Another former aide accuses New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment
By Hannah Knowles
A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has publicly accused him of sexual harassment, telling the New York Times that the scandal-embroiled Democratic politician asked invasive personal questions that she interpreted as sexual advances.
Charlotte Bennett, 25, told the Times that the 63-year-old governor asked about her sex life, wondered if she had slept with older men and told her he would be interested in relationships with women in their 20s. She described her particular alarm at a conversation alone with the governor June 5, according to the newspaper, and said she was quickly moved to another job after recounting it to Cuomo's chief of staff.
Bennett's accusations, which the Times said are supported by texts, come days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, detailed her sexual harassment allegations spanning several years against the governor, who has been under political fire from all sides in recent weeks. The three-term governor who became a Democratic star and familiar face in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic is facing bipartisan calls for investigations into both harassment claims and his administration's withholding of data on the virus's full death toll in nursing homes.
Cuomo, in a statement Saturday, said that Bennett "has every right to speak out" but that he was trying to act as a mentor and denied making advances toward her. He said he never intended "to act in any way that was inappropriate."
"I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort," the governor said, asking New Yorkers to withhold judgment until the review is complete and saying he would have no further comment until then.
A former federal judge will lead the inquiry and "all staff will cooperate," a special counsel to the governor said.
Cuomo denied sexually harassing Boylan when she first publicly accused him late last year, and his staff reiterated that this week when Boylan, a former special adviser and deputy secretary for economic development, published a lengthy online account that included images of emails and texts.
Bennett, who worked as an executive assistant and health policy adviser and contributed to New York's coronavirus response, did not immediately respond to The Washington Post's inquiries Saturday evening.
"I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared," she told the Times. "And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job."
Hired in 2019, she left the Cuomo administration in November, according to the Times. Bennett told the paper that she did not press for an investigation after disclosing her experience with Cuomo to other staffers and wished at the time to "move on."
Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior adviser to the governor, said in a statement Saturday that "Bennett's concerns were treated with sensitivity and respect and in accordance with applicable law and policy." Bennett was transferred, on her request, to "a position in which she had expressed a long-standing interest, and was thoroughly debriefed on the facts which did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct," Garvey stated.
No more action was taken, Garvey said, "consistent with Bennett's wishes."
Bennett told the Times she initially "got along really well" with the governor, finding his questions about her love life inappropriate at times but still viewing him as "a father figure." Things shifted in the spring, however, she said.
Bennett said she was asked in late March to begin working in Albany as part of the state's covid-19 response effort. Two months later, in mid-May, the governor's perception of their relationship seemingly began to change, she said. She told the paper that Cuomo seemed strangely focused on the fact that she had been sexually assaulted.
"When she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor and how it shaped her and her ongoing efforts to create an organization that empowered her voice to help other survivors, I tried to be supportive and helpful," Cuomo said in his statement Saturday.
The most inappropriate questions came June 5 when she was with Cuomo in his office, Bennett told the Times. Initially asked to take dictation alongside another staffer, she said, she found herself alone with the governor, and was plied with inquiries about her romantic life. The questions included whether she was in a relationship, whether she was monogamous and whether she had had sex with older men, according to her account to the Times.
The newspaper said it reviewed texts with a friend from that day and the next in which Bennett said she was upset by the conversation, called it "the most explicit it could be" and described some of its substance.
Bennett told the Times that Cuomo also said, "he's fine with anyone above the age of 22."
Bennett said that the two female Cuomo staffers to whom she brought her concerns were sympathetic and that she has no issue with their response. Neither woman immediately responded Saturday to The Post.
The ex-aide said Cuomo did not try to touch her inappropriately, according to the Times. The other former aide alleging harassment, on the other hand - Boylan - accused Cuomo this week of going "out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs" and giving her an unsolicited kiss as she tried to leave his office.
Boylan said she resigned from the Cuomo administration in fall 2018 after her relationship with top staff deteriorated. She presented her alleged experiences as part of a workplace-wide problem, saying that other Cuomo staff "normalized" the governor's inappropriate behavior and that two other women had reached out to her after she went public with her account in December.
"One described how she lived in constant fear, scared of what would happen to her if she rejected the governor's advances," Boylan said, while another recalled the governor telling her to "warn staff members who upset him that their jobs could be at risk."
Bennett tweeted about Boylan's post on Medium the day it was published.
"For those wondering what it's like to work for the Cuomo admin, read @LindseyBoylan's story," she said.
The Washington Post