Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is, according to a report released earlier this week, a serial sexual harasser who engaged in sometimes crude flirtations with underlings and, in at least one instance, retaliated when they complained.

But the details contained within the report are not in and of themselves terribly shocking. Cuomo, the Democrat who has been governor of New York for a decade and served as secretary of housing and urban development in the Clinton administration, has long had a reputation for being hotheaded and bullying, and he’s hardly the first powerful public figure to believe he is exempt from the rules that prevail for most workaday people. What does raise eyebrows, however, is the fact that many of Cuomo’s alleged misdeeds happened after the #MeToo movement started in October 2017, following blockbuster reporting on the criminal behavior of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein toward scores of women over at least three decades.

Cuomo may have many flaws, but being unaware of what is happening within the larger society would hardly be one of them. For a politician attuned to the currents of public opinion, and who was once mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, you have to wonder how he could have carried on as he allegedly did, even in the midst of a cultural sea change when it comes to workplace harassment.

Perhaps, though, it will take more than all the revelations that have come with #MeToo and all the cultural and business figures who have been brought low over the last four years, to deliver a permanent change. Anywhere from 40% to 90% of American women have experienced some variety of sexual harassment, and given its seeming prevalence, it will take more time and more acknowledgment of the toll of sexual harassment before it is vanquished.

Sexual harassment is not harmless. Victims report that they have endured post-traumatic stress, suffered from depression or anxiety, and have turned to drugs or alcohol after experiencing it. It has occurred at all levels on the occupational ladder, from the executive suites to the lowest-paid employees.

“Sexual harassment is really not about sex,” according to James Campbell Quick, a professor of leadership and management at the University of Texas at Arlington. He explained in a report issued by the American Psychological Association, sexual harassment is about power, “and aggression and manipulation. It’s an abuse of power problem.”

Cuomo’s ultimate fate remains undecided. He is clearly hoping that New York voters are in a forgiving mood and that he can finish out his term, and that lawmakers in the New York State Assembly don’t impeach and remove him. Investigations could result in criminal charges. An ignominious end to his political career seems more likely than not.

Still, other people who behave like him will still be in the workplace after he is gone. And they will also need to be rooted out.

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