New York state legislative leaders were calling for an independent investigation Saturday night after the second woman in a week came forward to accuse third-term Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former Cuomo staffer, told the New York Times the governor made what she understood to be sexual advances during the height of the pandemic last year.
Cuomo, in a statement issued Saturday night, denied making advances and said he didn't intend to act in an inappropriate way.
The new allegations come on the heels of an explosive essay from former administrative official Lindsey Boylan, now a candidate for Manhattan Borough President. Cuomo also denies those allegations.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, said in a statment: "As I previously stated, all allegations of harassment must be taken seriously. A truly independent investigation is warranted." Those sentiments were echoed by Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, also a Democrat.
“The continued allegations are deeply disturbing and concerning. The behavior described has no place in the workplace. A truly independent investigation must begin immediately,” Stewart-Cousins said.
Here is Cuomo's entire statement:
"Ms. Bennett was a hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID. She has every right to speak out. When she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor and how it shaped her and her ongoing efforts to create an organization that empowered her voice to help other survivors, I tried to be supportive and helpful. Ms. Bennett's initial impression was right: I was trying to be a mentor to her. I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.
"This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press; I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort. I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements. I will have no further comment until the review has concluded."
The governor's press office also released a statment from the governor's counsel, Beth Garvey, which points to an investigation by Barbara Jones:
"Ms. Bennett's concerns were treated with sensitivity and respect and in accordance with applicable law and policy.
"The matter was promptly escalated to special counsel. Ms. Bennett received the transfer she requested to a position in which she had expressed a long-standing interest, and was thoroughly debriefed on the facts which did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct. She was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.
"The determination reached based on the information Ms Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms Bennett's wishes.
"Although in no way required by law, the Governor has requested an independent review and all staff will cooperate in that endeavor. Former Federal Judge Barbara Jones will lead the review."
The firestorm comes as Gov. Cuomo's administration remains under intense scrutiny of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in nursing homes.