Idle Worship: Emmys and Book Deals Dont Excuse Gov. Cuomo

Cartoon by Emma Hines

As of March 9, six women have come forward and accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate conduct. Former health policy adviser to Cuomo Charlotte Bennett, former member of the Obama campaign Anna Ruch, an unnamed aide to the Governor, along with Ana Liss, Karen Hinton and Lindsey Boylan — all former aides to the Governor — have detailed instances of sexual harassment and abuses of power they experienced while working for and interacting with Cuomo. 

“Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected,” wrote Boylan in a Medium piece published last month. Boylan was the first of the six women to go public with her experiences.

Still — according to a Quinnipiac poll — a majority of New Yorkers (55%) don’t believe the governor should resign. However, 59% agree that Cuomo should not run for reelection. Gov. Cuomo remains steadfast in his decision to remain in office. After New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called for Cuomo’s resignation, the governor claimed it would be “anti-democratic” to step down from office. Stewart-Cousins, in response, stated that “We need to govern without daily distraction,” according to The New York Times

We at The New Paltz Oracle believe that there is more to democracy than simply serving through the end of your term limit. A pillar of democracy is being fit to serve the needs and hear the concerns of your constituents, and Gov. Cuomo is clearly not in a position to do so. Due to this, Gov. Cuomo should resign immediately to make space for a leader who can execute their role distraction-free during this crucial period of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Daily distractions have become commonplace in the Cuomo administration over the last few months. Back in January, New York Attorney General Letitia James published a report that revealed that the Cuomo administration had underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes “by as much as 50%,” according to CNBC.  

Though Cuomo’s once questionable reputation was turned around due to praise for his leadership at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — both from constituents and himself, in his humbly-titled book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” — it has become clear that widely-broadcast press conferences and quick-witted responses may very well have been cover ups for a lack of control regarding the pandemic. 

Between book deals and Emmys, Gov. Cuomo has become one of the many politicians blurring the line between elected official and celebrity — a pattern that started, no doubt, with the election of former President/reality television host Donald Trump. With this in mind, it is important to remember that the push for Cuomo’s resignation is not merely another example of the infamous “cancel culture”; it is a valid request for accountability. 

Cuomo has claimed ignorance in response to the accusations, stating that he had no idea he was making these women uncomfortable, and blamed his behavior on being a friendly person. What Cuomo would’ve learned in his office’s mandatory sexual harassment training — had he not skipped it, according to Bennett — is that “friendly,” casual behavior has no place in an environment where a power imbalance is present. 

Even if it wasn’t Cuomo’s intention to make these women uncomfortable, what he should have understood — after nearly 30 years in politics — is that diplomacy and respect is the standard in these interactions, and anything less is unacceptable. 

We at The Oracle believe that simply passing legislation against sexual harassment does not absolve Gov. Cuomo of his own inappropriate behavior. Being an ally is not a surface level show of support; it must permeate every aspect of one’s conduct.

The response to the accusations — from both Gov. Cuomo, other politicians and the public — reveals an alarming double standard present in the modern Democratic party. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “Democrats have bollixed up every sexual harassment scandal” they have faced. 

Democratic lawmakers will fight tooth and nail to hold Republican politicians accountable when faced with sexual assault allegations, but then turn around and run smear campaigns against those who come forward against Democratic politicians with the same energy; simply because their political ideologies align. Remember Monica Lewinsky? 

Accusations of sexual assault and harrasment are not political weapons, and should never be treated as such. To only believe survivors when it is beneficial to oneself or a political party is not only dehumanizing, but a direct violation of allyship. 

We believe that any accusation of sexual misconduct should be taken seriously, and treated with the same level of respect and urgency — regardless of political affiliation. In spite of how many laws are passed or bills are signed, it is impossible for Gov. Cuomo to call himself an advocate for women’s rights when he is creating a toxic environment where women cannot thrive, or even work comfortably. 

It is unlikely that Gov. Cuomo will resign before his term is up next year. If he does, he will leave office with a legacy of shady cover-ups and sexual harassment allegations. Rather, Cuomo will embark on an apology tour, hoping that this will be swept under the rug; and if it’s not, doing whatever he can to gaslight the public into believing he is innocent. 

It’s important to hold Gov. Cuomo — and all other elected officials — accountable, even after this story isn’t making headlines. If we let a Governor, one of the highest offices one can hold in our country, get away with this behavior, where do we draw the line?