Former aide says Cuomo kissed her, suggested strip poker

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a press conference before the opening of a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in the Queens borough of New York, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. This FEMA run site, along with another in Brooklyn, gives priority to local residents in an effort to equitably distribute the vaccine. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A former member of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration who previously accused him of sexual harassment offered new details Wednesday, saying he once kissed her on the lips without consent.

Lindsey Boylan said that during her more than three years in the Democrat’s administration, Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs,” compared her to one of his rumored ex-girlfriends and once remarked they should play strip poker.

Cuomo’s spokesperson Caitlin Girouard said that all Boylan’s “claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.”

But the state legislature’s two top leaders criticized Cuomo’s alleged conduct Wednesday as calls grew for an investigation.

Boylan, a Democrat running for Manhattan borough president, made the new allegations in a poston the website Medium more than two months after she first spoke up about alleged mistreatment by Cuomo. At the time, she hadn’t provided details, saying she had “no interest in speaking to journalists.”

But on Wednesday, she attributed her decision to say more to Assembly member Ron Kim levying public accusations of bullying and threats from Cuomo and his aides last week.

She wrote the kiss happened at the end of a one-on-one meeting with Cuomo at his New York City office.

“As I got up to leave and walk toward an open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips. I was in shock, but I kept walking,” she wrote. “The idea that someone might think I held my high-ranking position because of the Governor’s ‘crush’ on me was more demeaning than the kiss itself.”

Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, confirmed to The Associated Press that she’d written the blog entry but declined to be interviewed.

When Boylan initially tweeted in December that Cuomo sexually harassed her, the governor denied he did anything inappropriate.

“Look, I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has,” Cuomo told reporters then. “But it’s just not true.”

Not quite a year ago, the three-term governor was at the height of his popularity during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, holding widely watched daily briefings where he implored people to take the virus seriously. In recent weeks, however, criticism about the work culture around Cuomo and how he wields his power has mounted, while his support has erodedover his imperious style and revelations that his administration withheld details from the public about the pandemic’s death toll in nursing homes.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, called Boylan’s account “deeply disturbing.”

“Harassment in the workplace of any kind should not be tolerated,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, also a Democrat.

Boylan, who joined the administration economic development agency in the spring of 2015, said she first met Cuomo at a Madison Square Garden event in January 2016.

“My boss soon informed me that the Governor had a ‘crush’ on me,” Boylan wrote. “It was an uncomfortable but all-too-familiar feeling: the struggle to be taken seriously by a powerful man who tied my worth to my body and my appearance.”

Boylan included a screenshot of Nov. 4, 2016, text message exchange with her mother, in which Boylan said Cuomo was being “creepy” and “has a crush on me.” She also wrote the governor’s staff needlessly inquired about whether she planned to go to events he was attending.

She also posted a screenshot of a Dec. 14, 2016, email in which an aide wrote the governor had compared Boylan to a woman he was rumored to have dated.

“You could be sisters. Except you’re the better looking sister,” the aide wrote.

Boylan wrote that after a December 2016 holiday party in Albany, the governor summoned her to his office, where Cuomo showed her a cigar box he’d received from former President Bill Clinton.

Cuomo “didn’t touch me,” Boylan wrote, but the one-on-one encounter made her uncomfortable.

During an October 2017 flight, she said Cuomo said, “Let’s play strip poker” as they sat with a press aide and a state trooper. She said she brushed it off by sarcastically saying, “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” but privately found the comment upsetting.

The governor’s office confirmed that Boylan flew with Cuomo on four occasions that month, but that other aides present disputed the account.

“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” said a statement attributed to former senior adviser John Maggiore, former Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky, former Cuomo press secretary Dani Lever and former first deputy press secretary Abbey Fashouer Collins.

Boylan asserted Cuomo created a culture of pervasive sexual harassment, including making unflattering comments about female colleagues’ weight, ridiculing their romantic relationships and having roses delivered to them on Valentine’s Day.

“His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right,” Boylan said.

Boylan said two other former Cuomo staffers have privately confided in her that they were also sexually harassed by the governor, but did not identify them.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group, an advocacy group launched by former state legislative employees who experienced sexual harassment, called for an independent investigation into Cuomo’s workplace behavior.

Cuomo was in a long-term relationship with Food Network star Sandra Lee throughout the timeframe laid out in Boylan’s accusations. The couple split in 2019.

Personnel memos written in 2018, obtained by the AP, indicate Boylan resigned after she was confronted about complaints she belittled and yelled at her staff.

Boylan said those records “were leaked to the media in an effort to smear me.”

In her post, she offered a different reason for her departure, saying her relationship with Cuomo’s “senior team — mostly women — grew hostile after I started speaking up for myself. I was reprimanded and told to get in line by his top aides, but I could no longer ignore it.”

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