WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A former aide to Governor Cuomo claims Cuomo kissed her on the lips, touched her on the lower back, arms and legs and once told her they should “play strip poker.”
The account of sexual harassment from ex-aide Lindsey Boylan was published online Wednesday. Boylan is married and a mother.
Boylan’s detailed recounting of alleged sexual harassment by Cuomo comes as the governor is under fierce attack from Republicans - and some Democrats - for allegedly covering up the true number of COVID deaths in New York’s nursing homes.
Boylan first accused Cuomo of sexual harassment last year, but Wednesday’s essay is her most complete description of what she says happened.
Cuomo’s press secretary, Caitlin Girouard, said in response Wednesday “Ms. Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.”
“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. His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right,” Boylan wrote. “He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences.”
In the essay, Boylan describes joining the Cuomo Administration in 2015, only to be warned by a friend, “Be careful around the Governor.”
“I had complained to friends that the Governor would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs. His senior staff began keeping tabs on my whereabouts. ‘He is a sexist pig and you should avoid being alone with him!’ my mother texted me on November 4, 2016,” Boylan wrote.
She describes an encounter with the governor in December 2016, in which she was called away from a holiday party to join him at the capitol.
“I was escorted into the Governor’s office, past the desks of administrative assistants and into a room with a large table and historical artifacts. The door closed behind me. It was my first time in his Albany office. The Governor entered the room from another door. We were alone,” she wrote.
“As he showed me around, I tried to maintain my distance. He paused at one point and smirked as he showed off a cigar box. He told me that President Clinton had given it to him while he served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The two-decade old reference to President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was not lost on me,” Boylan continued. “The Governor must have sensed my fear because he finally let me out of the office. I tried to rationalize this incident in my head. At least he didn’t touch me. That made me feel safer.”
After being promoted in 2018, Boylan recalled, “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.”
She says other powerful women in the administration “normalized” Cuomo’s behavior.
“The Governor exploited my weaknesses, my desire to do good work and to be respected. I was made to believe this was the world I needed to survive in.
“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,” she wrote.
And in a 2017 flight from western New York, she accuses Cuomo - who was “seated facing me, so close our knees almost touched” - of saying “Let’s play strip poker.”
The Cuomo administration denies this happened, in detail. A statement Wednesday afternoon from Cuomo’s press office notes “there was no flight where Lindsey was alone with the Governor, a single press aide, and a NYS Trooper” as she described.
Three people who were on flights with Cuomo and Boylan in October said in the statement “We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen.”
The press release lists flights on October 4 involving Watertown, the southern tier and western New York; an October 6 flight involving Cortland and Rochester; an October 12 flight to Long Island; an October 17 flight to Syracuse.
Also, published reports said Boylan left her job as deputy secretary for economic development and special advisor to the governor “under an administrative cloud.”
Boylan, in her essay, notes she resigned in September, 2018.
Why is she making her accusations now?
Boylan wrote, “I’m compelled to tell my story because no woman should feel forced to hide their experiences of workplace intimidation, harassment and humiliation — not by the Governor or anyone else. I expect the Governor and his top aides will attempt to further disparage me, just as they’ve done with Assembly member Kim. They’d lose their jobs if they didn’t protect him. That’s how his administration works. I know because I was a part of it.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim criticized Governor Cuomo’s handling of nursing home deaths and called for an investigation, prompting an attack from Cuomo in which Cuomo allegedly (he denies it) threatened to “destroy” Kim.
Reaction to Boylan’s essay Wednesday was swift.
State senator Alessandra Biaggi , who once worked for the governor, said she believes Boylan.
And north country congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a daily critic of Cuomo, called for him to resign.
“Sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace is not a political issue, it is about right and wrong,” Stefanik said in a statement.
“Governor Cuomo must immediately resign. And any elected official who does not immediately call for his resignation is complicit in allowing a sexual predator to continue leading the great state of New York.”