Should Governor Cuomo Resign?

Matt Lillywhite

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Recently, demands for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign became louder after a third woman accused him of sexual conduct, claiming that he brushed her face and back and asked to kiss her minutes after they met at a wedding reception.

Late Monday, Anna Ruch told The New York Times that she took the Democratic governor's hand from her back, but he said she looked "aggressive," put his hands on her face, and asked if he could kiss her.

"I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed," Ruch, now 33, told the New York Times, which released a photograph of the encounter, which showed the governor's hands on her face. "I turned my head away and didn't have words in that moment."

Ruch's photography company got an email requesting comment. Her social media pages were set to secret. Cuomo's office was also contacted via email for comment.

Ruch, who served as a photographer at the White House during President Barack Obama's second term, became the second woman to accuse Cuomo of contacting her without her consent, fueling wider demands for Cuomo's removal, even from inside his own party.

"The pattern of sexual harassment and predatory behaviour by Governor Cuomo is unacceptable, and I believe the women coming forward," said New York City Councilman Antonio Reynoso in a tweet that was repeated elsewhere. "Governor Cuomo must resign."

The newest complaint came after two women who worked for the governor made sexual harassment accusations against him, causing New York's independently elected attorney general to reveal that she will initiate an investigation into his actions.

After a weekend of wrangling about who could prosecute, Attorney General Letitia James got a letter from Cuomo's office allowing her to take care of the investigation.

James, a Democrat, will use the letter to select an independent law firm to conduct an investigation with full subpoena authority. The results will be released in a public paper, according to the letter. Cuomo has maintained that he has never touched or propositioned anyone inappropriately.

Cuomo's attempted apology, in which he excused his actions as "playful," was dismissed by former aide Charlotte Bennett, who said Monday that the governor had "refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behaviour."

Bennett tweeted that "abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences." Bennett says Cuomo quizzed her about her love life and questioned whether she would be open to a partnership with an older guy.

Bennett tweeted to Ruch after learning of her account: "His inappropriate and aggressive behaviour cannot be justified or normalized. Thank you for your courage and strength."

Cuomo's popularity has declined as a result of two crises. The claims of abuse follow allegations that he withheld the true death toll from coronavirus among nursing home residents.

Cuomo has been widely lauded for his leadership during the pandemic, especially his frequent press conferences where he tried to warn and persuade the public with maps, graphs, and a machismo he nicknamed "New York tough." Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials have said that while Cuomo is under scrutiny, he should relinquish emergency powers he's retained since the crisis started. Despite Republican and Democratic pressure, the Government has not taken any action to revoke Cuomo's emergency powers, which are due to expire on April 30.

Cuomo appointed Manhattan litigator Elkan Abramowitz on Monday to represent him and his office in nursing home investigations.

Abramowitz, who formerly represented Cuomo's office in a federal probe into his 2014 decision to close a state anti-corruption committee, has clarified that he would not be representing Cuomo in the sexual harassment lawsuit.

Bennett, 25, made her accusations public in a New York Times article released on Saturday. Cuomo told her he was depressed and searching for a woman, she said.

Bennett's comment elicited no response from Cuomo on Monday.

Cuomo also made derogatory remarks about her looks, kissed her without her permission at the end of a meeting, and once proposed they play strip poker while onboard his state-owned plane, according to former aide Lindsey Boylan. Boylan, who is running for borough president of Manhattan, first accused Cuomo in a tweet last December and built on the accusations in a Medium post last week.

She tweeted about Ruch's meeting with the governor on Monday, writing,  "This doesn't make me feel validated. It makes me feel sick."

Boylan's claims have been debunked by Cuomo. He revealed in a statement issued on Sunday that he teased people about their personal lives in an effort to be "playful" and satirical. He claimed that he had hoped to serve as a tutor to Bennett.

"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," he said

Cuomo's comments attracted immediate condemnation from critics who believed he was transferring guilt to the woman by suggesting they misinterpreted his statements.

All state employees have been ordered to fully cooperate with the investigation, according to the letter approving James' investigation. Cuomo senior advisor Beth Garvey said she would assist with witness interviews and paper inquiries from the governor's office.

Cuomo, according to Ross Garber, a lawyer who has previously represented recent governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and John Rowland of Connecticut " "Have at it. Go find whatever you want and publish a report to the public about whatever it is you've concluded that I've done or not done."

Debra Katz, Bennett's counsel, confirmed that her client would fully cooperate with the attorney general's investigation.

"He was not acting as a mentor and his remarks were not misunderstood by Ms. Bennett,"  Katz stated.

Cuomo initially seemed to try to assert some leverage of the investigation. His office announced that Barbara Jones, a retired federal judge, will be in charge of the investigation. The attorney general and the state's highest judge can then collaborate to select outside lawyers, according to his office.

What do you think of the allegations? Do you think Gov. Cuomo should resign? Let me know in the comments.

Photo by DonkeyHotey via Flickr (licensed under creative commons)

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