TODAY'S PAPER
Good Evening
Good Evening
NewsRegion/State

Cuomo accuser calls him a 'textbook abuser'

In this photo provided by CBS News, Norah

In this photo provided by CBS News, Norah O'Donnell, left, interviews Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on Thursday.   Credit: AP/Adam Verdugo

In part two of her first national television interview, former aide Charlotte Bennett said she was "terrified" of working alone with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo whom she called a "textbook abuser."

"He is a textbook abuser," Bennett told CBS in a segment aired on its Friday morning news program. "He lets his temper and anger rule the office. But he was very nice to me for a year in the hopes that one day when he came on to me, I would think we were friends or that it was appropriate or that it was OK."

The allegations by Bennett, 25, and another ex-aide in the administration have spurred an attorney general's investigation of the governor as well as calls for his resignation. The governor has said he "never made advances" to Bennett, that he tried to act as a mentor and that his behavior could have been misinterpreted as "unwanted flirtation." Cuomo aides have called "simply false" the allegations by Lindsay Boylan that the governor gave her an unwanted kiss.

The governor on Wednesday appeared publicly for the first time, apologizing and saying he was embarrassed by his actions. But he also said he wouldn't resign.

In the first part of her interview Thursday, Bennett told "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell that she felt "deeply uncomfortable" in a one-on-one situation last year with the governor, who is 63. She said she was working alone with the governor one day in June, taking dictation when he told her to turn off the recorder and he told her he was lonely and looking for a girlfriend. She said she felt uncomfortable and thought "I had to get out of this room as soon as possible."

She provided more details Friday, saying she had to return to work the next day, where again she was alone in the office with Cuomo.

"I was terrified. I was shaking," Bennett said. "I thought 'Any moment something could happen and I have no power here.'"

She said the governor asked her if "I had found him a girlfriend yet. I said not yet. I said I was working on it."

She said the governor asked her "if I was sensitive to intimacy" because she had been sexually assaulted before. Bennett said she thought the questions were "strategic."

"The idea that maybe I’m more willing to accept behavior because I’m a sexual assault survivor," Bennett said.

In part one of the interview Thursday, Bennett said at one point Cuomo asked if she thought age made a difference in a relationship and said he was "fine" with anyone older than 22.

"What did you think as the governor asked you these questions?" O'Donnell asked.

"I thought he was trying to sleep with me," Bennett replied. "The governor's trying to sleep with me. And I'm deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible."

Asked why she didn't get up and leave, Bennett said: "It didn’t feel like I had a choice."

"He's the boss," O'Donnell said.

"He's my boss. He's everyone’s boss," Bennett replied.

She said she later texted a friend about it, telling her at one point: "I was terrified."

Along with Bennett and Boylan, a third woman, not a former employee, said Cuomo, at a wedding, made an unwanted advance by cupping her face and trying to kiss her. She turned around and he kissed her cheek.

Cuomo has said he was "truly sorry" for his behavior.

"I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable," Cuomo said Wednesday. "It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it and frankly, I’m embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say."

He's also said his behavior could be "misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation" — an assertion Bennett rejected.

"I understood him loud and clear. It just didn't go the way he planned," she said.

Cuomo, in response to a reporter's question about his apology Wednesday, said he was apologizing to the "young lady," referring to Bennett. She rejected that apology, saying he "couldn't even say my name."

"It's not an issue of my feelings," she told CBS. "It's an issue of his actions."

Under heavy political pressure, Cuomo has authorized state Attorney General Letitia James to oversee an investigation, complete with subpoena power.

The CBS interview was broadcast shortly after the first public opinion poll taken since Bennett's allegations showed mostly poor results for Cuomo — with his job approval rating down to 45%, down 30 percentage points from a year ago.

The Quinnipiac University survey, taken Tuesday and Wednesday, said 55% of respondents said the governor shouldn't resign while 40% said he should step down.

At the same time, 59% said he shouldn't run for reelection compared with 36% who said he should.

A year ago, Cuomo's approval rating was 72%.

"From popular to precarious, Governor Andrew Cuomo's political standing is on shaky ground. New Yorkers are not clamoring to have him step down at this stage, but they are signaling a willingness to show him to the exit door once his term is done," Quinnipiac University polling analyst Mary Snow said.

Meanwhile at the state Capitol Thursday, legislators advanced bills through committees to curb some of Cuomo’s extraordinary power to create and amend laws during the state of emergency he declared when the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York state a year ago.

The Senate and Assembly each say they’ll vote on the measures Friday.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the package of bills will require the governor to justify the extensions or modification of any of his existing orders every 30 days and prohibits Cuomo from issuing new directives regarding COVID-19.

The State Legislature continues to have the power to rescind any order by Cuomo or to fully end his extraordinary power during the state of emergency.

Republicans have said the measure is weak, and that Cuomo should be impeached over the sexual harassment charges and his handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes.

With Michael Gormley

State & Region