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Cuomo's Resignation Brings 'Day Of Reckoning' For Women Who Came Forward, Accuser's Attorney Says

Debra Katz, an attorney for Charlotte Bennett, a former staffer who has accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of workplace sexual harassment, in her office during an interview with the AP in Washington on March 11, 2021. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Debra Katz, an attorney for Charlotte Bennett, a former staffer who has accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of workplace sexual harassment, in her office during an interview with the AP in Washington on March 11, 2021. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday that he would step down in two weeks after a state attorney general report found he sexually harassed multiple women.

But Cuomo’s legal challenges are ongoing. He could still face criminal charges or civil lawsuits from multiple women who accused him of sexual misconduct.

Attorney Debra Katz represents Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant to the governor. Cuomo personally apologized last week to Bennett, one of the first women to come forward with allegations against the governor. She accused Cuomo of sexual harassment and creating a toxic work environment.

Bennett is “still coming to terms” with Cuomo’s resignation, Katz says.

“There is a sense of tremendous relief that he finally stepped down. He had no other moves,” Katz says. “And his daily gaslighting and saying he did nothing wrong has been very exhausting for the women who he abused.”

Tuesday’s “day of reckoning” came after years of Cuomo sexually harassing women in the workplace and creating a hostile work environment, she says. His resignation proves that women can unite and enact change by speaking out in spite of fear, she says.

Cuomo, 63, complained to 25-year-old Bennett about being lonely and needing physical contact, Katz says, and said he felt comfortable dating anyone over the age of 22.

Bennett reported the sexual comments and advances Cuomo made toward her to the higher-ups in the office, but the governor’s “enablers” didn’t investigate further, Katz says. Some of the governor’s top aides have also resigned after the report found they did not meet their legal duties.

“We see this again and again in this case, that Cuomo’s people did not meet their legal obligations, did not investigate,” she says. “And had they done that, maybe other women would not have been sexually harassed. The governor was just allowed to do this with impunity.”

The state attorney general’s report says Bennett’s concerns weren’t raised to the state agency tasked with conducting harassment investigations. And then Bennett was moved to a different position where she wouldn’t need to interact with the governor.

Katz says Bennett isn’t pursuing criminal charges against Cuomo. But the governor could still face a long legal road ahead.

“As for civil cases, I think that a number of the complainants are considering their options,” she says, “because there has been a finding that they were subjected to sexual harassment and a sexually hostile work environment — not only the complainants who came forward, but every woman who worked in the executive office.”

The New York Attorney General’s Office is continuing to investigate whether Cuomo misused government resources in the writing of his book about the COVID-19 pandemic, “American Crisis,” which he reportedly received more than $5 million for.

Cuomo has tried to excuse his behavior with his age and Italian heritage. Katz says these explanations are “the most pathetic defense imaginable.”

The governor knew he broke the law, she says: Cuomo signed a 2019 bill that made it easier for women in the state to win claims of sexual harassment in the workplace, and publicly spoke about the “pain” and “humiliation” accusers face.

“This is not a generational problem. He does not get a pass because he’s Italian,” she says. “The law prohibits unwelcome requests for sex, touching sexualized jokes in the workplace, sexist comments — and he did all of that.”


Samantha Raphelson produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill RyanAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.