A second former aide has come forward with sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who responded with a statement Saturday saying he never made advances toward her and never intended to be inappropriate.
Charlotte Bennett, a health policy adviser in the Democratic governor’s administration until November, told The New York Times that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she had ever had sex with older men.
Another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, recently accused Cuomo of subjecting her to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments. Cuomo denied the allegations.
Cuomo said in a statement Saturday that Bennett was a “hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID” and that “she has every right to speak out.”
He said he had intended to be a mentor for Bennett, who is 25.
“I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate,” Cuomo’s statement said. “The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”
Cuomo, however, said he had authorized an outside review of Bennett’s allegations.
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The governor’s special counsel, Beth Garvey, said that review would be conducted by a former federal judge, Barbara Jones.
“I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements,” Cuomo said. “I will have no further comment until the review has concluded.”
The pair of harassment allegations represent a deepening crisis for Cuomo, who just months ago was at the height of his popularity for his leadership during the height of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.
In recent weeks, he has been assailed, even by some fellow Democrats, over revelations that his administration had substantially underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
A state assemblyman went public with complaints that Cuomo had threatened to destroy him politically over statements he made in the press, prompting other politicians to share stories about having been bullied by the governor.
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Bennett did not immediately return a Twitter message seeking comment Saturday night.
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She told the Times that her most disturbing interaction with Cuomo happened last June 5 when she was alone with him in his Albany office. She said Cuomo started asking her about her personal life, her thoughts on romantic relationships, including whether age was a factor, and said he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.
Bennett said she also dodged a question from Cuomo about hugging by saying she missed hugging her parents. She said Cuomo never touched her.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the Times. “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 in 2019 with Sandra Lee, a chef and TV personality.
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Bennett 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. Cuomo, she told the Times, responded by suggesting she put the tattoo on her buttocks to avoid people seeing it when she wore a dress.
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 said she also gave a statement to a special counsel for Cuomo.
Garvey acknowledged that the complaint had been made and that Bennett had been 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 told the newspaper she decided not to push for any further action by the administration. She said she liked her new job and “wanted to move on.”
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Jones, who will oversee the investigation, was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1995. As a judge, she struck down a portion of the Defence of Marriage Act denying federal recognition of same-sex marriage in a ruling later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
After retiring, she joined the law firm Bracewell LLP, where her work focuses on corporate compliance and investigations.
Her arbitration work included a 2014 decision throwing out Ray Rice’s suspension by the NFL for punching his fiance in an elevator in an attack recorded on video.
Boylan said in Twitter postings Saturday night that she was proud of Bennett and alleged Cuomo “tried to destroy many, including me, in the press.”
“You are not going to derail or destroy any more lives,” she tweeted.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
globalnews.ca 2021-02-28 02:48:18