A former aide to New York governor Andrew Cuomo is accusing him of sexual harassment, saying he compared her to a former girlfriend in front of colleagues, made inappropriate comments, and once gave her an unwanted kiss “on the lips” during a meeting.
Lindsey Boylan outlines her experience working for the Cuomo administration in a Medium post, writing on Wednesday that “Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”
She adds, “His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences.”
Cuomo responded via a spokesman on Wednesday afternoon, saying “Ms. Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.”
Boylan’s allegations come as Cuomo has faced accusations of “bullying” and verbal threats from fellow New York lawmakers, including New York mayor Bill de Blasio and Assemblyman Ron Kim. In recent weeks the governor has faced increased scrutiny over his handling of COVID deaths in nursing homes.
Boylan first joined the administration in 2015 as a vice-president at Empire State Development and was “quickly promoted to Chief of Staff at the state economic development agency.” She resigned from the administration in 2018 and is currently running for Manhattan borough president, following an unsuccessful bid to unseat Congressman Jerry Nadler last year.
In the Medium piece, Boylan recalls first meeting Cuomo at an event on January 6, 2016, writing that she was “surprised” at the level of attention he paid to her. She says her boss later told her that the governor had a “crush” on her.
Boylan describes a moment between her and Stephanie Benton, another member of the administration:
Stephanie Benton, Director of the Governor’s Offices, told me in an email on December 14, 2016 that the Governor suggested I look up images of Lisa Shields — his rumored former girlfriend — because “we could be sisters” and I was “the better looking sister.” The Governor began calling me “Lisa” in front of colleagues. It was degrading.
She provides a screenshot of an email between her and Benton to support her claim.
During a holiday party later that month, staffers allegedly summoned Boylan for a private meeting in Cuomo’s office, where he showed off a cigar box gifted to him by former president Bill Clinton. (“The two-decade old reference to President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was not lost on me,” she says.)
And she recalls the governor quipping while they were seated together on a cramped October 2017 flight, “Let’s play strip poker.” “He was seated facing me, so close our knees almost touched,” she writes. “His press aide was to my right and a state trooper behind us.”
Cuomo’s statement notes that flight manifests show he was never alone on a flight with Boylan at that time and several aides who were present deny that the conversation took place. The statement does not specifically address Boylan’s other allegations.
Boylan says she initially resisted a promotion to deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor “not because I didn’t want the responsibility or work but because I didn’t want to be near him.” She eventually agreed to take the job, on the condition that she be allowed to keep her old office on a separate floor from the governor and his staff.
But, Boylan alleges, the harassment escalated. She writes:
I tried to excuse his behavior. I told myself “it’s only words.” But that changed after a one-on-one briefing with the Governor to update him on economic and infrastructure projects. We were in his New York City office on Third Avenue. As I got up to leave and walk toward an open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips. I was in shock, but I kept walking.
Boylan says she was not the sole focus of the governor’s harassment. She claims that he would make “unflattering comments about the weight of female colleagues. He ridiculed them about their romantic relationships and significant others. He said the reasons that men get women were ‘money and power.’”
She also alleges that Cuomo’s behavior is well-known within the administration and that many aides cover for him, citing how her relationship with top staff members grew “hostile” as she advocated for herself in the workplace.
“It was all so normalized — particularly by Melissa DeRosa and other top women around him — that only now do I realize how insidious his abuse was,” Boylan wrote.
Boylan had alluded to her experience in a series of tweets back in December, writing, “Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years. Many saw it, and watched.” However she declined to give details, and said on Twitter that she was not interested in speaking to the press.
At the time, Cuomo denied the allegations, saying, “I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has. But it’s just not true.”