New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to allegations of sexual harassment on Sunday by saying his “playful” banter had been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation”—and telling his allies to stop venting at one of his accusers.
“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,” Cuomo said in a statement as criticism of his behavior and calls for an investigation spread through the political world.
“To be clear I never inappropriately touched anyone and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”
Over the past week, two of the governor’s former aides have accused him of unwanted sexual advances.
On Wednesday, Lindsay Boylan, a current candidate for Manhattan borough president who worked with Cuomo’s office from 2015 to 2018, said he forcibly kissed her after years of inappropriate comments, at one point asking her if she wanted to play strip poker.
“Telling my truth isn’t about seeking revenge. I was proud to work in the Cuomo Administration. For so long I had looked up to the Governor. But his abusive behavior needs to stop,” Boylan wrote.
Then, on Saturday, Charlotte Bennett, a former health policy adviser for Cuomo, said that during the height of the coronavirus outbreak in New York in the spring of 2020, the governor repeatedly asked her if she would be interested in a romantic or a sexual relationship with an older man, according to The New York Times.
“The way he was repeating, ‘You were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed,’ over and over again while looking me directly in the eyes was something out of a horror movie,” Bennett wrote in a text to a friend, according to the Times.
Cuomo denied Boylan’s allegations and told the Times on Saturday that he believed he acted as a mentor to Bennett, adding that he “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett.”
On Sunday, he released a statement with a slightly different tone.
“I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent that anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” he said.
After news of Bennett’s allegations broke, Cuomo called for a review into the investigation, naming Barbara Jones, a former federal judge for the Southern District of New York, as the investigator.
However, statewide officials—including New York’s two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand—called for an independent investigation in the wake of Bennett’s allegations.
Cuomo is now facing the biggest political crisis of his career, with the sexual harassment allegations coming amid an investigation into a cover-up of coronavirus deaths at New York nursing homes and fellow Democrats coming forward to say they have been bullied by him. It is an incredible fall from grace from a year ago, when he was a hero of the pandemic.
Last March, as New York City became the world’s hotspot for the coronavirus pandemic and Cuomo was becoming a national star with daily TV appearances, he barred assisted-living facilities from preventing the intake of COVID-19 positive hospital patients.
However, in July, the state health department released a report stating that the directive’s “timing of admissions versus fatalities shows that it could not be the driver of nursing home infections or fatalities.”
Then, earlier this month, the New York Post published audio of Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa admitting that state officials deliberately undercounted the death toll in these facilities, telling state lawmakers she feared the statistics would “be used against us” by the Trump Justice Department.
On Feb. 17, Democratic state Assembly Member Kim told CNN that Cuomo threatened to “destroy” him over his calls for an investigation into the state’s nursing home deaths.
“There’s no undoing here. They have blood on their hands,” Kim told CNN.
The FBI and Justice Department are currently investigating the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes, as first reported by the Albany Times-Union.
In a statement Sunday, New York Attorney General Letitia James said she expected Cuomo to officially refer the incident to her office for investigation. James said her office would hire an independent law firm to conduct the review.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly,” James said in the statement. “We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.”