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On Wednesday, New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs became the latest in a chorus of voices looking for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation. So far the only response from the Governor can be found in a pre-recorded video, released on Tuesday just hours after the Attorney General’s Report became public.
In the video – which lasts just over 14 minutes – the Governor refuted the findings of the report, claiming the investigation was tainted by political motivations. He went on to claim that he has been a champion of sexual assault survivors, including a female family member whom he referenced in his speech, all while discrediting the validity of his own accuser’s account of events.
“For those who are using this moment to score political points or seek publicity or personal gain, I say they actually discredit the legitimate sexual harassment victims that the law was designed to protect,” Governor Cuomo said in the pre-produced video, not allowing for follow up questions from reporters.
Syracuse University Communications Professor Rebecca Ortiz watched the Governor’s response in its entirety – shocked by the content of a speech that the Governor’s team would have had months to prepare.
“I was watching the video and I was taking the notes, and there was one thing after the other where, I’m not sure who wrote that speech for him, or whether he reviewed in its entirety, but I think if he was truly a champion for victims and victims’ rights, he would have taken a little more careful consideration to consider how the language and what he was saying was actually engaging in further victim-blaming,” said Professor Ortiz.
Professor Ortiz has done extensive research on how high-profile sexual harassment or assault cases play out in the public eye. In her expertise, she noticed the Governor’s response contained “textbook” language that politicians often refer to when they stand accused of sexual harassment or assault.
Multiple times, the Governor claimed that alleged victims misremembered events described in the Attorney General’s report.
“That’s a classic misdirect, placing the blame on them,” said Professor Ortiz.
The AG’s report concluded that the Governor had sexually harassed 11 women following a five-month investigation that included over 170 interviews and hundreds of pieces of corroborating evidence.
Tully Rinckey Attorney Allen Shoikhetbrod, a managing partner at the law firm’s Albany branch, said the governor’s response stood in stark contrast to the Attorney General’s thorough report, and he believes it could do Governor Cuomo more harm than good in the long run.
“I see a lot of finger-pointing, trying to impune the credibility of some of the accusers,” said Shoikhetbrod, “I personally would not have taken that approach.”
Regardless of whether or not Governor Cuomo resigns or is impeached, he could still face civil or criminal liability, according to Shoikhetbrod. In his video response, the Governor appeared to welcome a court proceeding.
Democratic and Republican state lawmakers appear aligned on the stance that the Governor can no longer continue to lead the state. From the state assembly to the white house, Governor Cuomo would be hard-pressed to find an ally speaking out against his removal from office.
Voters appear more split on the issue. A Marist College poll – conducted with just over 600 respondents on Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the Attorney General’s report was released – found 59% of New Yorkers want the Governor to resign. 78% of registered Republicans take this stance, and 52% of Democrats agree.
Some Central New Yorkers told CNY Central on Tuesday that their support of the Governor’s pandemic response lead to some hesitation when it comes to calling for his removal from office. Professor Ortiz’s research has found that partisanship can influence how we view both sexual assault survivors and those who stand accused of the crime.
“It can feel like a personal attack on me, because that’s somebody who is representing my identity, it’s threatening my identity essentially,” said Professor Ortiz.