After allegations of sexual harassment rocked his administration, prompting an investigation and calls for him to resign, Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized on Sunday for any comments that made female aides uncomfortable.
The embattled Democratic governor said in a statement on Sunday that his interactions with coworkers were intended to be playful rather than insensitive or flirtatious.
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The 280-word statement read, “Questions have been asked about some of my past experiences with people in the workplace.” “I had no intention of offending or harming anyone. I spend the majority of my time at work, and many of my coworkers are also personal friends.”
The remarks came after his office agreed on Sunday to Attorney General Letitia James’ request that she appoint someone to conduct an independent investigation into the governor’s allegations.
Former economic-development aide Lindsey Boylan accused Cuomo of kissing her on the lips during a private meeting in his office in 2018. Boylan also claimed that he asked her to play strip poker on another occasion.
Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide, told The New York Times on Saturday that Cuomo made her feel uneasy last year, asking whether age makes a difference in a relationship and probing questions about her personal life.
Bennett told The New York Times, “I understood the governor wanted to sleep with me and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared.”
Cuomo, 63, said on Sunday that he “never inappropriately touched or propositioned anyone,” and that he “never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable,” but that “New Yorkers deserve answers to these allegations.”
Bennett’s allegations drew a swift rebuke from Democratic legislators and state leaders, who all agreed that Cuomo’s alleged actions required an independent review by James.
Some lawmakers have demanded that he resign, while others have suggested that impeachment proceedings be initiated.
Cuomo was already facing calls from some lawmakers to resign after admitting that his office undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by 50% before the allegations surfaced.
After initially proposing to appoint former federal judge Barbara Jones to investigate the sexual harassment allegations on Saturday night, his office changed its mind on Sunday, saying James could handle the investigation alongside state Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.
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James, on the other hand, rejected the idea and instead urged Cuomo to send her a referral so that her office could handle the case.
Finally, the governor’s office came to an agreement: Cuomo’s lawyer, Beth Garvey, said in a statement that it would allow James’ office to hire a private attorney to conduct the investigation, allowing the attorney to issue subpoenas.
“We do not take this responsibility lightly.” In a statement, James said, “We will employ a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a thorough and impartial investigation.”
Cuomo agreed in his declaration that an independent evaluation is required.
“That’s why I requested an independent investigation into these allegations,” she said.
Boylan’s characterizations of her interactions with Cuomo were not accurate, according to Cuomo’s office on Wednesday.
Cuomo, who was elected in 2011 and is now serving his third term, did not respond to any of the particular charges levied against him on Sunday.
Rather, he said, “I think I’m being playful at work when I make jokes that I think are amusing. On occasion, I tease people in what I consider to be a polite manner. It’s something I do both in public and in private. You’ve seen me do it hundreds of times at briefings.”
He continued, “I’ve teased people about their personal lives, marriages, and whether or not they should get married. I don’t mean any offense.”
During the first months of the COVID pandemic, Cuomo’s daily briefings made him a household name across the nation. Late last year, he moved to three weekly briefings.
In the middle of a string of controversies, he didn’t hold one more Wednesday or Friday. The state’s treatment of COVID deaths in nursing homes is being prosecuted by the US Department of Justice.
Cuomo acknowledged on Sunday that his office banter may have crossed the line.
“I now recognize that some of my interactions were disrespectful or too intimate, and that given my position, some of my remarks made others feel in ways I never expected,” he wrote.
“I’m aware that some of what I’ve said has been misconstrued as an unwelcome flirtation. I sincerely apologize if someone was offended in any way.”
Cuomo also claimed that he has heard anecdotally that Bennett may have been approached by certain individuals who were dissatisfied with her decision to come forward.
“Anyone doing that has misjudged what matters to me and my administration, and you can quit right now — period,” he said.