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Gov. Cuomo's Pattern Of Abuse Of Power

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Despite the growing number of calls for him to step down, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he is not resigning. More than a dozen New York Democrats have called for his resignation, including both U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. It comes as six women have accused the governor of harassment and perpetuating a toxic work environment. This afternoon, speaking to reporters, Cuomo said women have a right to be heard but insists he did nothing wrong. New York Magazine writer Rebecca Traister is here to talk more.

Welcome to the program.

REBECCA TRAISTER: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: Let's just start with some of the common threads. What did you hear from some of these women?

TRAISTER: Well, I spoke to women and men, and I heard of a variety of ways in which Andrew Cuomo wields his power and in many cases, I think, abuses it both within the office, how he treats personnel and employees, and in terms of how he governs.

In terms of what I heard from some of the women who have worked for him, there were all kinds of common patterns - the feeling of being objectified, in some cases being hired because of how they looked. There is a woman who tells the story of meeting him at a party for two minutes and then getting invited in for a job offer two days later for no other reason she says she understood at the time except that he liked the way she looked at the party, a meeting where he also sort of grabbed her uncomfortably and did a dance move in front of a photographer.

There was a lot of women talking about how he touched them uncomfortably - again, not necessarily the kind of groping that he has reportedly been accused of by one woman in Albany in an incident that's been reported to police, but touching them at weddings, kissing them on their heads. And then one thing is...

CORNISH: And you stress this a couple of times. You talk about the idea of diminishment, tokenization, and that sometimes that takes a sexualized form but doesn't always.

TRAISTER: Yes, some of it is objectification. A lot of women talked about his constant commentary on how they were dressed, how they looked, whether they'd done their makeup that morning, questions about their dating life, use of nicknames or - not just from Cuomo but from some of his high-up staffers - a refusal to sort of learn their real names or refer to them by names. It's all various forms of making other people feel small, in part to emphasize his own power and maintain these hierarchies within his administration.

CORNISH: Another thing you noted is that there was a sense that there was no information-sharing, that it allowed the governor's office to evade responsibility on some things. Can you talk about how and why you see a link between this - the allegations we're hearing now and the problems that Cuomo is having when it comes to the deaths at nursing homes, for example?

TRAISTER: Well, I think so much of it is about his approach to power and how he wields it. He's often been written about for years as somebody with a hard-knuckled style of politics, which sort of refers to this kind of old white male brute patriarchy in which toughness is read as strength, you know, in which - and in some cases abuse, I think, is read as strength. But what's common there is this sense of impunity, and I think you can see that - that he's so powerful that he can get away with things.

His advisers are now accused of covering up and altering data around the nursing home deaths. Tish James' report has said that they underreported nursing home deaths by more than 50%. That's also a big part of the kind of behavior and attitude that undergirds pervasive harassment and workplace discrimination of all kinds where you think you can do these things, break rules and get away with it and that, in fact, the people around you have so little power that they're not going to be able to successfully challenge you.

CORNISH: Something you noted also is that this drove out not just staffers but also external experts. I want to come to something you talked about - is the defense from Cuomo's office. What are they saying? How are they responding to your reporting?

TRAISTER: Well, within the piece, we include all the places where they respond. And it's very interesting because they don't necessarily deny any of the behaviors that people reported on, and many of the people I spoke to did so on the record with their full names. Other people spoke anonymously. And the office didn't deny almost anything except, oddly, the notion that there was an expectation that women wear high heels, which is something that truly almost 20 different women told me and has been reported widely elsewhere. That was something that they said. We've never had a dress code or require that people wear heels - although this is one of the most common threads.

What they do is, again, defend a kind of toughness. We've - you know, we've been through a hard time, and we have sometimes been tough and had hard conversations. It's this idea of a brutal approach to politics is somehow defensible.

CORNISH: That's Rebecca Traister, writer for New York Magazine, sharing her most recent reporting on the accusations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is not resigning.

Rebecca Traister, thank you for your time.

TRAISTER: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOLF ALICE SONG, "TURN TO DUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.