2nd aide accuses N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment
ALBANY, N.Y. — A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is accusing him of sexual harassment, saying that he asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men.
The aide, Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until she left in November, told The New York Times that the governor had harassed her late last spring, during the height of the state’s fight against the coronavirus.
Ms. Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo in his State Capitol office. 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.
Mr. Cuomo said in a statement to The Times on Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He said he had requested an independent review of the matter and asked that New Yorkers await the findings “before making any judgments.”
Ms. Bennett said that during the June encounter, the governor, 63, also complained to her about being lonely during the pandemic, mentioning that he “can’t even hug anyone,” before turning the focus to Ms. Bennett. She said that Mr. Cuomo asked her, “Who did I last hug?”
Ms. Bennett said she had tried to dodge the question by responding that she missed hugging her parents. “And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she said.
Mr. Cuomo never tried to touch her, Ms. Bennett said, but the message of the entire episode was unmistakable to her.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Ms. Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Ms. Bennett said she had disclosed the interaction with Mr. Cuomo to his chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, less than a week later and was transferred to another job, as a health policy adviser, with an office on the opposite side of the Capitol, soon after that. Ms. Bennett said she had also given a lengthy statement to a special counsel to the governor, Judith Mogul, toward the end of June.
Ms. Bennett said she ultimately decided not to insist on an investigation because she was happy in her new job and “wanted to move on.” No action was taken against the governor.
In his statement, Mr. Cuomo called Ms. Bennett a “hard-working and valued member” of his staff with “every right to speak out.” He said that Ms. Bennett had opened up to him about being a sexual assault survivor, and he had tried to be supportive and helpful. “The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported,” the governor said.
The governor did not deny that he asked Ms. Bennett personal questions; he said in the statement that he would have no further comment until the review concluded.
Ms. Bennett’s account follows another detailed accusation published on Wednesday by Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development official who said that Mr. Cuomo had harassed her on several occasions from 2016 to 2018, at one point giving her an unsolicited kiss on the lips at his Manhattan office.
Mr. Cuomo’s office has called Ms. Boylan’s accusations untrue, but they have nonetheless prompted calls for investigations into her claims. In addition to the two women’s harassment allegations, the governor, a third-term Democrat, is confronting significant political fallout over his handling of the state’s nursing homes during the pandemic.
After seeing Ms. Boylan detail her accusations against Mr. Cuomo, Ms. Bennett shared Ms. Boylan’s account on Twitter, suggesting that people read it if they wanted a true picture of “what it’s like to work for the Cuomo” administration.
The Times contacted Ms. Bennett, and she agreed to relate her own account of harassment. She said she felt an obligation to other victims of sexual harassment and wanted to counter the way Mr. Cuomo “wields his power.”
Ms. Bennett said she had told her parents and friends about the exchange with the governor around the time that it happened, as well as about her growing discomfort with having to work closely with him, and had kept text messages from that period.
The Times reviewed the messages and confirmed their contents with those who received them. Ms. Bennett also retained text messages from Ms. DesRosiers and Ms. Mogul that alluded to their meetings in June but did not mention the subject matter.
“I have no problem with what they did,” Ms. Bennett said of Ms. DesRosiers and Ms. Mogul, describing both women as sympathetic to her concerns. “I have a problem with what the governor did.”