A third former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, one with Rochester connections, reportedly described inappropriate workplace treatment by the governor.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that Ana Liss, Monroe County's director of planning and development, said when she was a policy and operations aide for Cuomo between 2013 and 2015, Cuomo touched her lower back at a reception and once kissed her hand when rose from her desk.
Liss, 35, told the Wall Street Journal that the actions by Cuomo were unsolicited and happened while she sat at her desk, which was near his office in the Executive Chamber at the State Capitol in Albany.
Liss told the newspaper that she initially perceived Cuomo’s conduct as harmless flirtations, but over time, came to see it as patronizing and told the WSJ, “It’s not appropriate, really, in any setting.”
Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, provided this statement to WXXI News on Saturday night:
"Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures. At the public open house mansion reception there are hundreds of people and he poses for hundreds of pictures. That's what people in politics do."
Cuomo said Sunday he will not resign. He said it would be "anti-democratic" for him to resign over the sexual harassment allegations, as some state lawmakers, including fellow Democrats have demanded.
"I was elected by the people of New York state," Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters. "I wasn't elected by politicians."
Cuomo said the next six months will determine how successfully New York emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. "I'm not going to be distracted because there is too much to do for the people," he said.
Asked about Liss, who said Cuomo called her "sweetheart," kissed her hand and asked personal questions including whether she had a boyfriend, Cuomo said such talk was "my way of doing friendly banter."
He acknowledged that societal norms have evolved and noted, "I never meant to make anyone feel any uncomfortable."
Wednesday, Cuomo said, "You know, my usual custom is to kiss and to hug and make that gesture. I understand that sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed, and I get it. And I’m going to learn from it."
Liss told the Journal that she decided to come forward after two former aides, Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, said the governor engaged in inappropriate behaviors. Last week Cuomo publicly addressed sexual harassment accusations against him for the first time, saying Wednesday that he did not intend to make anyone uncomfortable and that he is truly sorry.
Another woman, Anna Ruch, produced a photo that showed the governor, who she did not know, holding her face in his hands at a wedding in 2019. She said he then asked if he could kiss her. Ruch told The New York Times that she removed the Democratic governor's hand from her back, but he said she seemed "aggressive," and then put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her.
Many are calling for Cuomo's resignation, including some members of Cuomo’s own Democratic Party, but the governor says he’s not leaving.
Liss tells the Wall Street Journal that she was working at a reception at the Executive Mansion in Albany in May 2014, when Cuomo hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks and then wrapped his arm around her lower back and grabbed her waist. Liss told the paper she never made a formal complaint about the behavior of the governor or anyone else. She said she eventually asked for a transfer to another office.
Liss told the Journal that her experience working for Cuomo prompted her to begin mental health counseling in 2014.
Bello, a Democrat, issued this statement Saturday night:
“Ana has shown tremendous strength in speaking about her experiences and the emotional trauma that resulted from her time working for the Governor. She is a valued member of my team since joining Monroe County over a year ago. I support Ana fully, as well as the other courageous women coming forward to share their stories.
Sexual harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and degrading or abusive behavior can never be tolerated, whether in the workplace or anywhere else. The tone for workplace culture is set at the top, and it is the responsibility of any leader to build a culture of respect and dignity for all persons, where all employees feel safe and know they are valued. We owe it to each of the women who have shared their experience to fully investigate their claims, and to expedite the investigation. The people of New York deserve nothing less.”
Before working for Monroe County, Liss was Managing Director of Business Development for Greater Rochester Enterprise.
On Sunday, the leader of the New York State Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, called on Cuomo to resign, saying, "Everyday there is another account that is drawing away from the business of government." State Senator Jeremy Cooney, a Democrat representing the 56th district, stopped short of calling for Cuomo to resign (his comments came before Stewart-Cousins released hers).
Cooney has worked with Liss in the past and said the various reports that have come out in recent days about similar incidents are deeply troubling.
Cooney, whose district encompasses parts of Rochester and several nearby towns, said that if the AG’s report does confirm sexual harassment, then he could see calling for Cuomo to step down.
“We have a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment or creating any type of hostile work environment in the state of new York. We cannot come out with rules and laws that show we’re supporting victims of abuse and then when it happens in our own house, turn around and look the other way,” Cooney told WXXI News.
Another Rochester-area State Sen. Samra Brouk, also called on Cuomo to resign.
"As more details emerge about his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic in nursing homes and the ongoing, repeated harassment of women on his staff, it is clear that trust has been broken between Governor Cuomo and the people who elected him," the Democrat said in a statement. "We need trust and transparency from our leadership, and we must demand a higher standard for those who have been elected to lead our state and our nation. It’s time for Gov. Cuomo to step down and allow our state to heal from the damage that has been caused."
Liss sent out a tweet on Sunday thanking people for supporting her.
A fifth woman, Karen Hinton, who worked as a press secretary at HUD under Cuomo, told the Washington Post that when she was a consultant for HUD, she was summoned to a dimly-lit hotel room in 2000 after a work event, where Cuomo pulled her in for a long, uncomfortable embrace.
Peter Ajemian, a spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, dismissed Hinton’s account, telling the Post, “This did not happen….Karen Hinton is a known antagonist of the Governor’s who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made up allegations from 21 years ago. All women have the right to come forward and tell their story — however, it’s also the responsibility of the press to consider self-motivation. This is reckless.”
Cuomo had similar comments during his Sunday conference call, saying that what Hinton said was not true, and that Hinton has been a longtime political adversary.
State Attorney General Letitia James is conducting an investigation with subpoena powers. Cuomo has said he and his office will cooperate fully. He asked everyone to withhold judgment until the attorney general’s report is completed.
This story includes reporting by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and gothamist.com