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allegations

File photo by Erika Karp

By Leah Chiappino

Despite high marks from his handling of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has recently faced seven allegations of sexual harassment. 

The allegations come after a Jan. 28 report by the state attorney general, Letitia James (D), alleging the governor’s administration undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent.  

Due to these recent developments, many elected officials have called on the governor to resign,  including U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). 

“Confronting and overcoming the COVID crisis requires sure and steady leadership,” they said in a joint statement March 12. “We commend the brave actions of the individuals who have come forward with serious allegations of abuse and misconduct. Due to the multiple, credible sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York. Governor Cuomo should resign.”

Graphic by Leah Chiappino

U.S. Rep.  Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), an ardent Cuomo critic who is eyeing a run for governor next year, echoed calls for Cuomo to resign. 

When news of the seventh allegation broke, Zeldin issued a statement, also March 12, which read, “Andrew Cuomo has abused the power and privilege entrusted to him by the people of New York, and his most recent remarks could not make this more clear. His continued attempts to discredit the individuals who have come forward, question their ‘motives’ and more underscore just how far he’ll go to dodge any and all responsibility. His actions are inexcusable and unforgivable, and it’s up to each and every New Yorker — legislators, the media and voters — to hold him accountable.”

The congressman also criticized Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes. “The [U.S.] Department of Justice needs to immediately open an obstruction of justice investigation into Governor Cuomo and his administration,” he said in another statement, Feb. 12. “It’s now being reported there has been a direct admission of their nursing home coverup with the intent of blocking a DOJ investigation. The families of thousands of dead New York seniors deserve accountability and justice for the true consequences of Governor Cuomo’s fatally flawed nursing home policy and the continued attempts to cover it up.”

Local state Republicans, have also called on Cuomo to resign. State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) said that if Cuomo does not resign, the State Assembly and Senate should move forward with impeachment proceedings. “While I did not come to this decision lightly, the time has come for new leadership so that all elected officials can return to doing the work our residents need without the numerous distractions that have plagued our state recently,” the March 11 statement read. “As a husband and a father, the continual unveiling of new sexual assault allegations — now sexual abuse — against Governor Cuomo are simply appalling. Equally important, his administration’s admitted altering of data and misdirection regarding our state’s nursing homes are simply unacceptable.”

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) agreed the governor should resign in light of the harassment allegations against him. “In the wake of numerous sexual harassment allegations and now a deeply disturbing claim of sexual assault against Governor Cuomo, I truly question his ability to lead our state through these difficult times,” he said in a statement, also March 11.  “While I am a firm believer in due process and feel strongly that everyone is entitled to their day in court, these scandals undermine the governor’s ability to conduct his official duties and have irreparably damaged the public’s trust in the state’s top executive.”

The majority of local Democrats are awaiting the independent investigation called for by AG James before making a final determination. 

However, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), released a statement in coordination with the Long Island State Senate majority, calling on Cuomo to step down until the attorney general finishes her investigation into the sexual harassment claims. “The gravity of these claims makes it clear to us that the governor cannot lead the state while faithfully responding to multiple investigations,” the March 12 statement read. “This is especially true in light of the impending state budget deadline, the need to continue guiding the state through the pandemic and the fragility of the state’s economic recovery.”

Graphic by Leah Chiappino

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3), said that if Cuomo cannot simultaneously comply with the investigations against him and govern the state, he should consider resigning. “The governor is entitled to due process on the many serious and disturbing allegations that have been made against him,” he said in a March 12 statement. “I have confidence that the attorney general and the NYS Assembly will conduct thorough investigations. … I believe the governor must seriously consider whether he can effectively continue to govern in the midst of these unfolding allegations.  If he cannot effectively govern with all of the controversy surrounding him, he must put the interests of all New Yorkers first and he should resign.”

State Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), said he supports the investigation by the state attorney general into the accusations against Cuomo. “These allegations of sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and it is imperative that a transparent and independent inquiry begin immediately,” he said. “I also support the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s simultaneous investigation to determine if any impeachable offenses were committed. The committee will have the authority to interview witnesses, subpoena documents and evaluate evidence, all of which is provided under the New York State Constitution.” 

While Cuomo has repeatedly apologized for making his accusers feel uncomfortable, he has denied that he ever groped anyone and has refused to resign.

A March 15 Siena poll, as reported by Politico, indicated that a total of 57% of respondents are “satisfied with the way Cuomo has addressed the allegations” while 32% are “not satisfied.” As for the resignation issue, 50% say he should not leave office, 35% say he should and 15% are undecided.

have a few questions for the newly minted Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

What did you learn through this process?

You will be judging legal cases from people from all walks of life, working together with the eight other Supreme Court justices to decide on cases that will determine the law of the land for everyone.

What’s it like to be the accused? In some cases, the accused will be as angry and defensive and frustrated as you were. How will you understand the legal issues of their cases? How will you consider the legal questions and how will you consider the implications for them?

Will you understand the fury some people might feel through the legal process? Will you appreciate their position, even as you use the law to guide your decision-making process?

Maybe not because you, after all, didn’t go through a trial. Well, you certainly didn’t go through a judicial trial. You endured an ordeal, you experienced a political maelstrom and you became a divisive figure, suffering through accusations you found abhorrent.

People prejudged you because of the claims women made about your behavior from years ago.

Will you be able to appreciate the implications of your decisions on the people awaiting them?

Will a process that you found impossibly difficult make you better at your job? Will you grow from this experience, the way people who take an impossible organic chemistry class where they have to memorize and learn structures, concepts and stoichiometry become better students?

People rarely ask for the suffering and hardship that comes during any process. It’s what makes movies about road trips so compelling: People have to overcome or surmount obstacles along the way to get closer to the destination — or the truth.

Will you learn about yourself and gain a new perspective on the country and all of its citizens now that you’ve made that trip?

In many jobs, we ask people to go beyond what might be their natural responses to people or circumstances. Firefighters race toward a burning building when they may want to run toward safety. The same holds true with the police, who enter unknown and potentially dangerous circumstances.

Doctors can’t look at a wound and screech, “Yuck, that’s so disgusting, get that away from me.”

In many jobs, we need to overcome our visceral responses, doing what’s asked and ignoring other parts of our experience because that’s what’s required.

In your case, the country asks you to make the best judgment for everyone, even the Democrats or those who might accuse others of sexual assault.

Will you be able to step out of a reflexive response that’s all too human to make decisions that affect the lives of everyone?

Taking a step away from Judge Kavanaugh, what have we all learned? We know the country is divided and we know people are prepared to find evidence to support whatever conclusions they have already drawn.

Can we become more judicial instead of prejudicial? Can we act the way we all hope Judge Kavanaugh will behave?

The downside of the instantaneous world in which we live is that we expect instant results. We want food as soon as we order it and we want to speak with everyone and anyone whenever we feel the urge, even if we’re driving, standing in a line or watching a movie.

Maybe what we’ll learn is that the judicial process requires time, effort and consideration. Perhaps we can be thankful that the fact-finding, questions and appeals process that accompanies trials will bring out enough information to render a verdict consistent with the law — not a political or any other personal belief.

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We have hit the point as a society where it is near impossible to believe a definitive conclusion will be reached that will convince both sides of the political divide as to what happened between Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh in 1982. This is not to say we did not find Blasey Ford’s testimony under oath credible, but we wish the conversation could go in a different, more productive direction on parallel tracks with the predictable political mudslinging. Believe it or not, we see this moment and conversation as far more important than a single seat on the Supreme Court bench, as mind blowing as that may be for some partisans.

The tenor of the national conversation following the hearing on the matter before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week is a perfect representation as to why people like Blasey Ford hold accusations back, sometimes for decades. As a country we need to take a step back and figure out why the knee-jerk reaction from so many when sexual assault or misconduct accusations come up is to find a reason to invalidate them. The #MeToo, #WhyIdidntreport and #TimesUp movements have moved the discussion undoubtedly in the right direction, but this week should serve as proof we still have a long way to go.

Defining sexual assault and instilling a baseline of acceptable behavior — especially in young men, but all young adults — would be an extremely healthy first step. Legally the term is defined as any unwanted sexual contact. It seems simple when phrased that way, but because of the way rites of passage and coming of age are portrayed and depicted in our society, truly hearing and understanding a partner and being conscious of someone else’s comfort in a certain situation is likely far from the minds of young people in that situation.

This should not be read as an excuse for people who cross the line into sexual assault — which is a crime — but rather a demand to be open to communication and self-reflection as a means to avoid perpetuating this type of behavior. If we can get our kids to a place of having that reaction, to look within and take up a dedication to learning from mistakes, instead of the knee-jerk deny, deny, deny, we’ll have taken a critical, if minimal, first step toward a healthier tomorrow for everyone.

The U.S. Senate used to be a body looked to for leadership, a place where Americans use their democratic right to send our very best, and most objective, neutral arbiters. Anyone who watched the hearing would scoff at that notion in the present day. We can only hope that once the dust settles on this ugly chapter that body will resume its intended function and becomes a leader in this discussion, regardless of political persuasion.

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A group of lawyers released a report Feb. 5 compiling allegations of sexual abuse of children made against 51 individuals associated with The Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Lawyers Helping Survivors of Child Sex Abuse, a national team of attorneys dedicated to representing victims of sexual abuse, compiled and released the list in an effort to raise awareness about alleged clergy sex abuse on Long Island by providing the public with a list of accused abusers and which church they work or worked at, according to a press release from the group. The list includes allegations against several employees of North Shore churches and schools. TBR News Media will not link to the report or mention specific allegations against individuals, churches or schools until they can be independently verified. The newspaper is also aware of the presumption that people are innocent until proven guilty.

According to the report, called Hidden Disgrace II, most of the allegations have not been heard in a court because they were reported after the expiration of statutes of limitations. The report says the allegations should not be considered substantiated claims, but rather public accusations, unless otherwise indicated in the report.

In 2003, a Suffolk County grand jury investigated the issue of clergy sex abuse in the Rockville Centre diocese and released a more than 180-page report detailing allegations against 23 unnamed priests and actions by diocese officials to conceal abuse. In a section of the Feb. 5 report entitled “methodology,” it says many of the 51 named individuals in Hidden Disgrace II were described, but not officially named in the 2003 grand jury report. Some of the 51 named individuals were subsequently identified by survivors and the media following the grand jury report. Others in Hidden Disgrace II were named by individuals who came forward to share their story with the law group or media outlets.

“The public needs more information about these alleged predators and the churches, schools and communities where they worked,” said attorney Jerry Kristal, of Weitz & Luxenberg, one of three law firms associated with the group. Noaker Law Firm LLC and James, Vernon & Weeks P.A. are the others. “The Rockville Centre Diocese’s silence on the issue has only served the accused abusers and left survivors and local communities in the dark.”

An email requesting comment from The Diocese of Rockville Centre’s communications team was not immediately returned.

This story will be updated as more information is available.