Andrew Cuomo crosses another line, blaming his heritage for harassment | Mary Chao
It's bias. Politics. She's not credible.
As a defiant and sorry-not-sorry Andrew Cuomo delivered his resignation speech Tuesday, he gave the usual rebuttals against the sexual harassment allegations made against him by 11 women.
But one excuse was over the top.
"There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn't fully appreciate, and I should have," the soon-to-be ex-New York governor said.
To my ear, Cuomo was blaming his Italian heritage for inappropriately touching women. That's really crossing the line.
The governor hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, and he and his lawyer continued to say the media and political enemies are twisting the facts.
But he acknowledged that he hugs and kisses people casually – women and men.
"I have done it all my life," he said. "It's who I've been since I can remember. In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone."
This is the head of the fourth most populous state in the nation claiming he didn't know it was inappropriate to paw women, particularly his staffers. You can forgive women for rolling their eyes at Cuomo's excuses.
As a female journalist who spent 24 years reporting in New York State, I've been the subject of unwanted comments and uninvited touching. I've also attended many public events and received hugs and kisses where it's the cultural norm. Believe me, women know the difference between a friendly hug or kiss and a predatory grope.
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I grew up in New York City dealing with catcalling men. It's not pleasant to be objectified, but those men weren't in positions of power over me either. Cuomo held the political reins in Albany and influence over the women who bravely came forward, whose jobs were at stake if they blew the whistle.
Yet the three-term governor simply dug his heels in and brushed off the seriousness of his actions even in the act of resigning. In a televised address, the 63-year-old emphatically denied intentionally showing any disrespect toward women.
"I thought a hug and putting my arm around a staff person while taking a picture was friendly," Cuomo said. "But she found it to be too forward. I kissed a woman on the cheek at a wedding and I thought I was being nice. But she felt that it was too aggressive."
In calling people "honey, sweetheart, darling," Cuomo continued, "I meant it to be endearing. Women found it dated and offensive."
At one point during the speech, Cuomo did "take full responsibility."
"I have been too familiar with people. My sense of humor can be insensitive and off-putting," he said.
William Schievella, president of the Italian American Police Society of New Jersey, said that Italian Americans do tend to be more affectionate. However, some of Cuomo's actions appeared to have gone too far, the Democrat said, while acknowledging there may be political motives in the recent revelations.
In a report released by New York Attorney General Tish James' office, investigators said Cuomo went far beyond bad jokes: He subjected women to unwanted kisses, groped their breasts or buttocks, touched them inappropriately and made remarks about their looks and sex lives, James' office found. The report also noted the Governor's office was a toxic environment rife with intimidation.
In the end, Cuomo ran out of allies. He tried to hold on and was still defiant until the bitter end. It was a contrast with former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who at least had the sense to resign quickly in 2008 after an investigation revealed he had patronized a prostitution ring run by an escort service.
Regardless of where Cuomo thought the line was, the sexual harassment he practiced has been outlawed for close to 40 years, said J. Nelson Thomas, a partner at Rochester, New York-based law firm Thomas & Solomon who handles employment cases around the country.
"Sure, it may have been tolerated as normal, or at worse not gentlemanly but not serious and illegal," Thomas told me. "But it was serious and illegal then, and is now."
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The attorney said his male clients have become much more concerned about these issues as they see prominent men held accountable, and it scares them.
"They have a much more visceral and negative reaction to hearing other men engage in this behavior that they now know they could not," Thomas said. "Female clients also find these things unacceptable, but have seen it occur so much over their careers they tend to be less shocked by hearing these allegations."
In February of last year, a group of female political leaders and operatives in New Jersey held a forum that shined a light on sexual harassment in state politics. Amanda Richardson, at the time the chairwoman of the Harding Township Democratic Committee in Morris County, described balancing life as a new mom with her desire to get involved in a political scene that still seemed to operate by frat-house rules.
Business always seemed to occur in bars and after official events, she noted. As a 20-something lawyer, she learned to counter advances from men by offering handshakes instead of hugs, and to not share information about what hotel room she was staying in at conferences lest some clueless male counterpart get the wrong idea.
Sadly, the "Mad Men" culture of yesteryear still exists in certain arenas. But women are speaking out when it is uncomfortable to do so, demanding that powerful men be held to a higher standard.
Cuomo said that "the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government.” He's right.
In two weeks, New York will have its first woman governor as Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, 62, steps into the role. As a longtime politician and attorney, Hochul is no stranger to the old boys network of Albany and its ways.
Here's hoping a woman at the helm can lead to a permanent shift, and that we can all leave sexual harassment and intimidation behind as a relic of the old days.
Staff writer Stacey Barchenger contributed to this report.
Mary Chao 趙 慶 華 is a columnist and covers the Asian community and real estate for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news out of North Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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