“I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable.”
No, that’s not a quote from my six-year-old, who admittedly has issues acknowledging and honoring people’s personal space on a consistent basis as we remain isolated in our Brooklyn home. That’s a quote from an elected official who wants his constituents to believe he is knowledgeable enough to lead them through a year-long (and counting) global pandemic.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his first press conference since multiple women accused him of sexual harassment and making unwanted advances, took a moment during a Covid-19 briefing to address the damning allegations levied against him. And his “excuse” was a tired one often deployed by old white men in positions of power: ineptitude.
But admitting that you’re idiotic, naive, or otherwise dumb enough to not know that you shouldn’t kiss someone without their explicit permission, or that you shouldn’t ask a subordinate about their sex life or to play “strip poker,” or that you should avoid cultivating a workplace where “sexual harrassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected,” as one accuser, Lindsey Boylan, claimed, is not the ironclad defense you think it is. Instead, Mr Governor, it’s more proof that you should and must resign your post.
Cuomo, who is still under fire for underreporting Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes (he claims“everyone was busy” and “there was a delay in providing the press and the public all that additional information”), has remained steadfast in rejecting any personal responsibility for making at least three women uncomfortable as a result of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching.
Charlotte Bennett, a former aid to the governor, toldThe New York Times that Cuomo asked her sexually explicit questions during a private meeting, including whether or not she has slept with older men. Cuomo is 38 years her senior. When Bennett reported the incident to Cuomo’s chief of staff, she was transferred to another department.
Lindsey Boylan, who worked for Cuomo from 2015 to 2018, said he had at one time asked if she wanted to play strip poker. And in 2018, he kissed her without her permission as she was leaving a one-on-one meeting in his Manhattan office.
And in 2019, during a wedding reception, Anna Ruch says Cuomo “put his hand on [her] bare lower back,” then put his hands on her cheeks while asking if he could kiss her. When she removed his hand, he allegedly told her she was being “aggressive”.
2015. 2018. 2019. These instances did not occur decades ago when, Cuomo claimed during the same press conference, it was normal that people“kiss and hug people as a way to say hello” like his “father did.” These moments of harassment and obvious weaponizing of power did not happen at a time when Cuomo can claim he was “just being playful” and “making jokes I think are funny” to somehow “add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business” — though he has tried. Literally.
We are post the #MeToo movement. We are far from the days when “I didn’t know better because this is just what we have always done” can cut it. And, in truth, it never has. It never will. The idea that men didn’t know what they were doing when they were doing it— that our body language as they moved closer to us was a complicated hieroglyphic; that our uncomfortable glances as they asked us inappropriate and intrusive questions went unseen; that the ways in which our bodies seemed to fold into themselves when they touched us without our explicit consent didn’t remind them of the inherent power they hold as men in a sexist society — has always been a lie.
It is certainly not a lie anyone is buying now.
In 2013, Cuomo introduced a Women’s Equality Act proposal that included banning “sexual harassment in every workplace.”
In the same year, he said two state assemblymen accused of sexual misconduct with their own staff should resign or the assembly would consider expelling them, adding, “This pattern of behavior is repugnant by every standard and directly contradicts the policies the assembly has advances for the last 20 years.”
In 2018, Cuomo tweeted that the previous year brought “a long overdue reckoning where the pervasive poison of workplace sexual harassment was exposed by brave women and men who said ‘This ends now’.”
And now, it seems, while facing multiple allegations of his own, Cuomo truly believes he can hide behind a banner of inadequacy while simultaneously claiming that no, he will not resign, because he is the best man for the job.
If you are incapable of knowing how to treat your coworkers, your employees, your subordinates, or indeed anybody like a human being who is owed dignity, respect, and the personal space that even my six-year-old seems to comprehend far better than the sitting governor of New York, you have no business being a lawmaker.
Saying “I’m sorry” without an act of contrition is not enough, Mr Governor. Saying “I’m embarrassed” while claiming people’s “sensitivities have changed” is downright shameless. And saying you simply didn’t know better when it’s obvious you did? Well, that’s grounds for your resignation and, if not, your gubernatorial impeachment.