NEW YORK NOW – Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday pushed back on the several claims of sexual harassment made against him in recent months, saying that “harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable,” and repeating that his actions have been skewed in the press.
The remarks quickly came under fire from advocates for stronger sexual harassment laws, and an attorney representing one of the women who’ve accused him of misconduct.
“Governor’s Cuomo’s remarks are jaw dropping,” said Debra Katz, an attorney representing Charlotte Bennett, a former Cuomo aide who’s claimed he made several inappropriate remarks to her, including questions about her sex life.
“The law is very clear on this. If an employer makes unwelcome jokes, comments, asks probing questions of a sexual nature or makes unwanted sexual propositions – which is exactly what Gov. Cuomo has already admitted to having directed toward my client, Charlotte Bennett – that employer has violated New York state law. There is no gray area here.”
After Bennett accused Cuomo of sexual harassment in March, Cuomo offered a broad apology at a press conference, expressing regret over his past behavior. Cuomo didn’t describe the behavior at the time, but acknowledged Bennett’s claims.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said. “It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it.”
But his tune has changed in recent weeks, saying flat-out at several public appearances that he did nothing “wrong,” and rebuffing claims that his actions violated the state’s laws on sexual harassment.
He said the same on Thursday, and told a reporter that making someone uncomfortable in the office doesn’t equate to the legal definition of sexual harassment.
“Harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable. That is not harassment,” Cuomo said. “If I just made you feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment, I just made you feel uncomfortable.”
The Sexual Harassment Working Group, a collection of former legislative staffers who’ve been pivotal in recent years in shaping stronger laws on sexual harassment in New York, said Cuomo was wrong.
“Today Andrew Cuomo’s self-delusion reached impressive new heights and our response is very simple: just because you believe you can’t make anyone ‘feel’ harassed by your actions, doesn’t make it legally true,” the group said in a statement.
“If the Governor tried that before a judge he’d get laughed out of court.”
Cuomo is currently under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office over the sexual harassment claims, which have now been made against him by several women. That report doesn’t have a deadline, but is expected in the coming months, if not weeks.
The State Assembly, meanwhile, is in the midst of an impeachment inquiry against Cuomo over the harassment claims, his administration’s handling of nursing homes during COVID-19, whether he used state resources to work on his book last year, and more.
If that probe leads to his impeachment, Cuomo would be removed from office while the State Senate holds a trial.
The outcome of an impeachment trial could depend on the charge delivered by the Assembly. Most members of the Senate have called for Cuomo’s removal — either temporarily or permanently — but it’s unclear if the chamber would vote to convict.
This year’s legislative session is scheduled to end in early June, meaning an impeachment trial would likely be held sometime this summer, if at all.