New York

As Cuomo appoints more women to high posts, top aide accused of assault

Timing of lawsuit somewhat awkward for governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers a State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany in January.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers a State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany in January.

NEW YORK — A former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who resigned recently has been accused by a former state employee of sexual harassment and assault, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan over the weekend.

The former aide, Sam Hoyt, a former Democratic assemblyman from Buffalo, had been the regional president of the state’s Empire State Development Corp. After he quit unexpectedly last month, a woman told the Buffalo News, on the condition of anonymity, that Hoyt had paid $50,000 to buy her silence.

But Saturday, the woman, Lisa Marie Cater, shed her anonymity in an interview with The New York Post. She also filed a lawsuit against Hoyt, and claimed that Cuomo and the governor’s office had been “deliberately indifferent” toward her complaints.

In a statement, Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, strongly rebutted Cater’s claims as “patently and demonstrably false,” noting that the state had launched three investigations into the matter, which remain open, but she had refused to cooperate. “We expect this matter to be summarily dismissed.”

But the timing of the lawsuit is somewhat awkward for Cuomo, a Democrat, who created a Women’s Equality Party during his 2014 re-election campaign. At a time when gender politics and allegations of sexual misconduct are roiling the nation, the governor, who is viewed as a possible presidential contender in 2020, has appointed more women to top positions.

And, in a move that administration officials said was planned well before any of the recent revelations about Hoyt, Cuomo is expected to announce on Monday the appointment of Cathy Calhoun as his director of state operations, a top post in the executive chamber.

Calhoun, 53, has been the acting commissioner of the state’s Transportation Department of Transportation since August, and her background could help Cuomo with one of the biggest headaches of his current term — the deterioration of New York City’s subway system, which was the subject of a New York Times investigation this weekend.

Last week, Cuomo brought on Linda Lacewell, a former federal prosecutor, as his chief of staff. She had been his special counsel when he was the state attorney general. And in April, he appointed Melissa DeRosa to the loftiest job in his inner circle — secretary to the governor. His press secretary, Dani Lever, and his executive deputy secretary, Jill DesRosiers, are also women.

“I can’t recall that number of top staffers being women,” said Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz. “He’s appointing very capable people who are women.”

Cuomo appointed Hoyt in 2011, three years after Hoyt admitted that he had had an affair with an intern.

Cater, 51, said in her complaint that when she emailed the Empire State Development Corp. in October 2015 to get housing assistance, Hoyt, to her surprise, contacted her directly and offered to get her a job. Their interactions soon became flirtatious, she said in the complaint, but also intimidating, as Hoyt, 55, claimed that he was close to the governor and “was in charge of patronage positions in New York state.”

Hoyt began to pepper her with texts every day, at all hours of the day, for weeks, according to the complaint. After she was informed that she had gotten a job at the state Department of Motor Vehicles in February 2016 with “no interview or application process,” Hoyt sent a nude photo of himself. Then, according to the complaint, he asked her, “Do you think I look tan?”

At one point, according to the complaint, Hoyt groped her “crotch area, squeezing as hard as he could and hurting the plaintiff.” He then told her, “You know this is what I want!” the complaint said. Cater has since left her state job.

In a statement, Terrence M. Connors, a lawyer for Hoyt, said Hoyt had acknowledged a short-term, consensual relationship with Cater, but “these new allegations are totally inconsistent with her original story and contradicted by her own email and text message correspondence. If she persists with this lawsuit, we will seek dismissal at the earliest stage.”

Cater also said in the complaint that after she was harassed by Hoyt, she contacted Noreen VanDoren, a lawyer with the governor’s office. Cater claimed VanDoren dismissed her complaints and said, “What is that you want, money?”

But VanDoren works for the state Office of General Services, not the governor’s office, state records show. David also said that VanDoren had been handling Cater’s request for additional leave because of injuries resulting from a cat bite on her right hand.

“Any allegation that anyone offered the complainant a bribe is divorced from reality,” David said.

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