United Kingdom

Calls grow for NY Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign amid fresh sexual harassment allegations

Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, has been accused by a third woman of making unwanted advances, adding to an escalating crisis facing the Democratic star as he battles for his political career.

The third-term governor was facing growing calls within his own party to resign as the state's attorney general opened an investigation and allegations of sexual harassment mounted. 

While the first two women are previous employees of the 63-year-old politician, a third woman - Anna Ruch - came forward on Monday to accuse him of impropriety in an incident at a wedding that was captured in a photograph.

Ms Ruch, 33, told the New York Times that Mr Cuomo approached her during a crowded wedding reception in 2019, alleging that he put his hand on her bare lower back, which was exposed in an open-back dress.

When Ms Ruch removed his hand, the governor allegedly told her she seemed "aggressive" as he put his hands on her cheeks and asked if he could kiss her.

"I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed," Ms Ruch, who worked as a photographer at the White House during President Barack Obama’s second term, told the Times. "I turned my head away and didn't have words in that moment,” she said.

A photograph of the moment - the first time the pair had met - appears to show a visibly uncomfortable Ms Ruch.

Mr Cuomo, who has three daughters with his first wife, split from his long-term girlfriend, chef Sandra Lee, in September 2019.

The first accuser, former aide Lindsey Boylan, alleged last week that Mr Cuomo kissed her on the lips following a one-on-one briefing in his New York City office in 2018 and detailed a “toxic” workplace environment for women.

Days later, Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former executive assistant and health policy adviser to Mr Cuomo, accused the governor of “inappropriate” and “aggressive behaviour” in his dealings with her.

Debra Katz, a lawyer for Ms Bennett, said Mr Cuomo “was not acting as a mentor, and his remarks were not misunderstood by Ms Bennett. He was abusing his power over her for sex,” she said. “This is textbook sexual harassment.”

Mr Cuomo has insisted that his playful behaviour and tendency to joke and tease has sometimes been “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation” and “to the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that”.

Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, launched an investigation into the allegations on Monday.

The probe will have far-reaching subpoena powers to request troves of documents and compel witnesses, including the governor, to testify under oath.

Experts said the civil inquiry could look at whether Mr Cuomo violated the state’s human rights laws and a federal law that protects against harassment because of a person’s sex.

It comes as the governor, whose father Mario served as governor before him, is the subject of another investigation into whether he sought to cover up the full scale of the death toll in nursing homes during the pandemic.

The dual crises could threaten any run for president in the 2024 election. Mr Cuomo had widely been tipped as the favourite for the Democratic nomination after demonstrating strong leadership during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

The harassment accusations could prove more damaging for a governor who has prided himself on advancing protections for women in the workplace.

A growing number of Democrats were calling for his resignation, while others said they should wait to hear the outcome of the probe.

Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, who has a fraught relationship with the governor, said on Tuesday after the latest accusation: “these are very serious allegations. If these allegations are true, he cannot govern.”

In response to the latest New York Times report, Kathleen Rice, Representative for New York's 4th congressional district, tweeted out a link to the article with the text, “The time has come. The Governor must resign.”

And on Monday, President Joe Biden, a longtime Cuomo ally, declined to stand behind the embattled governor.

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