(Photos: Anna Venarchik)

In a testimony published on February 24, former government aide Lindsey Boylan describes New York Governor Andrew Cuomo forcibly kissing her after a 2018 meeting in his Manhattan office on 3rd Avenue. “I was in shock, but I kept walking,” she states. It is outside this office, between E. 40th and 41st Streets, that about 20 protesters gathered yesterday at sunset. Throughout this past month, challenges to the governor’s leadership have dominated news feeds and social threads. These challenges are now being taken to the streets. 

In a statement outlining the demonstration’s objective, organizers—including New York Democratic Socialists of America (NYDSA) and New York Communities for Change (NYCC)—outlined why Cuomo is unfit to govern, claiming he has neglected the needs of New Yorkers, deliberately obscured the severity of COVID-19 nursing home deaths, and maintained an abusive, bullying work environment—an environment, allegations claim, that is also tinged with sexual harassment.

This protest comes in the wake of long-standing tension between Cuomo and these groups, who have often pointed to the governor as an obstacle to progressive reform. “If Cuomo refuses our demands to resign,” the protest statement says, “we need State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to immediately move to impeach him and remove him from office.”

With an evening wind chill nearing single digits, protestors circled along 3rd Avenue, declaring support for the women who stepped forward and expressing disgust for the state’s top leader. Some demonstrators claimed that as women, they felt betrayed; others said that as citizens, they felt betrayed.

“This is the same governor who cut Medicaid at the height of the pandemic,” Sumathy Kumar of NYDSA shouted for the crowd. “It stands to reason that someone who governs so cruelly would act the same way in interpersonal situations . . . New Yorkers deserve better.”

Jonathan Westin of NYCC added: “In 12 months, we have not seen any relief for our people who can’t pay rent, who can’t put food on the table, who are going homeless—and our governor has been spending the pandemic sexually harassing young women . . . This is the governor that many of us have known for the past decade. This is nothing new. This is who he is.”

Sumathy Kumar of NYDSA calls for Cuomo’s removal.

Boylan first came forth with allegations on December 13 via Twitter, and published her detailed testimony last week. Four days later, on February 27, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett alleged that Cuomo had asked inappropriate questions and made suggestive comments while she worked as his aide in June. Following Bennett’s allegations, Cuomo released a statement acknowledging that “some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.” The statement adds that “these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to. That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations.”

Two days after Cuomo’s statement, a third woman went public. Anna Ruch described an encounter with the governor at a wedding in September of 2019. Cuomo touched her inappropriately, cupped her face, and asked to kiss her. The two had never met prior to the exchange. 

In response to the turmoil, Mayor Bill de Blasio called for immediate, autonomous investigations into both the “deaths at nursing homes and the disturbing personal misconduct allegations.” He also called for the immediate revocation of executive powers bestowed on the governor at the beginning of the pandemic.

It seems that both initiatives have materialized. On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced she had received clearance to begin a formal inquiry into the sexual harassment allegations. And yesterday, as protesters planned to coalesce outside the governor’s office, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that the state legislature would begin revoking Cuomo’s extended executive powers. 

The protestors are not the only voices calling for Cuomo’s impeachment. On Saturday, the Chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee Alessandra Biaggi did the same. Her call was mirrored yesterday in a collective statement by six state legislators—all Brooklyn representatives affiliated with the DSA.

Update, March 3, 2:45pm: In a press conference today, Gov. Cuomo said, “I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it.” He asked New Yorkers to “wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion,” and said that he did not plan to resign. “I’m going to do the job that people of the state elected me to do,” Cuomo said.