Gina Arena, a Republican candidate for county Legislature, is calling on Westchester lawmakers to pass a resolution demanding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo resign in light of the sexual harassment claims that have been lodged against him.
So far, seven women have come forward, including 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, a 2013 graduate of John Jay High School in Lewisboro. Earlier this month, the 63-year-old single governor publicly apologized for “acting in a way that made people feel uncomfortable.”
He denied that he had touched anyone inappropriately. While promising to cooperate fully with an investigation of the allegations, Cuomo has steadfastly refused to resign, calling such demands “reckless and dangerous.” He insists the crisis will not impede his ability to govern.
But Arena, the Somers resident seeking the District 2 post held by Katonah’s Kitley Covill, a Democrat who she tried to unseat in 2019, feels otherwise.
“As a woman, I have personal knowledge of the crushing impact of sexual harassment and assault,” Arena said in a statement released Tuesday, March 16. “The governor’s accusers deserve to be heard and supported, especially by the women representing our towns at the county level.”
“Westchester is home to some of Cuomo’s most reliable enablers,” she added without elaborating.
Calling the three-term Democrat “a bully,” Arena urged local lawmakers to break their silence, saying that a “unified rebuke” would send a message “that his predatory behavior is unacceptable, no matter how powerful the perpetrator, or to what political party they belong.”
Covill is not seeking a third term representing District 2, which includes the towns of Bedford, Lewisboro, North Salem, Somers, Pound Ridge, and Mount Kisco. Her former legislative aide, Democrat Erika Pierce of Bedford, is seeking the post.
In a statement issued Friday, March 26, Pierce said, “When it comes to issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment, claims should be thoroughly investigated and treated with the utmost seriousness. It takes a lot for women to come forward. Most do not. And when they do, they often experience harassment, which makes coming forward even harder. These women not only deserve to be heard, but also to be free from that kind of treatment.
“All Americans deserve a workplace free from harassment, and our public servants, especially elected ones, must be held to high standards in their behavior,” Pierce said.
While Pierce said she had “great respect” for state Attorney General Letitia James, who is leading the Cuomo investigation, she also said she was looking “forward to a point in time when women no longer face these experiences, and a day when elected officials from both parties rally behind victims in instances like these.”
Bennett, one of Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment victims, was a campaign volunteer for Covill in 2017. The following year, she was an intern in Washington, D.C. From 2019 to 2020, she worked for Cuomo as a special assistant, an executive assistant and a policy adviser.
A former member of the Katonah-Bedford Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Bennett has a history of volunteering for women’s rights and health organizations. While in college, she founded a task force on sexual misconduct and assault.
Bennett told The New York Times last month that the governor had talked to her about being lonely during the pandemic and alleged he asked her numerous personal questions, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships. She added that while Cuomo had never tried to touch her, she felt he was propositioning her for sex and the questions made her feel very uncomfortable.
Former Cuomo aide Lindsay Boylan had made similar allegations in 2020. Since then, multiple women have come forward with accusations of harassment or inappropriate behavior.
Cuomo’s actions have come under greater scrutiny as a result of accusations that his administration deliberately obscured the full scope of nursing homes deaths due to COVID-19. That charge devolved into complaints of workplace bullying and then allegations of sexual harassment.
President Joe Biden has declined to say whether he thinks Cuomo should resign, noting the investigation is ongoing and “we should see what it brings us.” The proceedings are expected to be far-reaching and to take months to wrap up.
Last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand became two of the most prominent Democratic lawmakers so far to call on the three-term governor to quit.
On Thursday, March 18, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblyman Charles Lavine, chair of the Judiciary Committee, announced that the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP had been hired to assist the committee in its investigation, which drew protest from Bennett’s attorney due to the firm’s possible connections to Cuomo.
Meanwhile, in a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday, March 18, 49 percent of voters said Cuomo should not resign while 43 percent thought he should. The poll was conducted March 16-17.
“Though some of his fellow Democrats are clearly ready to usher him out the door of the Executive Mansion and point him toward the Thruway, the vast majority of the party sees a next step as necessary. They want a full investigation before deciding whether Cuomo should resign,” said Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy.