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Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted Thursday that “harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable” — a claim that critics quickly blasted as laughably wrong and “truly alarming.”
During a news conference in the Bronx, Cuomo — who’s facing multiple sexual harassment investigations — sparred with a reporter who confronted him over the February statement in which he apologized for past comments that “made others feel in ways I never intended.”
“Do you acknowledge the fact that your intentions, according to the law, don’t matter in sexual harassment?” the reporter asked.
“No. I said I never meant…I never meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said.
During a heated back-and-forth with the reporter, Cuomo said, “You can leave this press conference today and say, ‘Oh, the governor harassed me.’ You can say that.”
“I would say I never said anything that I believed was inappropriate. I never meant to make you feel that way,” he said.
“You may hear it that way. You may interpret it that way. And I respect that. And I apologize to you if you — I said something you think is offensive.”
Cuomo — an Albany Law School grad who previously served as state attorney general — also insisted, “Harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable.”
“That is not harassment,” he said.
“I just made you feel uncomfortable — that is not harassment. That’s you feeling uncomfortable.”
Cuomo then quickly cut short the news conference, saying, “OK, thank you all very much.”
A lawyer for former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett — one of several women who’ve accused him of sexual harassment — later released a prepared statement that called Cuomo’s remarks “jaw dropping.”
“For someone who signed the law defining sexual harassment in New York State, and who claims to have taken the state’s mandated sexual harassment training every year despite Ms. Bennett seeing someone else take it on his behalf, Gov. Cuomo continues to show an alarming degree of ignorance about what constitutes sexual harassment,” lawyer Debra Katz said.
“The law is very clear on this. If an employer makes unwelcome jokes, comments, asks probing questions of a sexual nature or makes unwanted sexual propositions – which is exactly what Gov. Cuomo has already admitted to having directed toward my client, Charlotte Bennett – that employer has violated New York state law. There is no gray area here.”
Katz added: “The Governor needs sexual harassment training, now. His studied ignorance is truly alarming.”
Former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan, whose February online essay triggered the cascade of allegations against the governor, accused him of trying “to re-write history and now re-write the law.”
“The single most powerful man in New York is trying to play devil’s advocate for himself, contradicting a bill that he himself signed into law,” said Boylan, now a Democratic candidate for Manhattan borough president.
“He is using the power of his office to abuse and to validate abuse. The governor should be removed.”
The Sexual Harassment Working Group — made up of former legislative employees — also issued a statement that said Cuomo’s “self-delusion reached impressive new heights and our response is very simple: just because you believe you can’t make anyone “feel’ harassed by your actions, doesn’t make it legally true.”
“If the Governor tried that before a judge he’d get laughed out of court,” the group added.
State Assemblyman Dan Quart (D-Manhattan), who’s running for Manhattan district attorney, said in a statement: “Plain and simple, the Governor is wrong about the law that he signed and has touted as the strongest sexual harassment law in the nation.”
“According to New York state law, unlawful harassment is inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment based on a protected characteristic,” he said.
“The behavior that Charlotte Bennett has described, behavior that the Governor himself has admitted to and apologized for, certainly qualifies as inferior treatment under the law.”
Quart added: “Further, in the model sexual harassment policy posted on the Governor’s own website, behavior that causes the recipient discomfort is specified as sexual harassment, directly contradicting his comments from today.”
Additional reporting by Julia Marsh
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