ALBANY, N.Y. — A woman who currently works in the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he looked down her shirt and made suggestive remarks to her and another aide, according to a newspaper report published Friday.
Alyssa McGrath told The New York Times that Cuomo called her beautiful in Italian, referred to her and her female colleague as “mingle mamas,” asked why she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and inquired about her divorce.
"He has a way of making you feel very comfortable around him, almost like you’re his friend,” Ms. McGrath told the newspaper. “But then you walk away from the encounter or conversation, in your head going, ‘I can’t believe I just had that interaction with the governor of New York.’”
McGrath is the first current aide to come forward publicly to join mounting allegations of sexual misconduct against Cuomo. His behaviour with women is the subject of an investigation overseen by the state's attorney general and a separate impeachment investigation by the New York Assembly, the state’s lower legislative chamber.
McGrath told The New York Times that her female colleague was the same woman the governor is accused of groping in the Executive Mansion, an allegation that was revealed in a report last week in the Times Union of Albany.
That aide hasn’t been identified publicly. McGrath said the woman spoke with her in detail about what happened to her after the Times Union report was published.
Cuomo, a Democrat, has repeatedly denied allegations of sexual misconduct. A lawyer for him told The New York Times that Cuomo has indeed used Italian phrases like “ciao bella,” which means “hello beautiful” in Italian, and greeted both men and women alike with hugs and a kiss.
“None of this is remarkable, although it may be old-fashioned,” lawyer Rita Glavin said. “He has made clear that he has never made inappropriate advances or inappropriately touched anyone.”
McGrath did not accuse the governor of inappropriate touching, but described a time when she was sitting alone with Cuomo for a dictation session when she caught him gazing at her.
“I put my head down waiting for him to start speaking, and he didn’t start speaking,” she told The Times. “So I looked up to see what was going on. And he was blatantly looking down my shirt.”
She said Cuomo then asked "What’s on your necklace?”
Assembly Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie on Friday said the body's impeachment investigation will examine “all credible allegations” against the governor, including whether he used his office to sexually harass or assault employees.
Other subjects under investigation, Heastie said, will include whether Cuomo withheld information on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes from the public, and his administration's handling of safety concerns at a newly constructed bridge over the Hudson River.
“Your charge is to determine whether evidence exists to support a finding that the governor has engaged in conduct, as governor, that violates the laws of the State of New York and whether such violations constitute serious and corrupt conduct in office that may justify articles of impeachment,” Heastie wrote in a Friday letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Lavine.
Other aspects of the probe, including how long it will take and how public its proceedings or findings will be, are still being determined.
The Assembly earlier this week hired the Manhattan law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell to assist with the investigation.
The pace of the inquiry has frustrated some lawmakers who want Cuomo out now.
“It’s pretty strange to me and I think that we are needing to ask a lot of questions here,” Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat. “With any kind of lack of transparency or lack of access to any process, one has to ask about the motivations and one has to ask: Why?”
Meanwhile, polling suggests that while Cuomo’s support slipped following the allegation of groping at the Executive Mansion, his political base hasn't abandoned him.
A Quinnipiac University poll of 905 registered voters found that while 43% believe he should resign, 36% of women polled said he should quit, and 23% of Democrats wanted him to resign.
Among respondents of all political affiliations, 36% said Cuomo should be impeached and removed from office. The poll was conducted before McGrath’s allegations were made public.
Cuomo says he never touched anyone inappropriately. He has apologized, though, for what he said were attempts to engage in office banter that he now realizes offended women who worked for him.
An attorney for one of Cuomo’s accusers, Charlotte Bennett, has said she won’t co-operate with the Assembly’s inquiry because of questions about potential political interference.
Bennett and several other women who have accused Cuomo of harassment have already been interviewed by attorneys working for Attorney General Letitia James.
Federal prosecutors are also scrutinizing whether Cuomo’s administration misled the public or the U.S. Justice Department about COVID-19 fatalities at nursing homes.
Marina Villeneuve, The Associated Press