A third woman has accused Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of unwanted advances in 2019, The New York Times reported Monday, adding to an escalating crisis facing the governor in the wake of two sexual harassment allegations.
The woman, Anna Ruch, told the Times that Cuomo approached her during a crowded wedding reception in New York in 2019. Ruch told the newspaper she thanked Cuomo for his toast to the newlyweds, and in response, she says he put his hand on her bare lower back, which the Times said was exposed in an open-back dress.
When Ruch removed his hand, Cuomo allegedly told her she seemed “aggressive” as he put his hands on her cheeks, she recalled to the Times. Cuomo then asked if he could kiss her, Ruch said, and she distanced herself as he came closer.
“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” Ruch told the Times. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”
The newspaper also reported that Ruch says she was later told by a friend that Cuomo had kissed her cheek as she pulled away.
CNN has not verified Ruch’s allegations against New York’s governor.
Ruch did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Fresh calls for Cuomo to resign
The latest accusation set off another torrent of criticism and new calls for Cuomo to resign, this time from New York Rep. Kathleen Rice, the first Democratic US House member to demand that the governor step down.
“The time has come,” Rice tweeted late Monday. “The Governor must resign.”
With her statement Monday, Rice joined a small group of other Democratic state lawmakers, including state Sens. Alessandra Biaggi and Gustavo Rivera, and Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, who have said Cuomo should leave office in the wake of mounting allegations.
“.@NYGovCuomo, you are a monster, and it is time for you to go. Now,” Biaggi tweeted.
The New York Working Families Party, a progressive organization that has clashed with Cuomo over the years, echoed their calls on Tuesday morning.
“Andrew Cuomo’s reign of fear, harassment, and intimidation cannot continue,” New York Working Families Party state director Sochie Nnaemeka said in a statement. “We are calling on Governor Cuomo to resign immediately because he is unfit to serve the people of New York.
An independent investigation, which could see Cuomo compelled to testify, is poised to begin under the guidance of the state attorney general.
The new Times report said the episode was loud enough and could be heard by a friend standing nearby, who corroborated the exchange, along with photographs from the event and text messages at the time. The New York Times did not identify the friend in its reporting.
The Times published a single photo of the two together at the event, in which Cuomo appears to be placing his hands around Ruch’s face, but it is unclear what happened in that moment.
Ruch is the first woman to make an accusation against Cuomo who did not work for him. The other two women — Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett — who accused the governor of sexual harassment were both aides in the Cuomo administration.
Cuomo’s office didn’t respond to CNN’s repeated requests for comment about Ruch’s accusation to the Times. A spokesperson for Cuomo did not directly address the allegations to the newspaper but pointed to a statement the governor released Sunday evening in the face of backlash from Boylan’s and Bennett’s allegations of sexual harassment.
In the statement, Cuomo said, “To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”
Cuomo also acknowledged that some of his previous comments “may have been insensitive or too personal” and said he was “truly sorry” to those who might have “misinterpreted (the remarks) as an unwanted flirtation.”
His comments came after an accusation of sexual harassment emerged Saturday evening in a separate Times article. Bennett, a 25-year-old former executive assistant and health policy adviser to Cuomo, told the newspaper that during one of several uncomfortable encounters, Cuomo asked her questions about her sex life during a conversation in his state Capitol office and said he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.
She told the Times that she interpreted the exchange — which she said took place in June, while the state was in the throes of fighting the pandemic — as what the newspaper called “clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”
Cuomo has denied her allegations, saying he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
CNN’s calls to Bennett for comment have not been returned.
Independent investigation proceeds
The new allegation came hours after Cuomo’s office issued a formal referral that gave New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, the power to move forward with an independent investigation. In a statement, James said it is “not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously.”
James had rejected two previous proposals from the governor, first to have a former federal judge lead the probe, then another that would have James and New York’s chief judge jointly select an independent attorney to conduct “a thorough” and “independent review” of the claims against him.
Instead, James demanded — and Cuomo, ultimately, agreed — that she alone would run the investigation by choosing an outside law firm that would be granted subpoena power.
The “findings will be disclosed in a public report,” James said.
Though only a few state Democrats have said publicly that Cuomo should step down, the most recent allegation led to a new and more passionate round of denunciations from state legislators.
“A person who treats women this way is not fit to govern,” state Sen. John Liu tweeted, with a link to the Times report that included a picture of Cuomo holding Ruch’s face. Assemblyman Ron Kim, a vocal critic of Cuomo, issued a challenge to his colleagues in Albany.
“Andrew Cuomo is a coward who has abused his position of power,” Kim tweeted on Monday night. “Young women are bravely holding the floodlight with their truths. To my colleagues in Albany – how much longer will you wait in the dark?”
Democrats in the state legislature are also moving toward stripping Cuomo of his expanded executive powers that they granted him to fight the coronavirus pandemic last year, according to a legislative source.
Boylan, the former aide who first accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, said his advance included an unwanted kiss. In a Medium post last week, Boylan alleged that the Democratic governor kissed her on the lips following a one-on-one briefing in his New York City office in 2018.
“Telling my truth isn’t about seeking revenge. I was proud to work in the Cuomo Administration. For so long I had looked up to the Governor. But his abusive behavior needs to stop,” she wrote.
“I am speaking up because I have the privilege to do so when many others do not.”
Cuomo firmly denied the allegations in a press conference in December when Boylan first made them. CNN has not been able to corroborate the allegations, and when asked for further comment, Boylan replied that she was letting her Medium post speak for itself.