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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Faces Sexual Harassment Accusations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Early in the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was widely viewed as heroic. Now he is facing a growing number of scandals. First, he was accused of underreporting coronavirus deaths in nursing homes by as much as half. And now he's facing a different allegation - that he sexually harassed a former aide. NPR's Sally Herships is here to walk us through the mounting criticism. Hi, Sally.

SALLY HERSHIPS, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: Start by taking us back to those days in the pandemic when maybe he wasn't the most popular governor out there, but Cuomo was kind of beloved.

HERSHIPS: Yeah. It was and it still is a scary time, and Cuomo was providing these reliable, daily press briefings. You could tune in, and he would give you all the stats. And he went on to win an Emmy for them. He wrote a book titled "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From The COVID-19 Pandemic." But I think the most telling is an article that came out last March in Jezebel, a progressive women's magazine, titled "Help, I Think I'm In Love with Andrew Cuomo???" That sort of captures the way New Yorkers, even if they were not fond of his famously firm leadership style, appreciated it during the crisis.

SHAPIRO: And now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, to say the least. There are calls for him to be stripped of the emergency powers he was granted to manage the pandemic, even to be impeached. Tell us about who's speaking out against him.

HERSHIPS: Yeah, there is definitely a mob with pitchforks coming for Cuomo. In that mob is Republican lawmakers. Cuomo is a third-term Democratic governor. His father was governor. New York does not have term limits, and Cuomo had said he was going to run again. He has been perceived as having a pretty firm grasp on his gubernatorial throne. So politically, if you are a Republican, there is an opening here.

SHAPIRO: And what are Democratic lawmakers in New York saying? Are they part of the push to unseat the governor?

HERSHIPS: Yes and no. And this is where things get kind of interesting. So in addition to the underreported nursing home deaths, on Wednesday a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, published a post on Medium claiming that Cuomo had sexually harassed her. He has reportedly denied these allegations. She says he suggested they play strip poker, that he kissed her on the mouth. So while Democratic state lawmakers have been very vocal about the nursing home deaths, it's interesting to note that one powerful lawmaker is remaining mostly quiet about the new allegations. That is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. I wrote to her office earlier today to ask if she would support an investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment, and I have not yet received an answer.

SHAPIRO: Well, what is the likelihood that there will be an investigation into these sexual harassment claims?

HERSHIPS: Well, several state senators have called for State Attorney General Letitia James to investigate. There is also the New York state - a group of New York state legislators' staffers who have their own group, the Sexual Harassment Working Group. Rita Pasarell is a co-founder. I spoke with her earlier today, and she pointed out that when sexual harassment happens at the hands of a politician, it can be especially ugly. And that's because politicians have a lot of power. They appoint judges and police chiefs. And so her group is calling for an independent investigation.

RITA PASARELL: We've got to have an investigation by people who are not beholden to Cuomo. By that, I mean an investigation by a place that doesn't have supervisory authority under Cuomo or appointment powers under Cuomo.

SHAPIRO: Sally, you've been telling us about politicians and staffers. What about voters, citizens? Where does Cuomo stand with them right now?

HERSHIPS: Yeah. I checked with Morning Consult. It's a company that tracks approval ratings. And they said there was no real noticeable change before and after Lindsey Boylan came forward with her allegations. It is important to note that unless an event is on a massive scale, like an inauguration, it can take a while to see changes.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sally Herships, thanks for your reporting.

HERSHIPS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLAKO'S "MOONCHILD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.