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Swiftly probe women's claims against Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is accused of sexual

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is accused of sexual harassment by two women who were state employees. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/JOHANNES EISELE

Two claims of sexual harassment against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo by two women who formerly worked in state government should be deeply troubling to New Yorkers. An independent, thorough and expedited investigation must begin quickly.

In recent days, Lindsey Boylan, 36, who worked in the state’s economic development agency, posted an essay on an internet site detailing unwelcome sexual advances, including a kiss on the lips. This weekend, The New York Times published the charges of Charlotte Bennett, 25, who worked on health policy in the governor’s office. She said the governor asked her questions about her romantic relations that she interpreted as sexual advances.

Cuomo on Sunday released a statement saying, "I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to." He also said he makes jokes and teases people about their personal lives in both public and private. He says he now realizes that given his position, he was insensitive and that his behavior could be interpreted "as unwanted flirtation."

However this case is resolved, Boylan’s and Bennett’s claims could be milestones to ending the familiar, but still unsettling, narrative about the culture in private and public workplaces where women are still objectified for their physical appearance, their dress, and their sex lives.

These claims have emerged as Cuomo, who had been praised for his handling of the pandemic, comes under scrutiny for decisions he made about nursing home residents. Those criticisms and an ensuing federal investigation have emboldened his political opponents. It would be shameful for the accounts of these two women to get lost in the political hunger games taking place in Albany.

Unfortunately, there is no reliable and effective way to investigate ethical complaints against public officials in New York. The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which was created to enforce ethics laws and hold violators accountable, is a joke. It’s not independent. Its members are chosen by the governor and state lawmakers, whom it is supposed to investigate. A claim by a former State Senate staffer that her boss, a Bronx senator, kissed her outside an Albany bar in 2015 is still pending.

After first seeking to have some control over an outside investigation, Cuomo has now officially given Attorney General Letitia James the power to oversee the investigation and appoint an independent counsel. That is necessary to encourage others who may have complaints to come forward.

New York’s leaders must remain focused on the COVID-19 virus, which can only happen once this investigation is completed — swiftly and comprehensively. The state is on the cusp of emerging from pandemic, but many more people must be vaccinated before we can return to normalcy. Critical decisions must be made and policies put in place to confront the economic and social challenges that remain in the aftermath of the virus. Begin the probe now.

— The editorial board

Editor's note: Lindsey Boylan's last name was incorrectly spelled in an earlier version of this editorial, which has been updated.