Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is facing allegations of inappropriate conduct from multiple women, said on Thursday that “feeling uncomfortable” is not harassment.
His remarks came after being questioned at a news conference about why he apologized for his behavior while maintaining he did nothing wrong.
“If I just made you feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment, that is feeling uncomfortable,” Cuomo said. “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 … but harassment is not making someone feeling uncomfortable. That is not harassment.”
Multiple women, including former and current aides, have accused the governor of unwanted touching and unwelcomed sexual advances. State Attorney General Letitia James is overseeing one of the investigations into these claims of sexual harassment.
Charlotte Bennett, who has accused Cuomo of propositioning her, took to Twitter Thursday to voice her frustration at his comments.
“When Governor Andrew Cuomo propositioned me for sex, he broke the law,” Bennett said. “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). Apologies don’t fix that, and neither do denials.”
Cuomo signed legislation in 2019 that strengthened sexual harassment laws, lowering the bar for a person to prove harassment and allowed for harassment to be "less severe" in its degree.
The new law, in part, reads, “Sexual harassment also consists of any unwanted verbal or physical advances, sexually explicit derogatory statements or sexually discriminatory remarks made by someone which are offensive or objectionable to the recipient, which cause the recipient discomfort or humiliation, which interfere with the recipient’s job performance."
Bennett's attorney, Debra Katz also issued a statement in response to Cuomo's statement on Thursday writing,
“Governor’s Cuomo’s remarks are jaw dropping. For someone who signed the law defining sexual harassment in New York State, and who claims to have taken the state’s mandated sexual harassment training every year despite Ms. Bennett seeing someone else take it on his behalf, Gov. Cuomo continues to show an alarming degree of ignorance about what constitutes sexual harassment. The law is very clear on this. If an employer makes unwelcome jokes, comments, asks probing questions of a sexual nature or makes unwanted sexual propositions – which is exactly what Gov. Cuomo has already admitted to having directed toward my client, Charlotte Bennett – that employer has violated New York state law. There is no gray area here."
These comments are also in stark contrast to what he said in March. Cuomo apologized at the time for acting 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 on Thursday also tried to walk back his statements regarding the attorney general's investigation, claiming that he never told anyone not to have faith in James’ investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against him.
“I did nothing wrong. I never said I didn't have faith in the attorney general's investigation,” Cuomo said.
However on May 3, Cuomo sowed doubt in the integrity of the investigation. “I’m not telling anyone to have faith in anything,” during a briefing at his Manhattan office. “Everybody makes their own decisions.”
Cuomo, 63, said he looks forward to telling his side of the story once the investigations are complete.
“New Yorkers are smart. They know when they are only getting one side of the story,” he said. “It is a much different story, and the truth will be told, and the truth is much, much different than what has been suggested, and I will leave it at that for now."
Cuomo added he took the required sexual harassment training this year like he does “every year.”