Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s characterization of the sexual harassment he’s accused of inflicting on staffers as just “being playful” and making “jokes” fell flat on Monday, with one of his accusers and Mayor Bill de Blasio both slamming the “non-apology.”
Cuomo, 63, offered the dubious defense on Sunday, a day after Charlotte Bennett became the second former staffer in a matter of days to accuse the governor of sexual harassment on the job.
“As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences,” said Bennett, 25, in a scathing statement on Monday.
“It took the governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation,’’ continued Bennett. “These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice.”
Bennett told the New York Times in a piece published Saturday that Cuomo last year made a series of off-color comments and asked probing questions about her sex life, leaving her convinced that the divorced father-of-three “wanted to sleep with” her.
As bipartisan outrage mounted, Cuomo on Sunday issued the prepared statement, dismissing his behavior as “jokes” that could have been construed as “unwanted flirtation” — while denying any untoward intent and maintaining he never touched anyone inappropriately.
On Monday, de Blasio jeered his frequent political rival’s response.
“The governor issued a total non-apology earlier and in effect treated sexual harassment as some kind of laughing matter,” Hizzoner told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “It’s not a joke. It’s very, very serious stuff.
“When I read the account of what Charlotte Bennett went through, I cringed,” continued de Blasio. “Here’s someone who can determine whether she had a job or not, whether she has a career or not, literally suggesting in front of her all sorts of perverse sexual possibilities, and she’s alone in a room with him. Think about how grotesque that is.”
Asked if he felt Cuomo should resign if the allegations are true, de Blasio said yes.
“If you sexually harassed young women in your employment … how can anyone look the people in the face after that?” he asked. “If these allegations are proven, there’s just no way he can govern.”
Bennett spoke out less than a week after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, 36, penned a Medium piece alleging that Cuomo kissed her on the lips without warning and suggested they pass a flight playing strip poker.
State Attorney General Letitia James received the formal green-light from the Cuomo administration Monday to launch an independent probe into the bombshell allegations.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” said James. “As the letter states, at the close of the review, the findings will be disclosed in a public report.”
In accordance with state law, James on Sunday morning requested a “referral” from the governor’s office to investigate, only for Beth Garvey, Cuomo’s special counsel, to try to haggle on the process.
Garvey suggested that James could work in conjunction with top state appeals Judge Janet DiFiore — a Cuomo appointee — to agree on an independent investigator.
But, facing intense bipartisan pressure to let a truly independent investigation run its course, Garvey caved late Sunday and agreed to grant James the referral.
And Cuomo’s interactions with women came under further scrutiny on Monday.
“I want to see you eat the whole sausage,” Cuomo told female reporter Beth Cefalu during a cringe-inducing exchange as they chowed down at the 2016 New York State Fair, video of which resurfaced on Twitter.
Cuomo then invited Cefalu to sit at his table and pose for a selfie, where the creepy one-liners kept coming.
“There’s too much sausage in that picture,” said Cuomo, drawing laughter from others at the table.
Cefalu, however, clarified Monday that she was not bothered by the exchange.
“I was not pressured/harassed this is two people enjoying the one event — the NYS fair — that gives them a little more freedom to be informal,” she tweeted. “Its really sad it’s being turned into anything more.”
Another now-former member of the New York press corps, however, came forward to say that she left the industry due in part to “harassing” behavior from the governor’s office.
Lindsay Nielsen, formerly of Albany-based News 10 ABC, posted Sunday on Twitter that the governor’s office responded to critical coverage with “incessant bullying” during her stint with the station from 2012 to 2017.
“They would make it personal, claiming I have this personal vendetta against the governor, which is absolutely bogus,” Nielsen told The Post on Monday. “All I was ever trying to do was report the story, report the facts.”
Additional reporting by Bruce Golding and Natalie Musumeci