New York’s scandal entrenched governor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, has now had a second woman step forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.
Charlotte Bennett, 25, worked as an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until she left in November. She told The New York Times that the harassment began in the spring of 2020.
The Times reported that Bennett claimed Cuomo, 63, had asked her questions about her sex life, whether her relationships were monogamous, and whether she ever had sex with older men.
Bennett started with the Cuomo administration in early 2019 as a briefer in the Manhattan office. Prior to that, she had graduated from Hamilton College in 2017, where she founded a sexual misconduct task force. In a matter of months, Bennett was promoted to senior briefer and executive assistant after Cuomo interviewed her; she said they shared connections with Westchester County and she had competed against one of his daughters in middle-school soccer.
Bennett said Cuomo periodically asked her about her dating life, but added, “I saw him more as a father figure. I wasn’t thinking about it as anything sexual.”
But on May 15, 2020, Bennett said, she arrived early in the morning at the Capitol around 7 a.m. to drop off some briefing papers and Cuomo reputedly queried her about her love life and whether she had a relationship with other members of the governor’s staff. The Times examined texts Bennett sent to another Cuomo staff member that discussed the meeting.
The Times reported:
“Ms. Bennett said she had mentioned a speech she was scheduled to give to Hamilton students about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault. She said she had been taken aback by Mr. Cuomo’s seeming fixation on that element of her life experience. “The way he was repeating, ‘You were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed,’ over and over again while looking me directly in the eyes was something out of a horror movie,” she wrote in a second text to her friend. “It was like he was testing me.””
Bennett told the Times of the May 15 meeting, “Anything before it I now see differently. I now understand that as grooming.”
On June 5, Bennett claimed, Cuomo asked whether she had a love interest, whether she was monogamous, and whether she had had sex with older men. The Times examined texts that Bennett sent that same day to a friend delineating how upset she was from the meeting.
She wrote, “Something just happened and I can’t even type it out or put it in a video,” adding that she and Cuomo had discussed “age differences in relationships.” She wrote the next day to her friend, saying Cuomo had queried her about whether she was having sex with others “while in my recent relationships.”
“He asked me if I believed if age made a difference in relationships and he also asked me in the same conversation if I had ever been with an older man,” Bennett told the Times, adding that Cuomo told her “he’s fine with anyone above the age of 22,” after the subject of her speech at Hamilton on her 25th birthday came up.
“A friend of Ms. Bennett’s, a former Cuomo administration official, said he had spoken to her shortly after the June 5 episode. He confirmed the contours of her account, saying that she had made it clear to him that she believed the governor wanted to have sex with her,” the Times reported.
Bennett said that at one point, she and Cuomo had discussed a tattoo she might be getting, and he suggested she put it on her buttocks so a dress would cover it.
Cuomo released a statement on Sunday afternoon in response to the claims, where he suggested he was “just being playful.”
“Questions have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office,” the statement began. “I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work, and colleagues are often also personal friends. At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married.”
“I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business,” Cuomo continued. “I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
“To be clear 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,” the statement concluded. “That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations. Separately, my office has heard anecdotally that some people have reached out to Ms. Bennett to express displeasure about her coming forward. My message to anyone doing that is you have misjudged what matters to me and my administration and you should stop now – period.”