Second former aide accuses New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment

ALBANY, N.Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo was accused Saturday by a second former female aide of sexual harassment.

The ex-aide, Charlotte Bennett, told The New York Times that she was repeatedly made to feel uncomfortable by Cuomo after she was hired in 2019 in the governor’s office.

In particular, the 25-year-old woman said the governor had asked her questions about her personal life, such as whether age makes a difference in a relationship.

She told the paper that while the Democratic governor never tried to touch her, she felt he was being inappropriate, especially after a June 5 exchange in his state Capitol office in Albany as she worked on the staff’s COVID-19 response.

She left the administration in November and had previously made her concerns known to her supervisors, the paper reported.

She had initially viewed Cuomo, 63, as a mentor, even talking about how she grew up near his former home in New Castle and played soccer against one his daughters; he has three daughters all in their 20s.

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the Times. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

In a statement, Cuomo denied he ever tried to woo Bennett, and his office said the state would undertake an investigation of the incident by former Federal Judge Barbara Jones.

“Ms. Bennett was a hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID. She has every right to speak out,” Cuomo said.

“When she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor and how it shaped her and her ongoing efforts to create an organization that empowered her voice to help other survivors, I tried to be supportive and helpful.”

More:Former aide accuses New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of unwanted kiss, sexual harassment

The sexual harassment accusations were the second in a week against the three-term governor, who was first elected in 2010.

On Wednesday, former aide Lindsey Boylan wrote a post on the site Medium that Cuomo sexually harassed her during her two-year stint working in state government.

Boylan wrote, in part: “Andrew Cuomo abused his power as Governor to sexually harass me, just as he had done with so many other women.”

Latest allegations against Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at a COVID-19 vaccination site in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

The allegations by Bennett fueled another round of calls for an independent investigation into Cuomo and the executive chamber.

“The continued allegations are deeply disturbing and concerning. The behavior described has no place in the workplace,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers, said in a statement.

“A truly independent investigation must begin immediately.”

Whether a review by Jones would be satisfactory for lawmakers is uncertain. Legislators have urged an investigation to be conducted by Attorney General Letitia James or another outside body.

But for James to do a full investigation, she would likely need a referral from Cuomo’s office, which he has not done.

Cuomo’s Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement: “Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and taken seriously. I support an independent review.”

The Sexual Harassment Working Group, which includes women who said they were mistreated while working in state government, said Jones’ appointment was not enough, saying Jones once worked for the same law firm as Cuomo’s former top aide and confidant Steven Cohen.

“Questionable conflict of interest or at least bias with this judge. She worked for a firm that Cuomo’s former adviser started. No good,” the group wrote Saturday on Twitter.

“We need an INDEPENDENT investigation.”

The new allegations will put extraordinary pressure on Cuomo, who was already facing calls for his resignation and, by some lawmakers, an impeachment for his handling of COVID deaths in nursing homes, including undercounting the deaths by about 50%.

More trouble for Cuomo

One person with a flag walks by the New York State Capitol in Albany Jan. 17, 2021.

Bennett told the Times the most troubling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Cuomo at the Capitol.

“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,” the paper wrote.

Bennett said that during the exchange, Cuomo talked about feeling lonely during the pandemic, saying he “can’t even hug anyone,” asking her, “Who did I last hug?”

Following the interaction, Bennett said she told Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, about it and less than a week later was transferred to another job, as a health policy adviser with an office on the opposite side of the Capitol.

Bennett said she subsequently gave a lengthy statement to a special counsel to the governor, Judith Mogul, the paper wrote.

Beth Garvey, Cuomo’s special counsel, said Saturday in a statement that Bennett’s concerns “were treated with sensitivity and respect and in accordance with applicable law and policy.”

Garvey added that when Bennett received the transfer she requested, she was “thoroughly debriefed on the facts which did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct. She was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.”

The determination was that further action was not required, “which was consistent with Ms. Bennett’s wishes,” Garvey added.

Separately, Cuomo’s office provided a statement from Garvey that, “There are no limits on the scope of Judge Jones’ review.”

They provided her biography, which included her role in overseeing a federal review of sexual assaults in the military. She also investigated allegations of abuse within the New York Philharmonic.

In his statement, Cuomo said the “situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press; I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort.”

He added: “I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements. I will have no further comment until the review has concluded.”

More:NY lawmakers call for investigation of harassment accusation against Cuomo, but who would do it?

Follow Joseph Spector on Twitter: @GannettAlbany

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