Editor’s Note: This column was written before a second woman alleged that she was sexually harrassed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo might really be in trouble.
As recently as last week, I dismissed the notion that the governor’s political career was in serious jeopardy.
But that was before an ex-Cuomo staffer alleged that Cuomo kissed her without her consent, suggested they play strip poker and “created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”
These accusations, which are detailed in an online essay titled “My story of working with Governor Cuomo,” merit an independent investigation, perhaps overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James.
Beyond that, they’re extremely damaging, hitting the governor at a very bad time.
Already weakened by a scandal over his administration’s poor handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, Cuomo was no doubt eager to move forward, put the controversy behind him and capitalize upon an improving pandemic situation to rebuild his popularity with voters.
The sexual misconduct allegations will likely derail those hopes, embroiling the governor in another controversy that won’t easily be forgotten.
Nor should it.
The most explosive and attention-grabbing allegations involve sexual misconduct, but the essay by former top aide Lindsey Boylan also contains troubling descriptions of the governor’s leadership style – ones echoed by others who have experienced his wrath first-hand.
“He used intimidation to silence his critics,” Boylan wrote. “And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences.”
In an essay in the New York Post, documentary filmmaker Morgan Pehme, who served as editor-in-chief of the political magazine City & State between 2012 and 2014, described how the Cuomo administration threatened to destroy his career if he published an unflattering article.
“I had no reason to think these were idle threats,” wrote Pehme, who directed the excellent 2017 documentary “Get Me Roger Stone.” “I was fully aware of the governor’s volcanic temper and track record of vindictiveness. If he wanted to crush me, he could and likely would.”
Cuomo has denied the sexual harassment allegations, and his aides and allies have defended his overall leadership style, arguing that his aggressiveness is effective.
To hear them tell it, the governor demands excellence, and his hard-charging, highly demanding ways are the only way to achieve it. If the governor wasn’t a huge jerk, he wouldn’t get nearly as much done.
Think of this as the myth of Cuomo.
“Yes, he’s tough on people. But it’s for their own good.”
Cuomo’s over-the-line behavior has long been an open secret.
What’s changed is that more and more people are speaking up about it, perhaps because there’s less tolerance for workplace bullies than in the past.
There are other leadership styles, and they don’t involve screaming at people, belittling them and behaving in ways that a growing chorus of critics has decried as abusive. Being an executive with high expectations is one thing; threatening to destroy people is quite another.
And most of us are smart enough to tell the difference.
Most of us have had bosses.
How would we feel if they behaved like Gov. Cuomo?
Whether voters will remember these unflattering stories about Cuomo’s behavior in 2022, when he’s up for re-election, remains to be seen.
But they’ve put a serious dent in the compassionate, fatherly and reassuring image the governor has built for himself over the past year.
He could certainly still recover.
But it might be harder than I once thought.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.