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Creepy—and Corrupt

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eye on the news

Creepy—and Corrupt

The New York attorney general’s damning report portrays Governor Andrew Cuomo as not only a sexual harasser but a misappropriator of state resources. August 4, 2021
New York
Politics and law

The saga of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s downfall attracts prurient interest. But strip away the supposedly titillating details—which weren’t so titillating to the near-dozen women who allegedly experienced them—of New York Attorney General Letitia James’s 168-page investigative document into Cuomo’s workplace behavior, and you get not just sexual harassment, which is bad enough, but something just as unacceptable: garden-variety public corruption, including misappropriation of state resources. As the state legislature impeaches Cuomo, lawmakers shouldn’t leave this part out. Abusing taxpayer resources is an important sin, too.

Take the first instance of harassment detailed in James’s report, one previously unreported. In 2017, Cuomo encountered a New York State trooper at an event on the Triborough Bridge. At the governor’s insistence, “trooper #1 was then hired into the PSU,” the report notes—the rarefied protective-services unit, which guards the governor. This, even though she fell short of the requirement of at least three years’ experience. “Ha ha they changed the minimum from 3 years to 2. Just for you,” the trooper learned in an email from a supervisor. The report alleges that the governor then repeatedly treated this member of state law enforcement as an object of sexual touching and remarks.

This behavior isn’t just harassment but an abuse of state resources. Arbitrarily changing the rules that govern hiring based on a powerful elected official’s whim harms public safety; there’s presumably a good reason why only experienced troopers should guard high-profile targets. This non-meritorious hiring also harms other state troopers who might aspire to this elite position; any such applicants who were passed over are now in a position to sue. The report notes that one other woman specifically observed that the state police had capriciously chosen her colleague over her. The state’s roster of law-enforcement officials does not exist for the governor’s pleasure.

Next, there’s the story of “Kaitlin.” Cuomo met Kaitlin at a fundraiser in 2016. Days later, his executive chamber contacted her to give her a job. She requested a salary of $120,000, a figure so high that two top Cuomo staffers “laughed” at it during Kaitlin’s interview for the position, James notes. Yet, she got the job at the requested pay. The report doesn’t outline Kaitlin’s job duties; indeed, Kaitlin told investigators that she received “little guidance and direction” at work. Nor does the report say whether anyone else was considered for this high-paying position.

According to the report, the governor then proceeded to harass this new employee, calling her “sponge,” inappropriately commenting on her looks, and ogling her as she searched for car parts on eBay for him, a personal task that he shouldn’t have asked for on the public dime. All this unwanted attention made Kaitlin “visibly distressed,” colleagues said. Cuomo’s behavior here is not only creepy (and illegal) but also constitutes what is essentially a theft of public resources—spending $120,000 a year to amuse himself.

Assuming the report is accurate, Cuomo directly caused two women to be promoted or hired specifically to harass them. In at least six other examples, he persistently harassed or groped women already on the state payroll. The taxpayer, not the governor, paid all these women—and Cuomo effectively stole their time on the clock.

Cuomo’s abuse of public resources isn’t limited to his direct sexual bullying, though. He engaged other top state workers to help him engage in cover-ups and retaliation. Last December, the governor’s secretary, Melissa DeRosa, ordered another staffer to call Kaitlin, now departed from the governor’s staff, “looking for information . . . if she had allegations against the governor,” the staffer reported. DeRosa, along with another top staffer, Richard Azzopardi, also released the confidential employment file of yet another accuser to multiple media outlets. DeRosa and Azzopardi weren’t doing honest work for the taxpayer in this capacity, to say the least. They were doing the opposite: serving the governor, not the state.

As Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie prepares an impeachment against Cuomo, he will rightly focus on the experiences of the women who endured repeated verbal and physical sexual provocation from their formidable boss. They are the primary victims.

But Heastie should not forget the secondary victims. Cuomo also effectively appropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least, in state resources—the public dollars he used to harass women, and the public dollars he used to pay men and women to cover up his abuse. Furthermore, top officials such as Azzopardi and DeRosa are sophisticated enough to know that their behavior was wrong, and certainly not in the public interest. They, too, should be held to account, and, at the least, reimburse the state the money they earned working against the interests of the public.

Cuomo’s scandal is no different from the ones that toppled former Assembly leader Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, former Senate leader. The governor’s behavior in his alleged sexual harassment of multiple women will get most of the headlines, but the attorney general’s report also makes painfully clear that he regards taxpayer dollars as his own to use.

Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

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