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Under siege over sex harassment claims, Cuomo offers apology

Gov Andrew Cuomo on Sunday sought to stem the political fallout over allegations of sexual harassment, acknowledging that he may have made inappropriate remarks that could “have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation” to a young female aide during private meetings last spring.

Cuomo, 63, said his comments — including those which emerged in an account from the aide, Charlotte Bennett — were an extension of life spent at work, where he sometimes “teased people about their personal lives and relationships.”

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”

The response from the governor seemed to reflect the gravity of Bennett’s accusations, and those of another former aide last week, as well as the potential damage that they could cause to Cuomo, a third-term Democrat.

Cuomo, who emerged as a national leader during the pandemic, also repeated his calls for an independent investigation of his own behaviour, although the decision over who would oversee that inquiry has proved torturous. His initial choice of a former federal judge to lead the investigation was met with criticism, as was his second suggestion that Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, be paired with Janet DiFiore, the chief judge on New York state’s highest court, to jointly pick someone to investigate the matter. James rejected that proposal.

Finally, late Sunday, Cuomo relented again, saying in a statement that he would grant subpoena power to whomever James designated as the outside investigator, as James had demanded.

In interviews with The New York Times last week, Bennett said Cuomo had asked her about elements of her sex life, including whether she practiced monogamy and had ever slept with older men. She also recounted that Cuomo told her he was open to dating women in their 20s.

She said she believed the governor was making sexual overtures toward her.

© 2021 New York Times News Service