A year ago today, I did not expect Governor Andrew Cuomo to be under fire. During the beginning of the pandemic, he was seen as a hero by the public. I remember watching his interview with Jimmy Fallon, talking to him about his family in quarantine. The reality of his personal actions is extremely disheartening. Letitia James, the New York City Attorney General, released a 165-page report detailing the sexual harassment of eleven women. A total of 179 witnesses attested to his crimes. Cuomo finally resigned on August 10th, five months after the original investigation. It is shocking and saddening that he was not discovered before this time.
From the surface, he was a quality politician. He helped legalize same-sex marriage in New York, increased the minimum wage, and enacted gun safety laws. However, those who know him find his demeanor unbearable. The Atlantic writer Edward-Isaac Dovere interviewed him about running for U.S. president in January of 2020. In all, Dovere stated that the interview lasted through “a bathroom break” with inattention being a core part of Cuomo’s tactics.
“A Cuomo interview is a manic chess game. It’s hard not to feel his hand trying to guide every move, constantly recalculating and recalibrating, and going off the record to embellish a point or ingratiate himself. It’s also hard not to feel his actual hand: Sort of for emphasis and sort of for dominance, he’ll grab a foot or knee, quickly lean forward with his big body, and stare until he’s not the one who breaks. He never wants to be the one who breaks.“
The domineering nature he takes through mental and physical means are not the signs of a satisfactory leader. It exposes an individual who will use whatever means necessary to get his way. His outward display before the victims came forward was pristine, no doubt. His betrayals reveal for the first time that personal behaviors matter just as much as external views.
All of his family members are quite familiar with the political world. His father Mario Cuomo was also Governor of New York, setting the family name apart for his future campaign trail. Former President Clinton tried to appoint him to the Supreme Court, but he did not accept the offer. Andrew Cuomo’s brother Chris Cuomo is a CNN primetime news anchor. Although both of Andrew Cuomo’s parents are immigrants, it is clear that nepotism had a part to play in his career. A description on his website described what a key part his father played after he completed his law degree:
“After law school, Andrew Cuomo headed the Transition Committee for then Governor-Elect Mario Cuomo and then served as an advisor to the Governor taking a salary of $1 a year. Mario Cuomo instilled in him the belief that government was the vehicle to make change and do justice.“
The website tried to highlight what a selfless nature his parents instilled in him when hiring their son. Working for just one dollar surely helped him gain characteristics of altruism and charity. However, Cuomo was not self-made by any means. His outward appearance tries to represent those who do not have a voice, but his platform was given to him outright. The Daily podcast from The New York Times explained that Cuomo would have to be “forced out” of his position through extreme measures. The assault victims coming forward were the key to do so.
Reaction and resignation
Although the investigation into his actions has been developing for five months, the resignation of top adviser Melissa DeRosa was a reason for his resignation to develop on August 10th. Plenty of people have called Cuomo to resign, including President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer. In spite of these actions, DeRosa was the first person in Cuomo’s administration to call him for his demeanors. She spoke on her resignation in a letter to his administration:
“Personally, the past two years — particularly the non-stop work around COVID compounded by the past several weeks — have been emotionally and mentally trying.”
His administration has stood up for him since the investigation began. Despite the plentiful accusations of his actions, the step DeRosa took to separate herself revealed his true character. Now, he had no choice but to step down. He could no longer avoid the actions he committed. Despite the truthful accusations, Cuomo denied his actions until the end. The following quote was a remark during his resignation speech:
“The most serious allegations made against me had no credible factual basis in the report. And there is a difference between alleged improper conduct and concluding sexual harassment. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that there are not 11 women who I truly offended. There are. And for that I deeply, deeply apologize.“
The act of denial is something we are all too familiar within today’s political system. Former President Trump denied the plentiful accusations of sexual assault and having incited a coup on the nation’s capital. Plenty of Republican representatives followed suit when expressing their support. There were hints of apologies in his speech, but they were backhanded. Confessions of his wrongdoings are crucial, especially in regards to the victims.
All eleven of the victims have very specific personal stories. The breadth of action Cuomo took with these women was absolutely appalling, from threatening their positions to physical touch.
When reading through the testimonies of this report, I especially noticed Ana Liss’ story. She worked as an aide for him in the Executive Chamber. Cuomo called her “darling” and “sweetheart,” and “slid his hand down her lower waist.” All of these are far too familiar for women in the workplace. What really had me reflect was her reaction to his workplace behavior. She spoke on why she did not make noise about the incidences:
“[F]or whatever reason, in his office the rules were different. It was just, you should view it as a compliment if the Governor finds you aesthetically pleasing enough, if he finds you interesting enough to ask questions like that. And so even though it was strange and uncomfortable and technically not permissible in a typical workplace environment, I was in this mindset that it was the twilight zone and . . . the typical rules did not apply.”
The report of Virginia Limmiatis also struck me. She was not an employee of Cuomo but attended an event where he was speaking. Afterward, she was waiting in a line to meet him. She wore a t-shirt with her employer’s name on it, and he touched the letters on her shirt. Then he whispered to her, “I’m going to say I see a spider on your shoulder.”
What they experienced is a commonality for women in the workplace. It is the sly, personal comments that are everywhere in today’s world. The expectations of sexual behavior have become so normalized that ‘a personal favor’ does not seem like too much for current male authority positions.
Justice for all
Although these public events with famous political figures are vital to continue the fight for justice, the common stories of sexual harassment and assault need to be brought to light as well. The familiar accounts of college students being assaulted, or a worker in an office job receiving everyday comments on her looks are the stories not accounted for. We all know a local story of harassment or assault, or we have endured those experiences ourselves. 1 in 3 women worldwide have personal experiences of sexual trauma. That is a number that can no longer be ignored. The bravery of the eleven women coming forward will hopefully help others with a similar experience. After all, everyone should receive the justice that they deserve.
The Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Governor Cuomo: What We Know So Far
Brittany Higgins’ Rape Allegations Forced Australian Politics To Confront A Long-Ignored Problem
The Physical Appearance Issue: Are Women In Politics Changing?