When asked Wednesday about policies to prevent sexual harassment in the New York State government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) decided to deflect the blame onto “society,” condescendingly explaining to a female reporter that sexual harassment is prevalent across all industries.
“Look, you have it going on in journalism,” he told NPR’s Karen Dewitt after she asked him about potential changes to state policy that would protect victims of sexual harassment. “What are you going to do differently?”
“The question is about state government,” a male reporter could be heard saying in the background in a video capturing the exchange.
“I could tell you later in great detail, if you’re interested,” Dewitt responded. “But ―”
“No, it’s about you, and journalism,” Cuomo interjected. “And it’s about you in journalism. And it’s about state government and it’s about carpentry and it’s about trade forces.”
Dewitt’s initial question referred to criticism that Cuomo’s administration didn’t do enough to stop a sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by Sam Hoyt, who worked in the New York State Assembly until 2011.
A new lawsuit brought by victim Lisa Marie Carter said Hoyt groped and kissed her. Cuomo knew, the lawsuit alleges, but did nothing. Hoyt announced in October he was leaving his job at the Empire State Development Corporation over the sexual assault allegations. Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, said the state launched three separate investigations into the matter and that “any assertion to the contrary is patently and demonstrably false.”
“Is your administration going to do anything differently to maybe be a bit more aware?” Dewitt asked, prompting a long and painfully obtuse answer from the governor.
“We will have policies in state government, obviously, that affects state government,” he said. “But I think you miss the point. When you say it’s state government, you do a disservice to women, with all due respect ― even though you’re a woman. It’s not government, it’s society. There was Harvey Weinstein in the arts industry, it’s comedians, it’s politicians, it’s chefs, right? It’s systemic. It’s societal. It’s not one person in one area. It’s not just Charlie Rose, right? It’s not just Matt Lauer, it’s not just journalists. It’s societal. Understand the breadth of the problem.”
In a conference call with reporters later that day, Cuomo said there would be “proposals for government” regarding harassment, but did not elaborate. He then doubled down on saying the problem is “all across society.”
It’s true that the problem exists outside of government. Journalists have been telling the stories of victims in multiple industries for months ever since bombshell reports accused infamous Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of rape and other sexual misconduct. And many people in positions of power ― in journalism and beyond ― have finally been taken to task for their misconduct.
But the governor has failed to understand that the buck stops with him when it comes to harassment in New York State government. It shouldn’t be hard to admit there are cracks in the system that should protect vulnerable people working in state government.
There was Democratic New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who resigned in 2013 over former aides’ allegations of sexual harassment. In 2003, aide to Speaker Sheldon Silver, Michael Boxley, was arrested in a rape case. Hiram Monserrate, a former member of the State Senate, was convicted in 2009 of domestic violence. And just last month, Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R) was sanctioned for sexual harassment and can no longer have interns, following a 17-month investigation into his behavior.
But instead of addressing this reality, and finding solutions to combat harassment, Cuomo has taken the easy way out. He has chosen instead to blame everyone else.
This story has been updated to include comments from David and comments Cuomo made on a call with reporters.