On Monday, New York state Attorney General Letitia James received the necessary referral letter from the executive chamber to independently investigate allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Andrew Cuomo. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports on what lawmakers in her region think should happen next.
One of the women who accused Cuomo is former aide Charlotte Bennett. Westchester Democratic state Senator Shelley Mayer says Bennett resides in her 37th district.
“I’m very, very distressed and disappointed to hear of these allegations, and that’s why I believed and continue to believe a thorough investigation by a truly independent agency is so critical, and I will await the results of that investigation, at this point,” says Mayer.
Mayer, who served as assistant state attorney general for 12 years in the office of former attorney general Robert Abrams, says she is pleased that Attorney General James will conduct an independent investigation with full subpoena powers.
“Until we change the law, and I support Senator Kaminsky and Senator Gounardes’ bill to give independent jurisdiction, broader jurisdiction, to the attorney general, I think at the current time, she, it will be in her discretion to determine the breadth of the investigation based on the letter under the executive law,” Mayer says. “But, going forward, I agree with Senator Kaminsky it’s not very sensible to have to request a letter from the governor when your charge is to investigate the governor.”
She refers to Democratic colleagues Senators Todd Kaminsky and Andrew Gounardes. Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro ran against Cuomo in 2018 and is considering another gubernatorial run.
“The governor needs to resign,” says Molinaro. “And we need to remember that this, this, these women coming forward were victimized, he all but acknowledges it, and that isn’t the only crisis of confidence and competence that we have faced these last eight years.”
Cuomo released a tempered apology statement that was immediately criticized Sunday, the last time the public has heard from him on the matter. (Full statement below)
"Questions have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office."I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work and colleagues are often also personal friends.
"At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.
"I now understand 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. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.
"To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.
"That's why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations.
"Separately, my office has heard anecdotally that some people have reached out to Ms. Bennett to express displeasure about her coming forward. My message to anyone doing that is you have misjudged what matters to me and my administration and you should stop now - period."
Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill’s 103rd District represents a large part of Ulster County and a slice of Dutchess.
“I expect the attorney general to move forward aggressively, objectively and quickly in her investigation, and that will result in recommendations, and we can take it from there,” Cahill says. “In the meantime, we’re trying to pass a budget, and we’re trying to do other things to get us out of the COVID situation, and no one knows more than the governor that this requires focus, and it’s up to him if his personal attention is being diverted too much to give everything we have to do its due.”
Cahill say allegations concerning non-workplace behaviors, which, so far, is the case with one of the three women accusing the governor, could show a pattern of behavior.
“I think what we, what we are experiencing with Governor Cuomo in the public sphere right now, that is, in the press and in revelations by victims — and I won’t call them alleged victims because the governor has fairly acknowledged many of these activities — I think it really evinces an attitude and a behavior that many of us in the legislature have known about for years — he’s a bully,” Cahill says. “And he’s a bully under any set of circumstances.”
Molinaro, who was serving in the Assembly when then-Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in March 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, says he and state Senator Jim Tedisco were the first to call for Spitzer’s resignation when those allegations broke. And he says all of the women’s allegations as related to Cuomo should be investigated.
“There is no outside the workplace for the governor of the state of New York,” says Molinaro. “And, by the way, the state law that he touted, the sexual harassment training that he claims to have taken, and that I take every year, makes perfectly clear there isn’t a difference if you are using the power that you have been given by employment to influence, impact, diminish or somehow interfere in the life of another. It’s as simple as that.”
Democratic state Senator Pete Harckham, who once worked in the Cuomo administration, says calls for resignation are hasty.
“They’re serious allegations, they’re troubling, but I think that’s premature,” says Harckham. “We just called for an investigation. I have, I have all confidence in the attorney general that it’ll be swift, it’ll be thorough, it’ll be impartial, but we should hold off judgment on the resignation or other action until that, until that investigation is complete.”
“New Yorkers need to close the chapter on this administration and, in a strange irony, allow the first woman to serve as governor of the state of New York,” says Molinaro.
He refers to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Republican first-term state Senator Mike Martucci of the 42nd District, also is calling for Cuomo to resign. The investigation’s findings will be disclosed in a public report.