There is no place for sexual harassment or abuse of power in any American workplace — be it in business or politics. This is a basic and simple standard. No one, no matter where they work or what they do should be subject to harassment or hostility from a co-worker, and especially not from someone in a position of power. Those who report harassment should not be forced to leave their jobs in order to avoid harassment. That is why, if the allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo are true, he must resign.
No leader in a position of power can maintain their legitimacy under the kind of suspicion and allegations that have been leveled against Gov. Cuomo. He is accused of having called and screamed at a member of the New York State Assembly so loudly that his family could hear it across the room. Threatening to “destroy” a co-worker for any reason, as Cuomo apparently did, is unacceptable and outrageous behavior and an abuse of power. And now, two women have accused the Governor of unwanted sexual advances. The New York Times reporting of the newest accuser, Charlotte Bennett, is extremely detailed. They reviewed text messages she sent to multiple people about the incident at the time. She also claims to have reported the harassment to her superior in state government. The response: move her to another job. Even if that job was not a demotion, the victim here was punished. She was asked to give up her job in order to accommodate her harasser — the most powerful man in New York politics.
Sexual harassment has nothing to do with political party
Now Gov. Cuomo has issued a non-apology, trying to deflect responsibility for his terrible judgement by claiming to have been “insensitive or too personal.” That he is unwilling to acknowledge just how unacceptable his behavior was makes it all the more clear that he can no longer lead.
If we have learned one thing from #MeToo it’s that harassment has nothing to do with political party. It’s about power and the abuse of it. Men who harass or make unwanted sexual advances on women in the workplace (or both) must be held accountable, no matter their party or politics. It’s disqualifying behavior that undermines the legitimacy of that leader.
Because Andrew Cuomo is a Democrat, many will defend him by pointing out that former President Trump was never held accountable, nor did he resign over the multiple allegations of sexual assault leveled against him. That is true and abhorrent. If Democrats are to hold the moral high ground on issues of gender equity, respectful and safe workplaces, labor rights and equity writ large, they cannot apply those standards just to those on the opposite side of the aisle. When it comes to harassment, Democrats cannot talk the talk if they are not willing to walk the walk.
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Gov. Cuomo is entitled to an outside and independent investigation and New Yorkers deserve a full account of the truth. Initially Cuomo proposed to appoint an investigator himself which prompted swift and appropriate outrage. Now, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Attorney General Tish James will be overseeing an investigation which we can only hope will be free from political influence. In this and every investigation into harassment claims, there must be a thorough, non-political, totally independent quest for the truth. But with an avalanche of scandal now consuming his administration Gov. Cuomo also has a real opportunity to demonstrate the leadership required to step aside for the good of the public and the State of New York.
High standards for leadership must be applied equally
Of course, many New Yorkers appreciate the leadership Cuomo showed that helped avoid greater loss of life from the COVID crisis in New York — although, his COVID response is now embroiled in scandal, too, thanks to an alleged cover up of retirement home deaths. Ultimately, legitimacy of leadership must be ever renewed and maintained. Leadership is about the example you set for others and your ability to treat people with respect and professionalism no matter the circumstances. By this critical standard, Gov. Cuomo has failed. Abuses of power cannot stand.
No leader wants to resign in a cloud of scandal but it’s worth noting, as the Governor considers his legacy, that in so doing he would also clear the way for the historic ascension of Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul — she would become the first woman governor in New York history. It would be a powerful statement at an important time. But whatever the governor chooses and regardless of the outcome, Democrats must resolve to apply the high standards of equity, fairness, inclusion, dignity and respect to everyone, whether we like them or not.
Lauren Leader is the Co-Founder and CEO of All In Together, a non-partisan women’s civic leadership organization. She is also an elected councilwoman in Harrison, NY. All opinions expressed here are solely her own. Follow her on Twitter: @LaurenleaderAIT
Gretchen Carlson is a journalist, podcaster, author and Co-Founder of Lift Our Voices, a non-profit aimed at eradicating arbitration clauses and NDAs that silence women in the workplace. She filed a harassment case against the former Chairman and CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes. Follow her on Twitter: @GretchenCarlson
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Andrew Cuomo sexual harassment allegation: New York Gov should resign