Susan Slotnick: Cuomo’s troubles

Between the ages of 13 and 20, I was the target of five felonious sexual assaults of varying severity and emotional consequences: my seventh-grade art teacher, who until the attack was the only adult I thought believed in my artistic talent; another teacher, 46 years old, when I was 15; a doctor; a boy my own age; and a tourist I took a walk with on a crowded beach that shortly emptied. I have credible #MeToo credentials.

In three of the incidences, I used poor judgment. Sixty years ago, when the crimes took place, I blamed myself.

We caution our children to keep out of harm’s way. We don’t wave money around in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. We look both ways crossing a street and we tell our daughters not to get drunk and pass out at a fraternity party.

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No man has the right to touch a woman against her will, regardless. If a fraternity boy is looking to rape a girl, he will find one who is vulnerable. Telling one girl not to drink to excess merely passes the violation to another girl, maybe a younger, more naïve student – a freshman, not familiar with the effects of alcohol. Men and boys must change their behavior. My personal experiences of assault contribute to the reasons I feel so strongly that measures to end the sexual abuse of women and children are essential and long-overdue.

Sexual opportunism is predominantly a crime committed by men – often powerful men, but not exclusively. I have known several men who were sexually abused by women when they were very young children. The emotional scars are the same.

The #MeToo movement is a critical, much-needed alteration of old society norms requiring the utmost in nuanced discretion if the movement will continue to be a game-changer.

Allegations must be carefully vetted before becoming public. The timing of complaints can create suspicion of ulterior motives, which has already happened regarding Cuomo’s bid for reelection in two years.

Distinctions between the Weinsteins, Epsteins, Cosbys and Nassers on the one hand and the Al Frankens on the other are necessary common-sense measures. The law distinguishes between levels of criminality; so must the #MeToo movement, as well as the general public.

Before the onslaught of the dual scandals against Governor Cuomo – one concerning underreporting nursing home deaths and the other, sex harassment charges – I listened to his news briefings daily for months.

Prior to the second wave of sexual accusations, Cuomo said, “COVID-related nursing home deaths were not purposely underreported. Nursing home patients who died in hospitals were counted as ‘hospital deaths,’ not nursing home deaths.” Thus the confusion. If anything, he exaggerated the severity of COVID so New Yorkers would be motivated to be compliant.

Anyone who watched the press conferences could see, with the mammoth amount of statistics and details Cuomo and his staff were responsible for, mistakes were certain to occur. These mistakes did not cost thousands of lives, as other decisions and mistakes made by many other politicians did. When that did not stick, the cascading sexual harassment incriminating charges began, and at this writing, continue.

Summary of the charges

• Charlotte Bennett, Cuomo’s aide, reported he made crude and inappropriate remarks when she was much younger, vulnerable and a sexual-assault survivor fresh out of college. He was completely wrong. There can be no excuse. She requested a transfer and got one, which was the right action to take.

• Lindsey Boylan was a married woman in her thirties who worked for Cuomo for three years. She could have reported the vile comments made by an abusive boss, but she might have lost her “dream job,” which is understandable, given how pervasive situations like that can be. Now she has joined the fray. She is presently running for Manhattan borough president. According to the New York Post, she has also faced allegations: Three black employees went to New York State Human Resources officials accusing Boylan, who is white, of being a bully and treating them like children. When she was confronted about these and other allegations of alleged misconduct and harassment of co-workers, as well as murky use of allotted travel expenses up to $8,000, she voluntarily resigned. Then she asked for her job back.

It’s not just men who can be prematurely accused.

• Ana Liss, a former policy and operations aide to Cuomo from 2013 to 2015, told the Wall Street Journal the governor inquired about her personal life, touched her on her back, and on one occasion even kissed her hand.

• Karen Hinton, a former Cuomo aide, told the Washington Post Cuomo invited her to his hotel, asked her personal questions about her marriage and hugged her in a manner that was “very long, too tight, too intimate.”

• Anna Ruch, who did not work with Cuomo, recounted meeting the governor at a friend’s wedding; she says he attempted to kiss her.

These are humiliating, awful, undignified and degrading behaviors from a man with a huge power edge. I am sure there are more women whom he offended. Hopefully, some of them slapped him on the face or landed a bull’s-eye kick to his bullish masculine you-know-what.

 He deserves consequences, maybe a hefty fine, sensitivity training, or a restorative justice session or sessions with each accuser. These accusations have shamed him and destroyed his reputation – most likely, permanently. That’s a consequence which will go down in history and taint all the good he has accomplished.

But let’s not forget the threat of COVID-19. It was the governor and his staff who set up temporary hospitals overnight for the sick and dying, created the testing sites, closed down New York State while attempting to get vital and lifesaving PPE to frontline workers. Cuomo’s strict measures, quarantine mandate and closures brought, at one time, the positivity rate in New York to less than one percent.

Now political opponents, liberals and conservatives alike, are calling for his resignation. But let’s not be stupid. His skills and painstakingly acquired pandemic solutions are still needed and most likely will be needed again in the future. What will no doubt never happen again are his unwanted advances. He has been stopped – a good thing, but at what cost?