ROCHESTER, NY – A former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo said he asked if he had a boyfriend, called his girlfriend, touched her small back at a reception and once kissed her hand when he got up from his desk.
Ana Liss, now 35, served as Mr. Cuomo’s policy and operations assistant between 2013 and 2015. She said Mr. Cuomo’s actions were unsolicited and occurred in the first year while sitting at his desk, which his office in the Executive Chamber of the New York State Capitol in Albany was nearby.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Liss said she initially perceived Cuomo’s behavior as harmless flirting. Over time, she said, she has come to view him as condescending, adding that he downgraded her from an educated professional to “just a skirt.”
“It’s not really appropriate in any setting,” he said.
In response to questions about Ms. Liss, Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said Saturday: “Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and pose for photographs. At the public reception of the open house, there are hundreds of people and he poses for hundreds of photographs. That’s what people do in politics. “
In his last public appearance on Wednesday, Cuomo said this behavior was common for him.
“I understand that sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed, and I understand that. And I’m going to learn from that, ”he said.
Ms. Liss is the third former assistant to accuse Mr. Cuomo of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. The other two former aides have said he sexually harassed them. Mr. Cuomo has apologized for making people uncomfortable. He has said that he never touched anyone inappropriately.
“It was not intentional, and I sincerely and deeply apologize for it,” he said Wednesday. “I feel really bad about it and frankly I’m ashamed of it.”
Ms. Liss and other current and former administration officials said the governor regularly asked them about their love lives, touched them, and commented on their physical appearance. Longtime employees told some women that they should wear high heels when the governor was in Albany, according to Ms. Liss and other former employees. Azzopardi said that no one was required to wear high heels.
The Journal spoke with more than 30 officials who work or have worked for Mr. Cuomo during his 10 years as governor. All of those officials, including current and former agency heads, described a high-pressure environment where seven-day workweeks were common.
Several people described the work environment as toxic. Many former employees remembered the governor’s actions more fondly. Once on Valentine’s Day, Mr. Cuomo sent roses to female employees, they said. Two women who received the flowers said they appreciated the gesture.
When asked about criticism of working conditions, Mr. Azzopardi said: “The people of this state have elected the governor to represent them four times in the last 14 years, and they know that he works 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 others who have left and come back. “
A former assistant, Charlotte Bennett, 25, recently said Cuomo asked her about her sex life and if she had relationships with older men.
Another former adviser, Lindsey Boylan, said in a Medium post on February 24 that Cuomo tried to kiss her on the lips in his office and, during a 2017 flight on his plane, suggested they play strip poker. A Cuomo spokeswoman has said Boylan’s allegations are false.
The governor faces increasing pressure from the allegations, as well as the way the state handled Covid-19 in nursing homes. State Attorney General Letitia James is overseeing an investigation into Mses’s allegations. Bennett and Boylan. Federal prosecutors are interested in how top aides to the governor lobbied to modify a Health Department report to include a lower death toll at those facilities, people familiar with the matter said.
Republicans and a growing number of Democrats have called for Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment, but senior Democratic state lawmakers are resisting until Ms. James’s review is complete.
Ms. Liss said she decided to run after Ms. Liss. Bennett and Boylan accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment. Ms. Liss said the governor’s response to her allegations has been inadequate.
Ms. Liss won a competitive scholarship 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 had been working at a business development company 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 job, focusing instead on personal issues or her appearance.
Ms. Liss recalled working 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, he recalled.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Hey, honey!’” He said.
She said the governor hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks and then wrapped his arm around her lower back and grabbed her around the 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 encounter with the governor at a January 6, 2016 event at Madison Square Garden. She said that Mr. Cuomo stopped by to speak to her after a speech, and was soon informed by her boss that the governor had a crush on her.
“It was an uncomfortable but all too familiar feeling: the struggle to be taken seriously by a powerful man who tied my courage to my body and my appearance,” Ms Boylan wrote.
Ms. Liss said she never filed a formal complaint about the behavior of the governor or anyone else. She said she finally asked to be transferred to another office.
Ms. Liss said her experience working for the 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 manager of corporate relations. . Ms. Liss now works as the director of the Monroe County Department of Planning and Development in Upstate New York.
The Journal interviewed two other Empire State members who said they observed Ms. Liss drinking heavily and skipping social engagements while working for the governor.
Peter Walke, a member who now serves as Vermont’s environmental conservation commissioner, said in a recent interview that he noticed Ms. Liss became more withdrawn over time.
After the accusations of Mses. Boylan and Bennett, Mr. Walke contacted Ms. Liss. She shared her own experiences with him, Walke said.
Ms. Liss said she was proud of the work she did during her time in Albany, and she still has that photo of her and Mr. Cuomo at the front desk in her office. She supports the policies she has enacted.
“I just wish, wish he would take me seriously,” he said.
—Leslie Brody and Jim Oberman contributed to this article.
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