There is no room for sexual harassment or the abuse of power in any American workplace – whether in business or in politics. This is a basic and simple standard. No one, no matter where they work or what they do, should experience harassment or hostility from a colleague, and especially not from someone in a position of power. Those who report harassment should not be forced to leave their jobs to avoid the harassment. That is why, if the allegations against Governor Andrew Cuomo are true, he must resign.
No leader in a position of power can maintain their legitimacy under the kind of suspicions and allegations that have been leveled against Governor Cuomo. He is accused of calling and yelling at a member of the New York State Assembly so loudly that his family could hear him from across the room. Threatening to “destroy” a coworker for any reason, as Cuomo apparently did, is unacceptable and outrageous behavior and an abuse of power. And now two women have accused the governor of unwanted sexual advances. The New York Times report on the new accuser, Charlotte Bennett, is extremely detailed. They reviewed the text messages she sent to several people about the incident at the time. She also claims to have reported the harassment to her state government superior. The answer: move her to another job. Even though this job was not demotion, the victim here was being punished. He was asked to give up his job in order to accommodate his stalker – the most powerful man in New York politics.
Sexual harassment has nothing to do with a political party
Now Governor Cuomo has issued a no apology, trying to deflect responsibility for his terrible judgment by claiming to have been “callous or too personal.” His unwillingness to admit how unacceptable his behavior was makes it all the more clear that he can no longer lead.
If we’ve learned one thing from #MeToo, it’s that harassment has nothing to do with political parties. It is a question of power and abuse. Men who harass or make unwanted sexual advances of women in the workplace (or both) should be held accountable, regardless of their party or politics. It is disqualifying behavior that undermines the legitimacy of this leader.
Because Andrew Cuomo is a Democrat, many will defend him by pointing out that former President Trump was never held responsible, and that he did not resign following the multiple allegations of sexual assault brought against him. It is true and heinous. If Democrats are to maintain high morality on issues of gender equity, respectful and safe workplaces, labor rights and broad fairness, they cannot apply these standards only to those who are. across the aisle. When it comes to harassment, Democrats can’t speak up if they’re not prepared to walk.
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Governor Cuomo has the right to an outside and independent investigation, and New Yorkers deserve a full account of the truth. Initially, Cuomo offered to appoint an investigator himself, which prompted outrage quickly and appropriately. Now Chief Justice Janet DiFiore and Attorney General Tish James will oversee an investigation that we can only hope to be free from political influence. In this investigation, and in every investigation of allegations of harassment, there must be a thorough, non-political and completely independent search for the truth. But with an avalanche of scandals now devouring his administration, Governor Cuomo also has a real opportunity to demonstrate the leadership needed to step down for the good of the public and of New York State.
High standards of leadership must be applied in the same way
Of course, many New Yorkers appreciate the leadership shown by Cuomo who has helped avert greater loss of life from the COVID crisis in New York – though his response to COVID is now also embroiled in a scandal, thanks to an alleged cover-up of deaths in retirement homes. Ultimately, the legitimacy of leadership must be constantly renewed and maintained. Leadership is about the example you set for others and your ability to treat people with respect and professionalism, regardless of the circumstances. By this critical standard, Governor Cuomo failed. Abuse of power cannot last.
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No leader wants to resign in a cloud of scandal, but it should be noted, as the governor considers her legacy, that in doing so, he would also pave the way for Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s historic rise – she would become the first woman. governor in New York history. It would be a powerful statement at an important time. But whatever the governor’s choice and whatever the outcome, Democrats must resolve to uphold the high standards of fairness, justice, inclusion, dignity and respect for all, whether we like them or not. .
Lauren Leader is the co-founder and CEO of All In Together, a non-partisan civic leadership organization for women. She is also an elected councilor in Harrison, NY. All opinions expressed here are solely hers. Follow her on Twitter: @LaurenleaderAIT
Gretchen Carlson is a journalist, podcaster, author and co-founder of Lift Our Voices, a non-profit organization dedicated to stamping out arbitration clauses and NDAs that silence women in the workplace. She filed a harassment complaint against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. Follow her on Twitter: @GretchenCarlson