Should the standard be lower for those who hold public office and the public trust? That is the central question that must be addressed in the developing scandal over allegations that New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) sexually harassed two women — Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett — who used to work for him. The allegations come as Mr. Cuomo is also under fire over the state’s response to coronavirus cases in nursing homes and whether nursing home deaths were underreported to avoid federal scrutiny.
After the New York Times detailed Ms. Bennett’s claims — those of Ms. Boylan, which Mr. Cuomo has denied, had been raised earlier — Mr. Cuomo tried to set his own conditions for investigation of the charges by calling in a former federal judge with ties to one of his advisers. Under mounting pressure, including from Democratic allies, he agreed to refer the matter to New York Attorney General Letitia James. She said she will hire and deputize an outside law firm and has promised “a rigorous and independent investigation.” It is in the interest of all parties — the two women, Mr. Cuomo and the residents of New York — that the investigation be fair, transparent and timely.
Even Mr. Cuomo’s version of what occurred between him and Ms. Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide whom he described as a “hard-working and valued member” of his team, raises troubling questions about his judgment and fitness to serve in public office. He didn’t dispute her account but said he never intended to act in any way that was inappropriate. He said he thought he was acting as a mentor and lamented that he often is “playful” and likes to “make jokes” with some staff that may have been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.” It is astounding that someone in government as long as Mr. Cuomo wouldn’t realize, particularly after the #MeToo movement, the power dynamics of the workplace that make any such talk wrong and not to be tolerated.
It’s not hard to imagine how Ms. Bennett felt when she thought the 63-year-old governor wanted to sleep with her: “Horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.” After reporting the incident to Mr. Cuomo’s chief of staff, she agreed to a transfer to another job, but eventually quit state government. Whether the sexual harassment allegations end up costing Mr. Cuomo his job, too, remains to be seen.