WINDSOR TERRACE — On Feb. 27, a second former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo said she was sexually harassed by the governor while serving as an executive assistant and health policy adviser from March to November 2020. Charlotte Bennett told The New York Times that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life and harassed her during the height of the pandemic.
Cuomo responded with a statement later that day, saying, “I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He called Bennett a “hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID” and said, “she has every right to speak out.”
“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. Ms. Bennett’s initial impression was right: I was trying to be a mentor to her,” Cuomo said.
“The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”
In an updated statement on Feb. 28, the third-term governor said he “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm.”
The statement read: “At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good-natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
This news came less than a week after former aide and current candidate for Manhattan Borough President Lindsey Boylan made sexual harassment allegations against the governor. Boylan’s detailed account of a hostile and uncomfortable workplace was shared through a post on Medium on Feb. 24. She joined the state government in 2015 and resigned in 2018.
Boylan spoke out on social media on Feb. 27, saying she stood with Bennett and that Cuomo “tried to destroy many, including me, in the press.”
“You are not going to derail or destroy any more lives,” she tweeted while tagging Cuomo’s Twitter account.
On Feb. 27, Cuomo requested that an independent review be led by former federal judge Barbara Jones. However, following an immediate backlash, the governor retracted the request on Feb. 28 and said he would grant State Attorney General Letitia James’ request for a referral to investigate allegations of sexual harassment.
“To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to,” he said. “That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations.”
James issued a statement that same day, announcing that her office “will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.”