Cuomo faces sexual harassment allegations

A former staffer for Gov. Andrew Cuomo alleged Wednesday he sexually harassed and assaulted her.
A former staffer for Gov. Andrew Cuomo alleged Wednesday he sexually harassed and assaulted her.
Don Pollard/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
A former staffer for Gov. Andrew Cuomo alleged Wednesday that he sexually harassed and assaulted her.

Cuomo faces sexual harassment allegations

Former staffer Lindsey Boylan said the governor acted inappropriately with her and kissed her against her will.
February 24, 2021

Lindsey Boylan, a former staffer for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, alleged Wednesday that he sexually harassed and assaulted her. In an essay posted on the blogging platform Medium, Boylan accused the governor of acting inappropriately with her while she worked in his administration, and forcibly kissing her in 2018. Cuomo denies the allegations. 

The essay opened with an alleged encounter Boylan had with the governor when the pair were flying back from an event in Western New York in October 2017. “Let’s play strip poker,” Boylan said Cuomo suggested to her. At the time, she was serving as the chief of staff for Empire State Development. “I should have been shocked by the Governor’s crude comment, but I wasn’t,” Boylan wrote, going on to describe an environment of pervasive harassment that she said affected many women in the office.

After she noticed the governor paying an unusual amount of attention to her, Boylan said her boss informed her that Cuomo had a “crush” on her in 2016. Later, an email from a top Cuomo aide, from which Boylan included a screenshot, said that Cuomo thought Boylan could be the “better looking sister” of Lisa Shields. At the time, there were rumors that Shields was an ex-girlfriend of Cuomo’s. Boylan said he began calling her Lisa in front of colleagues after that. “It was degrading,” she wrote. At the end of the year, Boylan said Cuomo called her into his office for a private audience one evening, which was the first time she said she “truly fear(ed) him.”

After initially turning down the position, Boylan said she became a special adviser to the governor in 2018. Following a one-on-one briefing with Cuomo at his Manhattan office, Boylan said that he kissed her without her consent as she went to leave the room. “After that, my fears worsened,” Boylan wrote. “I came to work nauseous every day.” She resigned later that year. Boylan, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year against Rep. Jerry Nadler and is now running for Manhattan Borough president, did not return a request for further comment on her allegations.

She first went public with sexual harassment allegations in December last year. “Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years,” Boylan tweeted, though she offered no specific details at the time. A spokesperson for the governor denied the allegations in December. Soon after her tweets, personnel documents were leaked to the press that accused Boylan of workplace misconduct, including complaints of bullying from Black employees, shortly before she resigned.

Cuomo’s office is pushing back against Boylan’s latest allegations. “As we said before, Ms. Boylan's claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false,” Cuomo press secretary Caitlin Giouard said in a statement. The governor’s office also specifically disputed Boylan’s claim about Cuomo’s comments on a plane ride back from Western New York. Giouard released manifests for every flight Boylan was on with the governor in October 2017 as evidence that at no time was she ever on a flight with just Cuomo, a press aide and a state trooper. (Boylan had written that a press aide was sitting next to her, and a state trooper stood behind her, but not specifically that they were the only people on the plane.) Others whose names appeared on the manifests, including Boylan’s former boss at Empire State Development Howard Zemsky, denied hearing the conversation about strip poker. “We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” they wrote in a statement.

Several lawmakers have commented on the allegations. “This is deeply disturbing,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “Clearly, there is no place for this type of behavior in the workplace or anywhere.” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie issued a similar statement. “I have read the reports. These are serious allegations. Harassment in the workplace of any kind should not be tolerated,” Heastie wrote. State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a frequent foe of Cuomo’s who worked in his administration as assistant general counsel in the Office of Storm recovery, said that she believed Boylan. “I have no doubt that this is true,” Biaggi tweeted. “I’ve witnessed similar behavior, and it’s unacceptable.” Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, a frequent recent critic of the governor and a staunch defender of former President Donald Trump, who has been accused by 26 women of sexual assault, called for Cuomo to resign. The Sexual Harassment Working Group, which is made up of former Albany staffers who have been victims of sexual harassment and abuse, is calling for an independent investigation into Cuomo’s behavior.

Boylan’s accusations come after fresh scrutiny of Cuomo’s alleged bullying and abuse of those around him. Earlier in the day, former Cuomo staffer Karen Hinton wrote in the Daily News that the governor is a master of what she called the “penis politics” of a powerful man. However, she added that he was hardly unusual in this regard, arguing that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio practices a different version of “penis politics,” because his “condescension” leaves women on staff “feeling especially marginalized.” 

Last week, Assembly Member Ron Kim described a phone call in which the governor allegedly threatened to “destroy” him, a call that Kim said left both him and his wife shaken. Since then, other lawmakers, staffers and journalists have shared their own stories about allegedly suffering abuse from Cuomo or his administration.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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