ROCHESTER, NY – A former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo said he asked her if she had a boyfriend, called him darling, touched her on the lower back at a reception and kissed her once hand in getting up from his desk.
Ana Liss, now 35, was Mr. Cuomo’s policy and operations assistant between 2013 and 2015. She said Mr. Cuomo’s actions were unsolicited and occurred in year one while ‘she was sitting at her desk, which was near her desk at the Executive Room of the New York State Capitol in Albany.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ms Liss said she initially viewed Mr Cuomo’s conduct as harmless flirtations. Over time, she said, she came to see it as condescending, and added that it turned her from being an educated professional to “just a skirt.”
“It’s really not appropriate in any setting,” she said.
Responding to questions about Ms Liss, Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Mr Cuomo said on Saturday: “Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and pose for photos. At the mansion’s public reception there are hundreds of people and he poses for hundreds of photos. That’s what politicians do.
In his last public appearance on Wednesday, Mr Cuomo said this behavior is habitual for him.
“I understand that sensitivities have changed and behaviors have changed, and I understand. And I will learn from it, ”he said.
Ms Liss is the third former assistant to accuse Mr Cuomo of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. The other two former collaborators said he sexually harassed them. Mr. Cuomo apologized for making people uncomfortable. He said he had never touched anyone inappropriately.
“It was unintentional, and I really and deeply apologize for it,” he said on Wednesday. “I feel bad about it and frankly I’m embarrassed.”
Ms Liss and other current and former administration officials said the governor regularly asked them about their love life, touched them and commented on their physical appearance. Longtime staff members have told some women they should wear high heels when the governor is in Albany, according to Ms Liss and other former staff. Mr Azzopardi said no one was required to wear high heels.
The Journal spoke to more than 30 officials who work or have worked for Mr. Cuomo during his 10 years as governor. All of these officials, which include current and former agency heads, described a high-pressure environment where seven-day work weeks were common.
Several people described the work environment as toxic. Many former staff members recalled the governor’s actions more endearingly. Once on Valentine’s Day, Mr. Cuomo had roses delivered to the employees, they said. Two women who received the flowers said they appreciated the gesture.
Asked about the criticism of working conditions, Mr Azzopardi said: “The people of this state have elected the governor to represent them four times in the past 14 years, and they know he is working day and night for them. It’s no secret that these are tough jobs and the work is demanding, but we have a top-notch team with many employees who have been here for years, and many more who have left and returned. .
A former assistant, Charlotte Bennett, 25, recently said Mr Cuomo asked about her sex life and if she had relationships with older men.
Another former adviser, Lindsey Boylan, said in a Feb.24 Medium article that Mr Cuomo attempted to kiss her on the lips in his office and, on a 2017 flight on his plane, suggested that he ‘they play strip poker. A spokeswoman for Mr Cuomo said Ms Boylan’s accusations were false.
The governor faces increasing pressure on the charges, as well as on how the state has handled Covid-19 in nursing homes. Attorney General Letitia James is overseeing an investigation into the charges against Ms Bennett and Ms Boylan. Federal prosecutors are interested in how the governor’s top advisers pushed to amend a Health Department report to include a lower number of deaths at these facilities, people familiar with the matter said.
Republicans and a growing number of Democrats have called for Mr. Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment, but the state’s leading Democratic lawmakers are resisting until Ms. James’ review is completed.
Ms Liss said she decided to come forward after Ms Bennett and Ms Boylan accused Mr Cuomo of sexual harassment. Ms Liss said the governor’s response to their accusations was inadequate.
Ms. Liss won a fellowship in 2013 and joined Mr. Cuomo’s team to work on economic development programs. She already had a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and worked at a business development firm in Rochester. She said she was proud of her role in the Executive Chamber, but was dismayed that the governor never asked her about her work, instead focusing on personal matters or her appearance.
Ms. Liss recalls working at a reception on May 6, 2014 at the Executive Mansion in Albany, which is Mr. Cuomo’s official residence. Mr. Cuomo was in a living room on the north side of the first floor of the mansion and noticed Ms. Liss, she recalls.
“He came up to me and he said, ‘Hey, honey!’” She said.
She said the governor had hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks, then wrapped her arm around her lower back and grabbed her waist. They turned to a photographer, who took a photo showing Mr. Cuomo’s hand around his waist.
In the Medium post, Ms Boylan described a similar meeting with the governor at an event on Jan.6, 2016 at Madison Square Garden. She said Mr. Cuomo stopped to speak to her after a speech and was quickly informed by her boss that the governor had a crush on her.
“It was an uncomfortable feeling but all too familiar: the struggle to be taken seriously by a powerful man who tied my worth to my body and my appearance,” Ms. Boylan wrote.
Ms Liss said she never made a formal complaint about the governor’s or anyone else’s behavior. She said she ultimately requested a transfer to another office.
Ms Liss said her experience working for Governor prompted her to start mental health counseling in 2014. She said she drank heavily that year and left the Executive Chamber in 2015 to take a position at Cornell University as Head of Corporate Relations. . Ms. Liss now works as the Director of the Planning and Development Department for Monroe County in upstate New York.
The Journal interviewed two other Empire State scholars who said they saw Ms Liss drink heavily and skip social commitments while working for the governor.
Peter Walke, a member who is now Vermont’s Environmental Conservation Commissioner, said in a recent interview that he noticed Ms Liss has become more withdrawn over time.
After the allegations of Ms, Boylan and Ms Bennett, Mr Walke contacted Ms Liss. She told him about her own experiences, Mr. Walke said.
Ms Liss said she was proud of the work she did during her time in Albany and always keeps this photo of her and Mr Cuomo in her office at the reception desk. It supports the policies it has adopted.
“I just wish – I wish he took me seriously,” she said.
—Leslie Brody and Jim Oberman contributed to this article.
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