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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Photo: Diana Robinson.)

Yacobellis: On the record regarding Cuomo

By Peter Yacobellis, March 12 2021 6:50 pm


Over the last couple of weeks, I have been paying close attention to the controversies surrounding Governor Cuomo. In that time, I made a very difficult decision both to help the New York Times with their investigation and to go on the record. I did so with heightened fear but ultimately decided that if these women could do it, so could I. To me, principles only mean something if you stick to them when it’s inconvenient.

As many of you know, I spent several years as Governor Cuomo’s Deputy Director of Administrative Services with primary oversight of his New York City office (the Executive Chamber). I wore many hats in that role, including onboarding new political appointees within the Executive Chamber and running our internship program. As I’ve been reading the stories from several female political appointees, what has come to mind for me is what I believe is a significant opportunity to alter the political workplace climate going forward.

Following my time with New York State, I became Chief of Staff to the head of Learning and Development for American Express. Among our team’s broad remit was the development and deployment of sexual harassment training to over 100,000 employees and contractors globally, each year with the standards and content always improving. This and so many other factors are why American Express remains one of the best places to work in America. At many times I’ve thought back to my time in the Executive Chamber with both curiosity for why such training wasn’t commonplace for political appointees and some regret for not having pushed harder for it in my tenure. But I suppose hindsight is always 20/20.

In recent years since the Me Too movement took off, we’ve seen changes such as Congress updating their sexual harassment prevention efforts and recently Governor Murphy in New Jersey has mandated sexual harassment training for all of his campaign staff. I believe that trend must continue until all political appointees and campaign workers have the same opportunity. My condition for going on the record was that the article would discuss this. I’m glad that it did. My hope is that it would spark a broader dialogue about what I consider to be a significant opportunity to improve workplace culture in America, particularly in the public sector and in politics.

Governor Cuomo in many ways has been a political hero to me. I worked with him to get marriage equality passed in New York at a time when things looked shaky for its prospects nationally. I was at his side in the endless days and weeks following Superstorm Sandy as I ran logistics for our command center. One of the interns I hired went on to author the most significant gun control legislation in America and the Governor’s ‘get things done’ approach made me believe in the power and possibility of government. America saw this Governor Cuomo in his leadership and communication style so visible during the early days of COVID-19. It is leadership that I have praised.

But, as I have called out former President Trump and others for their behavior, I must do so too even when it’s someone who I both worked for and aligned with politically. The breadth and depth of trauma for women in his orbit over the years is unacceptable. And I stand with them. So with that said, let me state unequivocally that I believe it is time for Governor Cuomo to resign.

Peter Yacobellis, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is a councilman in Montclair, New Jersey.  

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