Two former staffers provided new details on their experiences with embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, accusing the Democratic leader of creating a toxic workplace that objectified and demeaned women.
The women, Karen Hinton and Ana Liss, are two of the seven women who have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior in a widening scandal. Liss, who worked as an aide to Cuomo from 2013 to 2015, said she was initially excited about earning a prestigious fellowship to work at the governor’s office.
Liss told WYNC that standards at the governor’s office included a need to “wear high heels and look and act a certain way” when Cuomo was present. She described a workplace with “lot of vitriolic screaming, shouting, name-calling, a feeling of objectification as a young woman.”
“The governor was never — he never asked me about my work, he never spoke my name. He did make flirtatious gestures and comments toward me and, as I had mentioned, he’d ask me if I had a boyfriend,” Liss said. “There were kisses on the hand or the check. I never felt like I was being violated by the governor but I did feel as though I was being objectified.”
Liss said she decided not to pursue a career in Albany after her fellowship concluded because of her experience working at the governor’s office. She has alleged that Cuomo kissed her hand and touched her lower back while taking a photo.
“I believed it wasn’t just the governor, it was all of the men and even the women around him that created this environment that those of us that were not in the inner sanctum were made to feel like nobodies,” Liss added.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation into the allegations against Cuomo. The governor has denied wrongdoing and resisted calls to resign from office.
Liss said she has been in contact with James’ office in regard to the investigation.
Hinton, who worked with Cuomo at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the late 1990s, said the attorney general’s team has not contacted her.
Hinton described an uncomfortable encounter with Cuomo at a California hotel room in 2000, when he was still HUD secretary and she was working as a consultant.
“He approached me, embraced too tightly, too long and was aroused,” Hinton said. “I felt extremely uncomfortable and actually shocked. Nothing had ever happened that way between the two of us.”
Cuomo has said he engaged in “playful” behavior that may have been misinterpreted. He has denied engaging in inappropriate behavior toward Hinton, who claimed that the governor “used flirting as a way to bring a woman employee into the fold.”
“If she didn’t do the job that he wanted her to do, he would stop flirting with her, with the idea that he would — she would work harder and longer and faster. Some women just quit. They got sick of it and quit,” Hinton said.