Andrew Cuomo: When poker becomes harassment

Jon Pill
Published by:
Posted on 03/01/2021

As America recovers from its sudden cold snap, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is being kept warm this week by the coals he is being dragged over. A series of sexual harassment complaints leveled at him by Lindsey Boylan, one of his ex-staffers, is making headlines for him.

Boylan’s accusations run from the suggestive (Cuomo showed her a cigar box of Clinton’s, a reference to Monica Lewinsky) to the downright creepy (he called her by the name of one of his ex-girlfriends). But she opens her Medium article on the subject with the quote from Cuomo: “Let’s play strip poker.”

She goes on to describe how “Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.” Cuomo made the suggestion of strip poker on a flight.

A year later, Boylan could take it no longer and quit. It took another two years for her to gather the courage to come forward.

Boylan tweeted about her experience saying: “I never planned to share the details of my experience working in the Cuomo administration, but I am doing so now in hopes that it may make it easier for others to speak their own truth.”

Cuomo currently denies the accusations.

New York bully

After Boylan came forward, a file was leaked suggesting that she had received a series of complaints from other employees of a “behavioral and racial” nature.

Boylan dismissed this as a smear. “I know some will brush off my experience as trivial. We are accustomed to powerful men behaving badly when no one is watching. But what does it say about us when everyone is watching and no one says a thing?” Boylan wrote about her former boss.

Her claims are given some additional weight by the fact that they follow on from other complaints by one of Cuomo’s other ex-employees.

Karen Hinton said of the governor: “If you need more time with your own family, he will treat you like you are cheating on him. If you have your eye on another better job, he’ll try to make that job disappear. Escaping Cuomo is tough because he has to exercise total control.”

Anonymously leaking personnel files, whether falsified or not, doesn’t look great for Cuomo’s character.

Falling man

The accusations come at a low point for Cuomo. After nearly a decade of good works in office, the mishandling of COVID has haunted him.

Before the pandemic, he was the man who oversaw the expansion of free(ish) healthcare for New Yorkers. He guided marriage equality through the state legislature in 2011. He instituted some of the most effective gun laws since California disarmed the Panthers.

When it came to the pandemic itself, at first he seemed heroic. The contrast with conservative conspiracy theorizing and science denial was astonishing. But it didn’t last and Cuomo’s halo has slowly been bent into horns as more facts have come out.

The same controlling personality that makes the accusations of sexual harassment so plausible manifested itself in a large-scale cover-up of COVID deaths in New York’s nursing homes. It turned out that death rates from COVID may have been underreported by as much as 50%.

Cuomo was accused of ignoring science advisors. His daily press briefings were initially praised as a sign of leadership. But they soon started to seem more like spin and ego-stroking.

Compared to Trump, it was easy for Democrats to appear competent and ethical. Now that Trump is gone, they are going to have to hold themselves to a much higher standard.

Poker’s fault

Cuomo worked for the Clinton administration in the late 90s, early 00s. And while his career owes much to that administration, he failed to learn the lesson of his boss’s end. That lesson is pretty simple: don’t hit on anyone you have the power to fire. It muddies consent.

Cuomo is accused of going much further than that. He allegedly created an environment so saturated with his bullying and sexually predatory energy that employees couldn’t escape it even on their downtime.

And among other, far more serious things, he has sullied the good name of poker.

Poker is not inherently either a virtue or a vice. Circumstances decide that. As Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “there is nothing good or bad on earth, but thinking makes it so.” Poker can be entertainment, a grindstone for problem-solving, or serve as the catharsis of competitive ill will. But poker can also be addictive, obsessive, and financially ruinous.

As Cuomo may have proven here, poker can also be a way of making your employees feel so sexually harassed that they go to the press. The buck stops here.

Featured image source: Flickr