BY TOM STEPHENS
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, seen here in 2014, recently resigned from his post amid sexual harassment allegations
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday 10th August that he will resign following an independent investigation found he had sexually harassed multiple women.
Allegations of sexual harassment made against Mr. Cuomo had been ongoing since Lindsey Boylan first went public with accusations of sexual harassment on December 13th, 2020. Boylan’s bravery resulted in a number of other women coming forward, eventually culminating in an inquiry led by New York Attorney General Letitia James. James’ inquiry (published on the 11th August) into allegations made against Mr. Cuomo reported in astonishing detail that he had sexually harassed 11 women. Such a damaging report was always going to put Mr. Cuomo under pressure, but we have seen other politicians ride out allegations of sexual harassment. However, his position had become untenable as Senior Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and President Biden all turned against him whilst at the same time the State Assembly had begun launching impeachment proceedings.
Cuomo then faced little option but to resign stating that his instinct would be to “fight through the scandal,” but that, “given the circumstances the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let Government get back to Governing.”
The Governor had previously been hailed as a champion of the #MeToo movement but on Tuesday his statement sparked uproar amongst women’s activists. Cuomo denied the allegations whilst his lawyer issued a statement attempting to discredit those women that had come forward. Cuomo has consistently attempted to discredit his accusers. Indeed, according to James’ report when allegations first surfaced, he and his aides plotted to destroy the reputation of the women by leaking classified information. Cuomo then proved himself to be the antithesis of all that the #MeToo movement represents.
The first of those women to accuse Mr. Cuomo was Lindsey Boylan who had worked as an economic development official in his department from 2015 to 2018. Tuesday’s resignation was 164 days since Boylan first went public. She had been subject to a retaliation campaign that was subsequently deemed unlawful by the Attorney General’s report. Boylan’s experience is not unique and no doubt highlights how difficult it remains to report and confront sexual harassment even with the progress made by the #MeToo movement.
This is perhaps not surprising given Cuomo’s own reputation as a bully and the hyper-aggressive male-dominant political culture that has dominated New York politics for a long time. Allegedly amongst many lobbyists, colleagues and politicians, Cuomo’s actions were an open secret. Most concerningly these allegations suggest that the kind of male-dominant culture that the #MeToo movement has tried to change remains prevalent in American politics. Whilst Mr. Cuomo was pronouncing himself an ally of the movement there were those within his office too scared to come forward about his conduct. This surely then raises questions of whether the #MeToo movement has changed political culture when one of its key political supporters continued to harass women. Cuomo maintains that "In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn't realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn." If a man so close to the #MeToo movement can maintain such a position then much more still needs to be done.
The impact of the revelations against Mr. Cuomo are still yet to be fully felt but it is certainly remarkable that a man who had enjoyed such popularity during the coronavirus pandemic could fall from grace so dramatically. What the Cuomo resignation demonstrates is that public figures can no longer get away with these kinds of allegations no matter their popularity. However, it also highlights that politics remains plagued by a male-dominant culture that continues to make women feel uncomfortable. Those men within this culture often see little wrong with their actions.
In the words of Charlotte Bennett, one of those women whom Cuomo sexually harassed:
“He was not resigning because he knows he acted inappropriately,” she said. “He knows he acted inappropriately. He resigned because he had no next move to make. And, in that sense, we have a lot of work to do.”
The #MeToo movement then has a long way to go before women enjoy true workplace equality with the powerful men that have got away with far too much for far too long.
Image - Flickr (Diana Robinson)