Friday, March 12, 2021

Andrew Cuomo A Case Study In The Loss Of Public Trust In Industrial "Democracy"

newyorker |  But why did it take two months for Boylan’s accusations to be taken seriously by reporters, lawmakers, and law-enforcement officials? Her December 13th tweet received some initial news coverage. “Bombshell Cuo Claim,” one headline in the New York Post read. But, by the end of the month, the bombshell had fizzled. In an Albany Times Union article on December 26th that recapped the Governor’s year in the “national spotlight,” Boylan merited just three sentences. Partly, this can be explained by Boylan’s decision in December not to talk to reporters, and by the fact that she was, at the time, a lone accuser, whereas now she is one of several. But there is another reason: soon after she went public, someone tried to damage Boylan’s credibility and undercut her accusations by leaking damaging information about her to the press.

Within hours of Boylan’s tweet on December 13th, several news outlets reported that they had “obtained” state-government documents relating to Boylan’s job performance in the Cuomo administration. The documents—described by the Associated Press as “personnel memos,” by the Post as “personnel documents,” and by the Times Union as “personnel records”—said that several women had complained to a state-government human-resources office that Boylan had “behaved in a way towards them that was harassing, belittling, and had yelled and been generally unprofessional.” According to the Post’s account, “three black employees went to state human resources officials accusing Boylan, who is white, of being a ‘bully’ who ‘treats them like children.’ ” According to the Associated Press, the documents said that Boylan resigned after being “counseled” about the complaints in a meeting with a top administration lawyer. Reporters who wanted to dig into Boylan’s accusations against Cuomo now had to contend with the possibility that there were people out there who might have accusations to make against Boylan. At best, the documents seemed to raise questions about Boylan’s reliability. At worst, they painted her as a racist.

In a statement, Boylan’s attorney, Jill Basinger, told me Boylan has never seen the documents that the news accounts referenced—which Basinger called a “supposed ‘personnel file.’ ” Basinger accused the Governor’s office of leaking the documents, and also said she expects that the attorney general’s investigation will look into the leak. “It is both shocking and disgusting that the governor and his staff would seek to smear victims of sexual harassment,” Basinger said. “Ms. Boylan will not be intimidated or silenced. She intends to cooperate fully with the Attorney General’s investigation.”

At a press conference last week, Cuomo said that he supported “a woman’s right to come forward,” and that he was “sorry for whatever pain I caused.” At the same time, he pleaded with New Yorkers to allow him some due process. “Wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion,” he said. That’s how the Governor would like to be treated. But that’s not how he traditionally has treated others. For decades, the Governor has had a reputation for scorched-earth tactics, and for retaliating against those who corner him, threaten him, or simply displease him. As Boylan weighed whether to come forward last year, her lawyer told me, she “believed that she would be retaliated against for going public with her mistreatment.” One former senior official in the Cuomo administration whom I spoke to said it was impossible to imagine that Cuomo himself hadn’t approved the leak of the Boylan documents. “There’s no question he would know about it, and direct it,” the former official said. “That’s how he would think.”

In the nineteen-nineties, while Cuomo was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, under Bill Clinton, he fell into a long-running feud with Susan Gaffney, the agency’s inspector general. In 2000, Gaffney accused Cuomo of sexual discrimination. “Gaffney claims that Cuomo has called her at home on weekends to berate her, has started collecting information to smear her, and has leaked damaging information about her,” the Post reported, at the time. In the same story, a Cuomo spokesperson said, of Gaffney, “This is nothing more than a diversion from her misconduct regarding the downloading of pornography in her office and retaliation for our efforts to get to the bottom of it.”

In 2013, Michael Fayette, a state Department of Transportation engineer, gave a few quotes about his department’s operations during Hurricane Irene to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. His statements were innocuous—“We were up for it,” he told the paper—but they hadn’t been cleared by the higher-ups in Albany. The press found out that Fayette’s superiors were moving to terminate him, and started asking how it was possible for someone to be fired over such a harmless episode. In response, a top Cuomo aide gave a radio interview during which he read aloud misconduct allegations contained in Fayette’s personnel files, including that he’d had an improper relationship with a subordinate. “They can run over you like you’re a freaking speed bump,” Fayette, who retired before he could be fired, told me, last week.