New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s uphill battle to remain in office appeared to become steeper Monday, as the state's Attorney General Letitia James named two lead attorneys to independently investigate allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Cuomo.
But while a growing number of the state’s Democratic lawmakers call on the third-term governor to step down, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY) has so far publicly resisted joining the fray. Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Gillibrand said talk of Cuomo’s resignation "isn’t the right conversation we should be having" and actually puts female lawmakers in an unfair position.
"Asking every female elected in our state when a person should resign or not resign really isn't the conversation we should be having. And I have to say, it's exceedingly frustrating because so many men who are also in public leadership aren't asked these questions day to day,” she said. "The women in our state are not meant to be judges, jurors and executioners."
At least five women have come forward accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment. Former aides have accused the governor of a wide range of inappropriate conduct: comments about their appearance, one woman said he kissed her on the lips, and another said Cuomo asked her whether she had ever had sex with an older man.
Gillibrand has called the allegations against Cuomo “completely unacceptable” and said the attorney general’s investigation should be allowed to take its course. But she underscored that female lawmakers should not be expected to judge the conduct of their male counterparts.
“I really resent the fact that.. the news media calls on every woman elected to [judge] every single time,” she said. “Unfortunately, what it does is then turn the spotlight on the women of the state when they should be squarely on the individuals who are being accused of sexual harassment.”
The sexual harassment charges against Cuomo have been coupled with allegations that the Cuomo administration intentionally delayed releasing some data about deaths of nursing home patients in hospitals, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor has remained defiant amid growing pressure to resign, saying lawmakers “don’t override the people’s will” and it would be “anti-democratic” to step down, at a press conference Sunday.
Gillibrand, who sits on the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, said she plans to call for an investigation into the high number of deaths in nursing facilities nationally.
“The very high death rates for older Americans living in assisted living facilities was high in all the states. It wasn't just left to New York. So, I hope to have oversight accountability over that larger issue,” she said. “My job is just to make sure that going forward, we don't create unnecessary risks for older Americans.”
Critics have accused Gillibrand of a double standard on the issue of sexual harassment, in part because she was the first Democratic senator to call for colleague Al Franken’s resignation in 2017 following allegations of sexual misconduct. Since she was elected in 2009, Gillibrand has promoted herself as a champion of women’s rights. As a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, she introduced bipartisan legislation to provide protections for victims who report sexual assault in the military, and had made fighting sexual misconduct a centerpiece of her 2020 presidential bid.
Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita