first victim to go public, his aides sent reporters copies of confidential documents from her personnel file that they and he believed might undercut her story. Later, the governor himself wrote a draft of an op-ed piece attacking her. Perhaps surprisingly, given his warped view of what constitutes basic decency, it was not released. He even went after members of the investigation team. On Tuesday, President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for his resignation, as have all the Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation.

It is now clear as can be that impeachment is the only option unless, by some miracle, the governor steps down. The message to women if the state fails to act would be devastating. Dangerous, too, would be the tacit signal to other abusers and potential abusers. Mr. Cuomo, among other things, conducted himself in a manner contrary to a state-mandated sexual harassment education program he himself had signed into law. Civil trials may be ahead, but New Yorkers cannot wait that long. Grassroots pressure should be directed at local government officials to stand up and say, “This is not okay.” If this costs Democrats control in Albany, so be it — this is a case in which principle must rise above politics.


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