ALBANY — A former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo detailed Wednesday what she said were a series of sexual harassment incidents she experienced while working for the governor’s administration, including an unwanted kiss on the lips by Cuomo himself.
Lindsey Boylan, Cuomo’s former deputy secretary of economic development and special adviser, wrote a 1,700-word post on the website Medium in which she said she was subjected to unwanted advances by Cuomo during her nearly two years working for the administration.
In one, she contended, Cuomo said to her, “Let’s play strip poker” on a flight back from western New York on a state-owned plane in October 2017.
In another, she accused Cuomo of kissing her on the lips after a one-on-one briefing in his Manhattan office.
“As I got up to leave and walk toward an open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips. I was in shock, but I kept walking,” she wrote.
In another example, she published an email from a female Cuomo aide, saying the governor was encouraging Boylan look up pictures of his rumored former girlfriend because “we could be sisters” and “I was the better looking sister.”
Boylan wrote Wednesday: “Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”
Cuomo has previously denied broader allegations made by Boylan in December, when she wrote on Twitter that he had “sexually harassed me for years.”
“I heard about the tweet and what it said about comments that I had made, and it’s not true,” Cuomo said Dec. 14 of Boylan’s posts at the time. “Look, I fought for and I believe a woman has a right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has, but it’s just not true.”
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo press secretary Caitlin Girouard said: “As we said before, Ms. Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.”
Cuomo’s office also put out a statement from four current and former aides who were on any October 2017 flights with Boylan and Cuomo.
“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” the statement read.
His aides have previously characterized Boylan as a disgruntled worker, which Boylan countered as a “smear” attempt.
Boylan’s accusations against Cuomo
In December, Boylan, 36, a Democrat now running for Manhattan borough president, declined to provide more details about her encounters with Cuomo after the Twitter posts.
But on Wednesday, she said she thought it was important for her experiences to be shared publicly.
“His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences,” she wrote.
The post comes amid Cuomo’s toughest stretch of his 10 years in office. The Democratic governor is under intense scrutiny over his handling of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, so much so that a bipartisan group of lawmakers want him impeached.
And he’s faced renewed criticism that he’s a bully to staff and lawmakers.
A review of Cuomo’s public schedules shows that Boylan’s timeline of events matches up with trips she had taken with Cuomo and his staff.
She alleged the “strip poker” comment came on a flight home from an event in western New York in October 2017. Cuomo’s schedule shows Boylan accompanied him and his staff on four air trips that month, including an Oct. 4 trip that stopped in Niagara Falls, an Oct. 6 trip that stopped in Rochester and an Oct. 17 trip that stopped in Buffalo.
Boylan posted a series of text messages from November 2016 in which she called the governor “creepy” and said he has “a crush on me.”
The texts came after her boss, then Empire State Development chief, Howard Zemsky, was asked by a Cuomo aide in an email, which Boylan posted Wednesday, that inquired if Boylan was going on a trip to Rochester.
Zemsky wrote Boylan wasn’t and was in Albany, but “it will be hard for her to concentrate on the presentation while worrying about how the Gov’s day is going in Rochester.”
Cuomo, 62, is divorced. He and celebrity chef Sandra Lee split in 2019 after dating for more than a decade; they never married.
First meeting Cuomo
Boylan wrote that she first met Cuomo on Jan. 6, 2016, at an event at Madison Square Garden to promote the new Penn Station project.
“After his speech, he stopped to talk to me. I was new on the job and surprised by how much attention he paid me,” she wrote. “My boss soon informed me that the Governor had a “crush” on me. It was an uncomfortable but all-too-familiar feeling: the struggle to be taken seriously by a powerful man who tied my worth to my body and my appearance.”
Once, she said, Cuomo sent roses to female staffers on Valentine’s Day and “arranged to have one delivered to me, the only one on my floor.”
She added, “A signed photograph of the Governor appeared in my closed-door office while I was out. These were not-so-subtle reminders of the Governor exploiting the power dynamic with the women around him.”
In 2018, Boylan said she was promoted to deputy secretary for economic development and special advisor to the governor. She said she was reluctant to take the job, but ultimately did.
At some point after came the incident in which Boylan claims Cuomo kissed her. She resigned in September 2018.
“After that (kiss), my fears worsened. I came to work nauseous every day. My relationship with his senior team — mostly women — grew hostile after I started speaking up for myself. I was reprimanded and told to get in line by his top aides, but I could no longer ignore it,” Boylan wrote.
The actions alleged in Boylan’s essay drew outrage from some lawmakers and political leaders, mainly Cuomo opponents.
“I have no doubt that this is true,” Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Pelham, Westchester County, wrote on Twitter. “I’ve witnessed similar behavior, and it’s unacceptable.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, Saratoga County, called on Cuomo to resign. She has been an outspoken Cuomo critic.
“Governor Cuomo has earned his title as Worst Governor in America, and now every New Yorker knows that he is a criminal sexual predator,” Stefanik said in a statement.
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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