Politics

Few Democratic governors speak up on Cuomo sexual harassment allegations

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Key Points
  • CNBC reached out to nearly two dozen Democratic governors in the U.S. to ask about the sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.
  • The governor's offices of four states and one U.S. territory responded to CNBC's requests for comment.
  • On Wednesday, Cuomo apologized but said he did not intend to hurt anyone or make them uncomfortable. He also refused to resign.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo
Chris Hondros | Getty Images

Few of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's fellow Democratic governors are speaking out about the sexual harassment claims against the New York leader.

CNBC reached out to nearly two dozen Democratic governors in the U.S. to ask about the allegations made by two female former Cuomo aides and another woman.

The governor's offices of four states and one territory responded: California Gov. Gavin Newsom, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Maine Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan. Murphy, Whitmer, Mills and Bryan support an independent investigation into the matter.

Newsom's office declined to comment.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke to the Washington Post about the allegations against Cuomo, but a press representative for her office did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

The predominantly muted response from Democratic governors shows the uncertainty surrounding Cuomo's fate in politics. On Wednesday, the New York governor apologized but said he didn't intend to hurt anyone or make them feel uncomfortable. He also refused to resign.

President Biden's administration, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have said they backed the ongoing independent investigation that's being overseen by the New York state attorney general. Cuomo has said he will cooperate with the investigation.

Rich Azzopardi, a senior Cuomo advisor, responded to requests for comment for this story by referring to Cuomo's televised briefing Wednesday.

"Did you watch the briefing he just did? He said he was fully cooperating with the AG's office," Azzopardi said in an email.

Former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, accused the governor of asking questions about her personal life, such as whether she was monogamous in relationships and if she had "been with an older man." 

Cuomo, 63, previously conceded that he had conversations with aides that have been "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation." He has denied ever inappropriately touching or propositioning anyone.  Cuomo reiterated his apology on Wednesday at a press conference in Albany but would not agree to stepdown from his position.

Lindsey Boylan, 36, another former aide, has accused Cuomo of kissing her without consent, among other alleged issues. He has denied her claims.

A third woman, Anna Ruch, 33, told The New York Times that Cuomo made an unwanted advance toward her at a wedding, trying to kiss her. The newspaper's article includes a picture of Cuomo attempting to hold the head of an uncomfortable-looking Ruch.

Cuomo's popularity in New York has dropped since the allegations, according to a new poll. Over 60% of those surveyed say Cuomo should not serve a fourth term.

Cuomo is a powerful figure among his fellow governors of both parties. He is the chair of the National Governors Association, a bipartisan political organization that represents all of the U.S. governors.

Cuomo is also backed by the Democratic Governors Association, a nonprofit political advocacy group that backs many Democratic governors. New Mexico's Grisham, chair of the DGA, told the Washington Post that she believes the group will release a statement on the Cuomo allegations.

Both organizations did not respond to requests for comment. The DGA's GOP counterpart, the Republican Governors Association, pounced on the accusations against Cuomo.

"The credible allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo are reprehensible," RGA spokesman Will Reinert told CNBC. "This should not be a partisan issue, and Governors on both sides of the aisle should demand Andrew Cuomo be held accountable for his disturbing actions against these women." The RGA supports at least 30 Republican governors.

Representatives for Whitmer and Mills both told CNBC that the two governors want to see an independent investigation into the claims against Cuomo.

"Governor Whitmer believes the allegations made against Governor Cuomo are serious and there needs to be a transparent, thorough, and independent investigation into this matter," Chelsea Parisio, Whitmer's deputy press secretary, said in an email.

"The Governor is disturbed by the accusations and believes they deserve a thorough and independent investigation," said Lindsay Crete, Mills' press secretary.

Murphy's spokesman referred CNBC to comments the New Jersey governor made during his Monday press briefing after a reporter asked about the allegations against Cuomo.

"I don't have any insights but what I've read is deeply concerning and deeply troubling. So it appears as though they're going to have an independent investigation," Murphy said at the time. "And that, to me, seems what they should be doing."

"I would just add anybody who has any concern, expresses a concern, deserves to be heard and it deserves to be completely and thoroughly investigated," Murphy said.

Murphy and Cuomo have worked together on efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Grisham, the DGA chair, told the Washington Post that she finds the claims against Cuomo "troubling."

After publication of this story, the Democratic governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands responded to the accusations against Cuomo in a statement to CNBC.

"The allegations against Governor Cuomo are serious and warrant a thorough investigation," the governor, Albert Bryan, told CNBC. "I am not privy to the details outside of what has been reported in the media, but I support an independent investigation into the allegations and trust it will allow due process to all parties and bring justice to this matter."

Meanwhile, some of Cuomo's key supporters are sticking with him as the investigation proceeds.

Shortly after CNBC reported a group of Cuomo donors were pausing and reevaluating their support for the governor, other financiers reached out to explain how they were in fact they standing with him. Cuomo is running for a fourth term next year.

Though they declined to be named in order to speak freely, donors and business allies who are continuing to align themselves with the governor have reached out to him to give their support.

One friend of Cuomo's in the New York business community told CNBC they texted Cuomo one sentence: "Stay strong."

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Third woman accuses New York Gov. Cuomo of unwanted advances