A third woman has accused Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate behaviour, less than 24 hours after the New York governor formally referred himself for investigation over similar allegations from two former aides.
Mr Cuomo has faced growing criticism, including from within his own Democratic Party, for suggesting the two ex-aides had “misinterpreted” him.
Anna Ruch, 33, told The New York Times she met Mr Cuomo at a wedding in September 2019. During the reception, he put his hand on her bare lower back — which she pushed away — and asked if he could kiss her.
“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” Ms Ruch told the NYT. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”
Mr Cuomo became a national star last year with his straight-talking yet empathetic coronavirus briefings that contrasted sharply with then-president Donald Trump’s dismissive approach to the pandemic.
Mr Ruch’s testimony comes just days after former aide Charlotte Bennett told the NYT that he sexually harassed her last year. Ms Bennett’s allegations at the weekend came just days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, described unwanted physical contact from Mr Cuomo.
On Tuesday AEDT, New York Attorney-General Letitia James said Mr Cuomo’s office had written to her granting her request to set up an independent probe into the accusations.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” Ms James said.
The referral letter noted that the findings of the investigation will be “disclosed in a public report,” she added.
Mr Cuomo said on Monday he was “truly sorry” if his conduct had ever been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation” as he faced mounting pressure over the scandal. He has denied ever inappropriately touching or propositioning anyone. On Monday, the 63-year-old bowed to pressure to grant an independent investigation. He initially chose a former federal judge to lead the probe but people in his party said that was not sufficiently transparent.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday AEDT slammed Mr Cuomo’s statement responding to the allegations.
“That’s not an apology. He seemed to be saying: ‘Oh, I was just kidding around.’ Sexual harassment is not funny. It’s serious,” said Mr de Blasio, a long-time party rival of Mr Cuomo’s.
A member of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, a group of former New York parliamentary aides that fights harassment, described Mr Cuomo’s comments as “insulting”.
“He’s not taking any accountability. We have no reason to think he’s not going to repeat this behaviour again,” Rita Pasarell told the Guardian in comments tweeted by the group.
Ms Bennett described the governor’s response as “the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice” in a statement to the Times. “I stand with Anna Ruch,” Mr Bennett tweeted separately. “His inappropriate and aggressive behaviour cannot be justified or normalised.”
Ms Boylan also tweeted her support, writing that Ms Ruch’s account made her “feel sick.”
According to the 25-year-old Ms Bennett, Mr Cuomo said in June that he was open to dating women in their 20s, and asked her if she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships.
While Mr Cuomo never tried to touch her, “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” she said.
Ms Boylan said in a blog Mr Cuomo had harassed her when she worked for his administration from 2015 to 2018. The 36-year-old alleged he had given her an unsolicited kiss on the lips, suggested they play strip poker and went “out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.”