One of Andrew Cuomo’s accusers on Friday branded him a ‘textbook abuser’ who ‘used his temper to rule the office’ as other aides described a ‘brutal’ work environment where he preferred ‘blondes in heels’ in his Albany office.
The embattled New York Governor is facing allegations of sexual harassment from three women including two former aides, one of whom is Charlotte Bennett.
Bennett, 25, alleges that the Governor came on to her- not physically – but with inappropriate comments in his Albany office this summer, at a time when he was considered a pandemic hero.
She alleged in an interview with CBS reporter Norah O’Donnell that he ‘terrified’ her and repeatedly asked her to find him a girlfriend after telling her that she was old enough for him because he would date anyone ‘over 22’. He is 63.
‘He is a textbook abuser. He let his temper and his anger rule the office,’ Bennett said.
She claims Cuomo preyed on the fact she had previously been raped and that she thinks he was looking to take advantage of her vulnerabilities.
Charlotte Bennett, 25, worked as an aide for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this year. She claims he sexually harassed her and left her ‘terrified’
‘I wasn’t laughing’: In an interview with CBS reporter Norah O’Donnell, Bennett said Cuomo’s claims that he was kidding around are untrue
‘He said again and again, “you were raped and abused and assaulted.” I think it’s really strategic. Abusers look for vulnerabilities, previous traumas. The idea that maybe I’m more willing to accept behavior because I have a history of sexual violence. Perhaps I’m not as confident in myself because of my history.’
She previously said he asked her if she had trouble being ‘intimate’ because of what she had experienced.
She claims that on May 15, his inappropriate remarks began with him telling her he wanted a girlfriend and was lonely. She says he also asked her if she would date older men.
On June 5, she brought it up again.
‘He said he wanted a girlfriend, he mentioned that he was lonely.
‘I said his daughters had been around and he rejected that. He said, “yeah, I love my daughters but I want a girlfriend.”‘
Bennett says that she took from that conversation that he was trying to sleep with her and she was ‘terrified’.
‘I thought, “hes trying to sleep with me. The governor is trying to sleep with me and I am deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.
‘He implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely. I was trying not to cry,’ she said.
She said that afterwards, she vowed to herself that she wouldn’t let the alleged impropriety go any further.
She went back to work the next day and says he asked her if she had found him a girlfriend for him yet.
Anna Ruch, 33, (left) claimed Cuomo behaved inappropriately at a Manhattan wedding in September 2019. Lindsey Boylan, 36, (right) claims Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs
Anna Ruch told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan
‘I was terrified, shaken. I thought at any moment something would happen and I would have no power. He asked me a few questions about how to use an iPhone.
CUOMO’S STATEMENT ON SEX HARASSMENT SCANDAL
I want to address the recent allegations that have been made against me.
As you know the Attorney General is doing an independent review. I will fully cooperate with that review. The lawyers say I shouldn’t say anything when you have a pending review. I understand that. I am a lawyer too.
But, I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this. First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward and I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional. And I truly and deeply apologize for it.
I feel awful about it and frankly I am embarrassed by it. That’s not easy to say. That’s the truth. This is what I want you to know and I want you to know this from me directly: I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never touched anyone inappropriately.
I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feeling uncomfortable. I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. I certainly never ever meant to offend anyone or cause anyone any pain.
That is the last thing I would ever do that. I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the Attorney General’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts please before forming an opinion. I will fully cooperate with it.Then you will have the facts Make a decision when you have the facts
I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation. I’ve learned an important lesson. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone I never intended it.
I will be the better for this experience.
‘Then finally he called me in and asked if I’d found him a girlfriend yet. I said, “not yet” and that I was working on it.’
In his first statement about the clams, Cuomo said he was joking and that his playful demeanor had been misinterpreted. Bennett rejected that on Friday, saying: ‘I wasn’t laughing and he wasn’t laughing.’
She insisted she was telling the truth, adding: ‘It’s hard enough sharing this story – but it’s true.
‘I cant imagine that it would be like to sit here and tell you lies. I don’t know who would do that.
‘I couldn’t make this up. I liked my job, I really looked up to him, he was my mentor I really did see it that way.’
Bennett worked as a health policy adviser in the New York governor’s administration, hired in the spring of 2019 and swiftly promoted to senior briefer and executive assistant only a few months later.
Bennett had a friendly relationship with Cuomo due to their mutual ties to Westchester County, and saw him as a mentor.
Asked why she didn’t walk away, she replied: ‘It didn’t feel like I had a choice. He was my boss. He was everyone’s boss.’
In an article published by Gothamist on Thursday, other anonymous aides say they did not witness sexual harassment or abuse but that it was a ‘brutal’ workplace.
One said Cuomo liked having blondes in heels in the office.
An anonymous former staffer who was in her twenties when she started working for him in 2013 claims she was given a seat ‘in his line of sight’ when she joined the office, and was told: ‘You gotta wear heels when he’s in Albany sweetie, that’s the rule.’
‘I knew by looking cute, and not being obstinate or opinionated, and doing what I was told and looking polished… That is the only way I would survive there,’ she said.
The former staffers say they now feel like they were in a cult.
‘They push you until you want to be there. You want them to like you. We’re all kind of waking up to the fact that we were in a cult,’ one said.
‘There was a general sense that when the governor was in the building that you were to walk on eggshells.
‘And while you’re walking, make sure those shoes are nice and shiny.’
‘We all would have taken a bullet for the governor. He was the most important person,’ she said.
Another said: ‘There’s no right or wrong way. It’s the Cuomo way. He wants people who are literally going to fall on the sword for him, and they all will.’
Others described him as a ‘micromanager’, one of the worst they’d seen. They recalled alleged incidents where he fired people suddenly for what seemed like minor problems, like when an aide left his side briefly and he accidentally walked out onto a stage before being announced.
‘Cuomo fired a lot of people and we just didn’t put them in front of him. This guy continued to [work] but we would hide him at events,’ the staffers said.
Bennett, pictured at work, told Cuomo’s team about her incidents with him
Protesters staged an ‘I Believe Women’ rally outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office on Thursday
A protester in a Donald Trump mask lies on the sidewalk outside Cuomo’s office on Thursday
In a separate set of claims to The New York Post, staffers said ‘Young people work for him thinking they will rise up with him. Older people are stuck because they need a job and benefits.’
One recalled an incident where he allegedly screamed at a veteran State Police detective who was in his sixties because the man had mispronounced his name as ‘Como’.
‘What’s my name? How do you pronounce it? Spell it!’ he allegedly yelled.
His office has rejected the allegations and say it’s ‘sexist’ to claim – as some have – that he was guarded by a group of senior female staffers like Melissa DeRosa who called themselves ‘mean girls’.
Others, like State Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs, said that what is being described as bullying and brutal is nothing more than ‘hardball’ politics that not everyone is cut out for.
‘I think they play hardball up in Albany, there’s no question about it. And you have to have a thick skin to work up there.
‘There’s this misconception that producing good government results is going to be nice, or sweet, or easy — it’s not,’ he said in an interview this week.
Richard Azzopardi, Cuomo’s spokesperson, said: ‘Yes, they have seen him get impatient with partisan politics and disingenuous attacks.
‘We have a top-tier team and the Governor is direct with people if their work is subpar because the people of New York deserve nothing short of excellence from us.’
When Bennett first made her allegations, in The New York Times, she told a similar story.
‘I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,’ Bennett told the paper.
‘And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.’
Bennett said Cuomo also told her he wanted a girlfriend, ‘preferably in the Albany area,’ and he was lonely since breaking up with Sandra Lee, a chef and TV personality.
She also said she tried to change the subject when Cuomo’s comments were making her uncomfortable, telling him she was thinking of getting a tattoo.
Bennett said Cuomo responded by suggesting she put the tattoo on her buttocks.
Bennett said she informed Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, about the interaction less than a week later. She said she was transferred to another job on the opposite side of the Capitol. At the end of June she also gave a statement to a special counsel for Cuomo.
Cuomo’s special counsel, Beth Garvey, has acknowledged that the complaint had been made and that Bennett was transferred as a result to a position in which she had already been interested.
Garvey said in a statement that Bennett’s allegations ‘did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct’ and Bennett ‘was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.’
‘The determination reached based on the information Ms Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms Bennett’s wishes,’ Garvey said.
Bennett said she decided not to push for any further action by the administration. She said she liked her new job and ‘wanted to move on.’
Bennett spoke out several days after Lindsey Boylan, now 36, accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. A third woman, Anna Ruch, 33, came forward on Monday.
Boylan opened about her sexual harassment claims against Cuomo in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar published on Thursday.
She revealed she came forward after the Democratic governor’s name started being floated as a potential nominee for a cabinet position in Biden’s administration.
‘I woke up the next day, and the governor was being floated for attorney general, the highest law enforcement position in the U.S.,’ Boylan said. ‘And I didn’t think about it at all… I began tweeting about my experience.’
‘After I initially came forward, it felt like I had intentionally blown up my own body into pieces all over the world, and people were looking at them. It almost felt like I had done this to myself. I had made that choice.’
Boylan claims Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs.
She also alleges that he once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet.
Meanwhile, a third woman – Anna Ruch – told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan.
Boylan said in her magazine interview that she has been in touch with Bennett but not Ruch, adding that Ruch’s story made her feel ‘nauseous’.
Boylan, who worked for Cuomo’s team from March 2015 to October 2018, first tweeted about an abusive workplace environment in the administration in December.
She elaborated on her accusations in a February 24 Medium post in which she said Cuomo once suggested a game of strip poker and on another occasion kissed her without her consent.
Ex and current Cuomo staffers say they’re ‘waking up to the fact they were in a cult’
Nearly a dozen former and current staffers have detailed to Gothamist/WNYC the working culture inside Gov Cuomo’s office after he was accused of sexual harassment.
Some of the staffers say they weren’t surprised by the allegations given what they claim is a bullying environment and intense work culture inside Cuomo’s office.
Former staffers have described working there as having ‘Stockholm syndrome’, while others said they’re ‘kind of waking up to the fact that we were in a cult’.
Some said Cuomo was a ‘micromanager to the 100th degree’ and had a tough management style.
One staffer who had a fellowship when she was in her 20s in 2013 described how she was quickly set up near Cuomo’s office, with staffers later telling her the governor liked blondes.
She was also told to wear stilettos when in the Albany office.
Some staffers, however, refuted the toxic workplace notions.
‘I think everyone there wants to do the best work they can. Sometimes that work-life balance is sacrificed. I was definitely burned out by the end of my time there. I didn’t take it personally,’ the staffer said.
Cuomo has previously denied Boylan’s allegations.
‘I just want the abuse to stop. I’m really not focused on punishment. I’m focused on accountability. And I think we’re seeing somewhat the way the governor (and his administration) operates, the way that they are, and it’s being seen in real time. And I think that’s really unfortunate, but probably necessary,’ Boylan said.
Cuomo on Wednesday rejected calls for his resignation in the face of the harassment allegations.
He apologized and said that he had ‘learned an important lesson’ about his behavior around women.
Cuomo initially said he was apologizing to ‘people’ who were uncomfortable with his conduct. At one point, he said he was apologizing to ‘the young woman who worked here who said that I made her feel uncomfortable in the workplace’.
‘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’m embarrassed by what happened… I’m embarrassed that someone felt that way in my administration. I’m embarrassed and hurt and I apologize that somebody who interacted with me felt that way.’
Asked about calls for him to step aside, the third-term governor said: ‘I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I´m not going to resign.’
Cuomo acknowledged ‘sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed’ and that what he considers his ‘customary greeting’ – an old-world approach that often involves kisses and hugs – is not acceptable.
Cuomo said he inherited his gregarious way of greeting people from his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and that he intended to be welcoming and make people feel comfortable.
He said he will ‘fully cooperate’ with an investigation into the allegations overseen by the state’s independently elected attorney general. Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, is selecting an outside law firm to conduct the probe and document its findings in a public report.
Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said the governor’s news conference ‘was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information.’
She said Cuomo’s claim that he was unaware he had made women uncomfortable was disingenuous, considering that Bennett had reported his behavior to her boss and one of Cuomo’s lawyers.
‘We are confident that they made him aware of her complaint and we fully expect that the Attorney General’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms Bennett’s serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements,’ Katz said.
The harassment allegations represent a deepening crisis for Cuomo, who just months ago was at the height of his popularity for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent weeks, he has been assailed over revelations that his administration had underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.