The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ex-aide alleges Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed her, kissed her and left her ‘nauseous’ at work

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on May 27. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

A former aide to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made detailed allegations Wednesday that the politician sexually harassed her, describing an unwanted kiss in Cuomo’s office and a pattern of behavior that she says left her “nauseous” going to work.

Lindsey Boylan, who eventually resigned from the Democratic governor’s team, described deep discomfort with Cuomo starting in 2016, when she says her boss told her the governor had a “crush” on her. Boylan said in an online post that Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs,” and she shared images of text messages and emails that she said supported her story, an expansion on public allegations that Cuomo denied last year.

“He is a sexist pig and you should avoid being alone with him!” Boylan’s mother texted her at one point about Cuomo, according to photos of the exchange.

Boylan’s account Wednesday came as Cuomo and his administration are already embroiled in scandal, and under new fire from both Republicans and Democrats for withholding data on coronavirus deaths in the state’s nursing homes. The blowback has increasingly focused on Cuomo himself. The third-term governor, who drew accolades and wide recognition early on for his pandemic response, is besieged with accusations of behind-the-scenes bullying.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D-N.Y.) faces calls to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment and questions about how nursing home coronavirus deaths were reported. (Video: The Washington Post)

One of the governor’s critics on nursing homes, a Democratic state legislator, said last week that Cuomo threatened to “destroy” him during an angry phone call. Another ex-Cuomo staffer described a toxic work environment for women in an opinion piece published Wednesday by the New York Daily News. A chorus of critics in Cuomo’s political orbit — including Boylan — recently told the New York Times about fears of Cuomo’s wrath and threats of retaliation.

Boylan, in her post Wednesday, said Cuomo’s treatment of her was part of a deep-rooted, workplace-wide problem, leading some New York lawmakers to call for an investigation. The Democratic leader of the state Senate said the ex-aide’s claims were “deeply disturbing.”

Cuomo “has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected,” Boylan wrote in her post on Medium. “His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences.”

In late 2020, Boylan, whom The Washington Post could not reach Wednesday, publicly accused Cuomo of sexually harassing her for years, declining at the time to share details and drawing denials from the governor.

“Look, I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has,” Cuomo said at a news conference last year. “But it’s just not true.”

A spokeswoman for the governor, Caitlin Girouard, reiterated Wednesday that Boylan’s “claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.” Girouard focused on the former’s aide’s opening anecdote about the governor allegedly suggesting they “play strip poker” while seated close together on Cuomo’s jet in October 2017.

Four people listed as taking flights with Cuomo and Boylan that month issued a statement through the governor’s office saying that the conversation Boylan described “did not happen.” Girouard did not comment on other specifics of Boylan’s account.

Boylan said she was warned about Cuomo after becoming chief of staff at New York’s economic development agency: “Be careful around the governor,” she said an unnamed friend at a civic engagement group told her.

She said she first met Cuomo at a 2016 Madison Square Garden event where the governor paid her a surprising amount of attention. Then, she said, her boss told her about Cuomo’s “crush.”

“It was an uncomfortable but all-too-familiar feeling: the struggle to be taken seriously by a powerful man who tied my worth to my body and my appearance,” Boylan wrote.

Her account of a hostile workplace for women in particular was echoed Wednesday by Karen Hinton, who worked with Cuomo while he was part of the Clinton administration. Hinton drew a contrast with Cuomo’s outward projections.

“Like many powerful men in politics, they create a public image as champions of women’s rights and equality,” Hinton wrote Wednesday in the New York Daily News. “Behind closed doors, they use gender domination as one means to assert their power over women.”

Cuomo’s office did not address inquiries about Hinton’s op-ed and broader accusations of a troubling workplace culture.

Boylan recounted alleged incidents in detail. She said the strip poker comment came during a flight in October 2017, as she and Cuomo were seated together, a press aide to one side and a state trooper behind them.

“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” she said she responded, trying to “play it cool” and realizing “just how acquiescent I had become.”

Girouard on Wednesday shared flight manifests from that month and a statement attributed to others listed onboard: John Maggiore, then director of policy; Howard Zemsky, then-president of Empire State Development; and Dani Lever and Abbey Fashouer Collins, both press secretaries at the time.

“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” the statement said. The four did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.

Boylan also posted a picture of an email in which an aide for the governor told her that Cuomo suggested she look up images of another woman, saying she was that woman’s “better looking sister.” Cuomo started calling Boylan by that woman’s name in the presence of colleagues, Boylan wrote, calling the experience “degrading.”

In a statement late Wednesday, the aide, Stephanie Benton, said the email “was my attempt at banter with [Boylan], not the governor’s.”

At one point, Boylan said, while alone with the governor in his office, Cuomo showed her a cigar box that he said was from former president Bill Clinton, which she interpreted as a reference to Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

“I tried to rationalize this incident in my head. At least he didn’t touch me,” Boylan wrote. But later, she alleged, during a one-on-one briefing in Cuomo’s New York City office, the governor stepped in front of her and kissed her as she tried to leave. She said she kept walking, stunned.

Boylan, who eventually was promoted to deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, said she resigned in fall 2018 after she “started speaking up” for herself and saw her relationship with top Cuomo staff deteriorate.

Boylan, a Democrat who last year unsuccessfully sought a seat in Congress, is now running for Manhattan borough president.

She alleged that other Cuomo aides “normalized” his behavior and that two women reached out to her after she tweeted her sexual harassment allegations 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.”

By Wednesday afternoon, several New York Democrats had issued statements either directly or obliquely condemning Cuomo’s alleged behavior.

“Clearly, there is no place for this type of behavior in the workplace or anywhere else,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the majority leader of the State Senate.

Her counterpart in the State Assembly, Carl Heastie, was less pointed but said the charges against Cuomo were “serious allegations.” Democratic assembly member Jessica González-Rojas said the claims Boylan detailed were “abhorrent and heartbreaking.” And state Sen. Liz Krueger (D), without mentioning Boylan, said in a tweet that “all credible allegations of sexual harassment must be taken seriously and given a thorough, transparent, and independent investigation.”

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a frequent critic of the governor and his administration, issued a fiery statement urging Cuomo to resign.

“Any elected official who does not immediately call for his resignation is complicit in allowing a sexual predator to continue leading the great state of New York,” Stefanik said.

Cuomo was already facing bipartisan calls for investigations and consequences over his handling of data on covid-19 deaths in nursing homes, which the state attorney general said were vastly undercounted. Some lawmakers accused Cuomo of obstructing justice after a top aide’s comments were leaked, and federal prosecutors and the FBI opened an investigation.

In a Feb. 10 call with Democratic state legislators, first reported by the New York Post, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said officials worried last year that long-withheld information on the covid death toll in nursing homes would be “used against us.” “We froze” after inquiries from the Justice Department, she said.

Cuomo later acknowledged that his administration contributed to a “void” of information but has also defended its decisions. DeRosa said officials were “comprehensive and transparent” with the Justice Department.

Amid that controversy, New York Assemblyman Ron Kim (D) said Cuomo ordered him in a phone call to backtrack on his criticisms, saying “you haven’t seen my wrath.” An adviser to Cuomo said Kim was lying, and the governor said at a news conference that the legislator has a “long and hostile relationship” with his office.

Boylan, in her Medium post, recounted her trepidation about publicly accusing Cuomo of harassment in December, saying she had already told friends, family and her therapist.

“As messages from journalists buzzed on my phone, I laid in bed unable to move,” she wrote Wednesday. “I finally had decided to speak up, but at what cost?”