A former top aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has accused him of intimidation and sexual harassment, expanding on allegations she first made in December. In an essay posted to Medium on Wednesday, the former staffer accused the governor of going "out of his way" to touch her "lower back, arms and legs," and kissing her during a one-on-one meeting.
Lindsey Boylan, the former chief of staff at New York's state economic agency, claimed that the governor took an "uncomfortable" interest in her after she was appointed to the role in 2015. "My boss soon informed me that the Governor had a 'crush' on me," she wrote, saying she was told by the director of the governor's offices that Cuomo suggested she "look up images of Lisa Shields — his rumored former girlfriend — because 'we could be sisters' and I was 'the better looking sister.'"
"The Governor began calling me 'Lisa' in front of colleagues," she wrote. "It was degrading."
Boylan, who is now running for Manhattan borough president, wrote in a series of December tweets that Cuomo "sexually harassed me for years."
"I could never anticipate what to expect: would I be grilled on my work (which was very good) or harassed about my looks. Or would it be both in the same conversation? This was the way for years," she wrote.
Governor Cuomo denied the accusations at the time. "It's not true," he said during a regularly scheduled press conference. "I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has. But it's just not true."
His office again denied the accusations on Wednesday. "As we said before, Ms. Boylan's claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false," press secretary Caitlin Girouard said in a statement. Girouard said Boylan's recollection of a 2017 flight on the governor's jet — on which she alleged he suggested playing strip poker — cannot be true because the flight logs do not match her account of who was on board.
"He was seated facing me, so close our knees almost touched. His press aide was to my right and a state trooper behind us," Boylan said of the experience. Girouard said "there was no flight where Lindsey was alone with the Governor, a single press aide, and a NYS Trooper."
Cuomo's press secretary shared what she said was the governor's schedule from October 2017, which lists every passenger on his flights, as well as a statement from other aides on the trips. "We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen," senior advisor to the governor John Maggiore, president and CEO of Empire State Development Howard Zemsky, Cuomo's former director of communications Dani Lever and former press secretary Abbey Fashouer Collins said in a statement.
Boylan said she long "tried to excuse" the governor's behavior, but no longer could after he gave her an unsolicited kiss during a private meeting at his New York City office. According to Boylan, the governor "stepped in front" of her as she was leaving his office and kissed her on the lips. "I was in shock, but I kept walking," she wrote.
Boylan said she walked past the desk of Cuomo's executive secretary on her way out of his office, and said she "was scared she had seen the kiss."
"The idea that someone might think I held my high-ranking position because of the Governor's 'crush' on me was more demeaning than the kiss itself," she added.
Boylan claimed that the governor's "pervasive harassment" was not limited to her. According to Boylan, the governor also "made unflattering comments about the weight of female colleagues... ridiculed them about their romantic relationships and significant others," and "said the reasons that men get women were 'money and power.'"
"Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected," Boylan wrote. "His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences."
Boylan wrote in her Medium essay that she was motivated to go public after learning that Cuomo was being considered for U.S. Attorney General. "Seeing his name floated as a potential candidate for U.S. Attorney General — the highest law enforcement official in the land — set me off," she said.
"In a few tweets, I told the world what a few close friends, family members and my therapist had known for years: Andrew Cuomo abused his power as Governor to sexually harass me, just as he had done with so many other women," she wrote.
"I know some will brush off my experience as trivial. We are accustomed to powerful men behaving badly when no one is watching. But what does it say about us when everyone is watching and no one says a thing?"
In response to Boylan's essay, New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik called for Cuomo to resign. "Sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace is not a political issue, it is about right and wrong. Governor Cuomo must immediately resign," Stefanik wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. "... Any elected official who does not immediately call for his resignation is complicit."
Stefanik is not the first New York lawmaker to call for an end to Cuomo's term. State Assemblyman Ron Kim is advocating for impeachment, saying the governor threatened him after Kim pressed his office over "hidden" data on nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
"This is not about a feud between two people, it is about his continuous efforts to implicate other lawmakers with lies and a coverup of his deadly, unilateral policies during this pandemic," Kim wrote in the New York Daily News. "The governor's attempt to strong-arm me into lying for his administration should be the last straw."
The FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have opened an investigation into how Cuomo's administration handled nursing home residents who contracted COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the job title of Assemblyman Ron Kim.