Both things can be true.
It can be that Charlotte Bennett and five other former aides all were subject to sexual harassment from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and it can be that the governor actually meant his actions, comments about their personal lives, were to be taken lightly — “jokes,” as he described — and that all that kissing was something he points out is how he greets most men and women.
Slow the blood boiling. Hear me out.
So many of the men from the governor’s time of "boys will be boys" still can’t grasp that that behavior is not OK. Meanwhile, the governor’s young accusers may not call themselves fourth wave feminists, but they grew up in a post-Anita Hill world, thirty years after the now Brandeis professor went public with sexual harassment accusations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Hill’s Senate testimony didn’t stop the Thomas confirmation, but it kickstarted a movement calling out sexual harassment in the workplace.
And two years ago, they would also have witnessed #MeToo victims take down Harvey Weinstein for rape. At his sentencing, Weinstein is said to have repeated three times out loud, “I didn’t rape anyone.” Why would he believe that he had? His sexual assaults were referred to as “couch casting,” just part of how business got done in Hollywood. Sure, there are many contemporaries of the 68-year-old Weinstein and the 63-year-old Cuomo who haven’t been convicted or accused of sexual harassment, But the harassment keeps happening because many have been complicit in their silence. Saying nothing after witnessing the crude remarks and the out of bounds touching in service to the "bro code."
When the three-term governor publicly addressed the first accusations, he denied improper intentions, instead calling himself a "mentor" to the young women. He responded to accuser number six by saying her claim was “gut-wrenching.” And he pointed out that, at the time, none of them told him directly that he made them uncomfortable. But he also acknowledged his comments may have been “insensitive” and “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.” Charlotte Bennett’s attorney, Deborah Katz, rejected his benign assessment, telling The New York Times, “He was abusing his power over her for sex.”
If these allegations are true, it will mean that the governor is another of those fathers of daughters who fail to see any other young woman as somebody else’s daughter — doubly disappointing as Gov. Cuomo is an avowed "Girl Dad" close to his three grown daughters, 22-year-old Michaela and 25-year-old twins Mariah and Cara. Former aide Charlotte Bennet is 25.
Most women who claim sexual harassment never come forward for fear of not being believed. It’s telling that none of Gov. Cuomo’s accusers went public until the governor was politically vulnerable because of the brewing controversy about his staff fudging COVID nursing home numbers. Frankly, it’s probably a more receptive atmosphere for them to be heard.
During the height of the pandemic, I was one of the governor’s millions of distant admirers, drawn by what I thought was a daily, bracing dose of unvarnished truth. These sexual harassment charges are deeply shocking, but #MeToo has confirmed that a lot of Grabby Guses wear suits. Whatever the independent investigation reveals, both things will be true: Gov. Cuomo is likely politically damaged goods. And six more women are, once again, collateral damage in an unsafe workplace.