Cuomo says making someone "feel uncomfortable" is not harassment
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is facing multiple allegations of inappropriate conduct with women, argued Thursday that making someone "feel uncomfortable" is "not harassment."
"Harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable. That is not harassment," Cuomo said in response to a reporter during an event in the Bronx. "If I just made you feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment. That is you feeling uncomfortable."
His claim drew rebukes from one of his accusers, her attorney and an anti-harassment working group who said it showed the Democrat is ignorant about how state law defines sexual harassment.
"Governor Cuomo’s remarks are jaw-dropping," said Debra Katz, attorney for former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett. "For someone who signed the law defining sexual harassment in New York State … Cuomo continues to show an alarming degree of ignorance about what constitutes sexual harassment."
Cuomo, in his 11th year in office, is facing multiple accusations, including from former and current administration staff, of unwanted sexual advances. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The governor is facing an impeachment inquiry by the state Assembly and a separate investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James. Numerous high-profile Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have said he should resign.
In March, the governor went before television cameras to say he understood he "acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable."
"It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it," Cuomo said.
But as time has passed, Cuomo has increasingly pushed back on the allegations and insisted he did nothing wrong. He’s said he is "very eager" to tell his "side of the story" because "it is a much different story."
On Thursday, Cuomo was asked why he apologized for his behavior while maintaining the did nothing wrong.
"You can leave this press conference today and say, ‘Oh, the governor harassed me.’ Uh, you can say that," Cuomo said. "I would say, ‘I never said anything I believed was inappropriate. I never meant to make you feel that way.’ You may hear it that way. You may interpret it that way and I respect that. And I apologize to you if I said something you think is offensive."
Challenged on the point that intention doesn’t define harassment, Cuomo made his argument that "harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable."
In 2019, Cuomo signed a law strengthening sexual harassment laws and lowering bar for establishing proof by eliminating language that the behavior had to be "severe or pervasive."
Bennett, the former aide who said Cuomo made unwanted advances and was trying to groom her for a sexual relationship, criticized the governor Thursday.
"When @NYGovCuomo propositioned me for sex, he broke the law," Bennett wrote on Twitter. "It is very simple: the issue is about his actions, it is not about my feelings. He broke the law (you know, the one he signed)."