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Woman says Cuomo asked to kiss her at a wedding; harassment accuser also rips his apology

Joseph Spector, New York State Team
·6 min read
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ALBANY – A third woman came forward late Monday to accuse Gov. Andrew Cuomo of an unwanted advance, this time at a wedding in 2019.

The latest case comes after a former aide to Cuomo earlier Monday ripped his explanation Sunday of "playful" banter with his staff, saying he is failing to take responsibility for sexually harassing her.

All of it adds pressure on the embattled governor after two former staffers alleged he sexually harassed them and the third woman told the New York Times that Cuomo asked to kiss her at a friend's wedding after she removed his hand from her bare lower back.

The state Attorney General's Office is investigating the allegations brought by Cuomo's staffers.

Anna Ruch, 33, told the Times on Monday that she had never met Cuomo, but came across him at a crowded New York City wedding reception in September 2019.

When Ruch thanked Cuomo for his kind words about her friends after he toasted the newlyweds at the wedding, she contended, Cuomo put his hand on her lower back. When she removed it, he grabbed her face with both hands and asked if he could kiss her. She pulled away.

“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” Ruch told the Times, which published a photo of the interaction with Cuomo's hands on her face. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”

The Times said Cuomo's office referred it back to his comments Sunday, in which he said in a statement that perhaps his actions at times “have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”

“To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” the statement said.

Accuser criticizes Cuomo's apology

Cuomo's statement, though, wasn't enough for former aide Charlotte Bennett, who told her story Saturday about working for Cuomo.

She criticized Cuomo's apology on Monday.

“The governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior," said Bennett, 25, in a statement issued through her Washington-based attorney Debra Katz.

"As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences."

Cuomo, 63, hasn't spoken publicly about the allegations by Bennett that he made her feel uncomfortable in their conversations, including asking her about her relationships and if she would date an older man.

Bennett spoke to the New York Times just days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, went public last Wednesday with details of her allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.

Katz, an attorney nationally known for representing alleged victims of sexual assault and harassment, said Bennett “documented Governor Cuomo’s persistent harassment of her and for that reason, the governor could not dismiss her allegations with the back of hand as he did those of his first accuser.”

More: Gov. Cuomo drops out of public eye amid allegations, even on one-year COVID-19 anniversary

More: NY Gov. Cuomo faces allegations of sexual harassment, hiding nursing home COVID deaths. Here's what we know.

More criticism of Cuomo

In this Tuesday, March 24, 2020, file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, in New York.
In this Tuesday, March 24, 2020, file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, in New York.

Cuomo is under extraordinary pressure over the allegations and, before that, undercounting the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.

The twin scandals have engulfed his administration, and a number of lawmakers have called on him to resign.

After the third woman came forward Monday evening, Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democratic congresswoman, said Cuomo should resign.

"The time has come. The Governor must resign," she wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, Cuomo acquiesced and agreed to have Attorney General Letitia James investigate the sexual harassment allegations. The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, is investigating Cuomo's handling of the deaths in nursing homes.

"I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation," Cuomo said in a statement Sunday. "To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that."

Bennett and Katz dismissed Cuomo's statements, which included that he sought to act as a mentor to the aide, who grew up in Westchester County.

In 2018, Katz represented Christine Blasey Ford over her allegations of sexual assault against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

She said Bennett will not allow the Democratic governor "to rewrite history and to recast his abusive behavior as something she misinterpreted."

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She added that Bennett would cooperate with James' investigation and is confident that no independent review would "adopt the governor’s self-serving characterization of his behavior as mentorship or, at worst, unwanted flirtation."

Katz urged James' office, which will hire a private attorney to handle the case, to delve into whether other women were subjected to "a sexually hostile work environment" and if anyone in the administration "enabled his behavior."

Cuomo, meanwhile, has hired his own private attorney: Elkan Abramowitz is representing Cuomo in the nursing home investigation, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Abramowitz represented Cuomo's office in 2014, when U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara investigated the governor's abrupt shuttering of a corruption-busting commission.

More: Cuomo apologizes amid harassment claims: 'I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm'

More: Facing pressure, NY Gov. Cuomo cedes control of sexual harassment investigation

Bennett's response

Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer Debra Katz listens as Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in Washington.  (Erin Schaff/New York Times via AP, Pool)
Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer Debra Katz listens as Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in Washington. (Erin Schaff/New York Times via AP, Pool)

Bennett said Cuomo's initial reluctance to let James conduct an independent investigation "are the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice."

She also blasted part of Cuomo's statement Sunday in which he asked people attacking her to leave her alone.

“In a clear effort to perform a sensitivity that he simply does not possess, the governor has implied that he wants his supporters to stand down and respect my decision to speak out," Bennett continued.

More: With scandals engulfing Andrew Cuomo, candidates eyeing 2022 run for governor

She said in speaking publicly, she expected to be attacked, but "I am not deterred by these voices. Instead, I have focused on the overwhelming love and support I have received from friends and strangers alike."

And she supported if other victims wanted to come forward to tell their stories of abuse, including those who worked under Cuomo.

“To the governor’s survivors: I am here. Lindsey is here. You do not have to say a single word. But if you choose to speak your truth, we will be standing with you," Bennett said. "I promise.”

Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany

This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Woman says Cuomo touched her, asked to kiss her at wedding