As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to return to the business of governing on Monday, one of his sexual harassment accusers met via Zoom for more than four hours with investigators working for the state attorney general’s office.
During the interview, Charlotte Bennett revealed new details about Cuomo's behavior and what she said was a “sexually hostile work environment,” according to her lawyer, including a claim the governor frequently made suggestive remarks about the size of his hands.
“One piece of new information that came to light today was the Governor’s preoccupation with his hand size and what the large size of his hands indicated to Charlotte and other members of his staff,” her lawyer, Debra Katz, said in a statement.
Bennett also provided investigators with 120 pages of records to corroborate her accusations, according to Katz.
Bennett, 25, is one of a number of women who have accused Cuomo of workplace harassment. Some have said Cuomo demeaned them with pet nicknames or objectifying remarks about their appearance, subjected them to unwanted kisses and touches or asked them about their sex lives. A few, including Bennett, said they believed the governor was probing their interest in a sexual relationship.
Cuomo also faces an allegation that he groped a female staff member under her shirt after summoning her to the governor's mansion in Albany late last year.
The claims have led to a chorus of Cuomo's fellow Democrats demanding his resignation, including, on Friday, both of New York's U.S. senators.
Even as he remained overshadowed by scandal, Cuomo has tried to press on and project normalcy.
Monday he appeared at a vaccination site on Long Island and talked about the importance of getting a new state budget done by an April 1 deadline — one he said was critical to getting the state back on its feet.
That's a process that normally involves intense negotiations and deal-making between Cuomo and the two top leaders in the Legislature.
This year, though, Cuomo is having to negotiate with people who have demanded that he step down. More than 130 state lawmakers have said Cuomo should resign, including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The state Assembly has opened up an impeachment investigation.
“The majority of the Legislature has called for his impeachment or resignation,” Baruch College political science professor Doug Muzzio said. “So I mean, you know, how can you work with a legislature that is composed of his antagonists? It doesn’t work.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he would try.
“I’m going to proceed as if it’s a normal negotiation,” he said.
Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat on the Senate finance committee, said the allegations surrounding Cuomo have distracted him and lawmakers. He said Democrats who now have veto-proof supermajorities are hoping Cuomo will support long-stalled efforts to legalize marijuana and raise taxes on New Yorkers making more than a million dollars.
“The governor is clearly distracted and that’s not going to help his position,” Liu said. “At the very minimum, he’s facing serious investigations as well as calls for his resignation. None of that adds to his negotiating position.”
Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat of Manhattan, said budget discussions with Cuomo’s staff are ongoing and called the overall dynamic “awkward to say the least.”
“It’s not everyday that you and your colleagues demand the head of your party to step down and proceed with a negotiation,” Hoylman, who chairs the Senate's judiciary committee and sits on its finance committee, said. “I also think it speaks to why so many of us are concerned with these swirling scandals and the ability for the executive to manage this situation.”
The attorney general, James, last week named a former federal prosecutor, Joon Kim, and employment discrimination attorney Anne Clark to lead the Cuomo investigation. They have full subpoena power and will document their findings in a public report.
Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he'll “fully cooperate.” His office didn’t immediately comment Monday when asked about Bennett’s interview with investigators.
The attorney general's investigation is on top of scrutiny that Cuomo is facing from federal prosecutors who are scrutinizing how his administration handled data on COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Daniel Feldman, who served as a state lawmaker from 1981 to 1998, said the governor is in the tough position of needing political support from a Legislature that’s increasingly said he’s lost his ability to lead.
He pointed to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who quit in 2008 after admitting he paid for sex with prostitutes.
“It was said at that time, that had Spitzer maintained cordial relations with a majority of the Legislature, he would not have resigned and if he was impeached he wouldn’t have been convicted,” Feldman said.
Cuomo has insisted he won't let himself be distracted and he won't resign.
At his event at the Long Island vaccination site Monday, from which reporters were barred, ostensibly because of COVID-19 restrictions, the governor didn't address the scandal but did speak generally of comebacks in the face of adversity.
“Sometimes, God comes and he knocks you on your rear end for one reason or another, or life comes and knocks you on your rear end for one reason or another,” Cuomo said in a comment that was intended to reference the state’s situation, but could also apply to his personal troubles.
”The question is what you do when you get knocked on your rear end. And New Yorkers get up, and they get up stronger, and they learn the lesson.”
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