A second former aide to Andrew Cuomo has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against the New York governor, days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, alleged Cuomo had repeatedly sexually harassed her and had once kissed her without her consent when she worked for his administration. The allegations come amid a widening political crisis for the governor over his administration’s handling of nursing-home death totals during the pandemic and accounts of Cuomo behaving abusively toward state lawmakers — and have already prompted widespread calls for an independent investigation into the governor’s conduct.
The New York Times reported Saturday night that Charlotte Bennett, who worked for the Cuomo administration as an executive assistant and health-policy adviser from early 2019 until November of last year, alleges that in a pair of encounters last spring, Cuomo made inappropriate comments to her in an apparent attempt to pursue a sexual relationship:
Ms. Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo in his State Capitol office. In a series of interviews this week, she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.
She said Cuomo also initiated an uncomfortable conversation about hugging during that same encounter:
[Bennett said Cuomo] complained to her about being lonely during the pandemic, mentioning that he “can’t even hug anyone,” before turning the focus to Ms. Bennett. She said that Mr. Cuomo asked her, “Who did I last hug?”
Ms. Bennett said she had tried to dodge the question by responding that she missed hugging her parents. “And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she said. Mr. Cuomo never tried to touch her, Ms. Bennett said, but the message of the entire episode was unmistakable to her. “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Ms. Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Bennett disclosed the encounter to Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, and was subsequently transferred to a health-policy job where she would no longer have to interact with the governor. She also later gave a statement about her experience to Cuomo special counsel Judith Mogul, but ultimately decided she did not want to pursue an investigation against the governor over his conduct, as she “wanted to move on” and was happy with her new job as a health-policy adviser. This past November, still angry about Cuomo’s conduct, Bennett decided to leave the administration. “His presence was suffocating,” she told the Times regarding her departure. “I was thinking that I could recover and have distance but that is so naïve.”
The Times reached out to Bennett after she tweeted about Boylan’s allegations earlier this week and commented: “For those wondering what it’s like to work for the Cuomo admin, read @LindseyBoylan’s story.” Bennett then agreed to share her own experiences, both to support other victims of harassment as well as call attention to how the governor “wields his power.”
In addition to the June 5 encounter, Bennett detailed inappropriate comments Cuomo had made to her in mid-May after she mentioned she was a survivor of sexual assault, explaining in a text to a friend at the time that the governor seemed disturbingly fixated on it:
“The way he was repeating, ‘You were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed,’ over and over again while looking me directly in the eyes was something out of a horror movie,” she wrote in a second text to her friend. “It was like he was testing me.”
She texted a colleague in the administration about that conversation after it happened as well.
Bennett also shared text messages with the Times that she had written to a friend after the encounter in early June. “Something just happened and I can’t even type it out or put it in a video,” she wrote in one of them, later explaining that Cuomo had told her he was lonely after breaking up with his ex and was looking for another girlfriend in the Albany area. “He asked me if I believed if age made a difference in relationships and he also asked me in the same conversation if I had ever been with an older man,” and at one point said he was “fine with anyone above the age of 22,” Bennett told the Times. She recounted the experience to her parents a few days after the conversation as well.
In a statement responding to Bennett’s allegations, Cuomo insisted he “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He did not deny asking her personal questions, said he had attempted to act as a mentor to her, and that “the last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.” Cuomo also praised Bennett as a “hard-working and valued” staff member, said she had “every right to speak out,” and called for an outside review of her allegations — and that he would not comment about the matter again until after that investigation had been concluded.
Cuomo has also denied behaving inappropriately toward Ms. Boylan. Intelligencer’s David Freelander noted Friday regarding those allegations that “another former aide, Alessandra Biaggi, currently a Democratic state senator, said that she’d ‘witnessed similar behavior’ and, of Boylan’s allegation, ‘I have no doubt that this is true.’” (A Cuomo spokesperson challenged Biaggi’s claim.)
After Bennett reported the June 5 encounter to DesRosiers, Cuomo’s chief of staff, she offered to help Bennett find another job in the administration in which she would not have to interact with the governor — which apparently led to her transfer to the Department of Health on the far side of the Capitol.
“Ms. Bennett’s concerns were treated with sensitivity and respect and in accordance with applicable law and policy,” Cuomo counsel Beth Garvey said in a statement regarding how the administration responded to her complaint. “She was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled,” Garvey said, adding that an outside review of the allegations would be conducted by former Manhattan federal judge Barbara Jones.
There was quick pushback to the idea of an investigation by anyone named by the Cuomo administration, however.
U.S. representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jerry Nadler have both called for New York attorney general Tish James to appoint an independent investigator. State Assembly speaker Carl Heastie said the same, as did a spokesperson for State Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and a growing chorus of state lawmakers. Others, including Biaggi and State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, have already called for Cuomo to resign.
This post has been updated.