‘You Gotta Wear Heels’: Staffers Describe ‘The Cuomo Way’ Of Working For NY’s Governor
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a press conference before the opening of a mass Covid-19 vaccination site in the Queens borough of New York, on February 24, 2021. - The site run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with another in Brooklyn, gives priority to local residents in an effort to equitably distribute the vaccine. (Photo by Seth Wenig / POOL / AFP) (Photo by SETH WENIG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
SETH WENIG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Current and former staffers of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo say he oversees a hyper-competitive and toxic work environment driven by his bullying style.

Nearly a dozen people who currently or used to work for the governor’s office say that Cuomo is known for his edgy and inappropriate treatment of women working in his orbit. The testimonials, given anonymously to the Gothamist, come as the governor faces public accusations of sexual harassment from three women, two of whom are former Cuomo aides.

One woman, identified by the Gothamist as Sarah, relayed a message one woman told her when she was starting a fellowship at the governor’s office in 2013. “You gotta wear heels when he’s in Albany sweetie, that’s the rule,” Sarah said she was told.

Staffers described a high-stress work environment that often ran staff ragged as they scheduled their lives around the governor. Some compared Cuomo’s staff to a “cult” and compared their then-loyalty to the governor to “Stockholm syndrome.” As the Gothamist reports:

They said they were expected to answer texts and phone calls and attend meetings at all hours of the day and night, any day of the week. They faced personal attacks on their professional worth and competence for seemingly small mistakes. And loyalty, rather than creative thinking, problem-solving, or passion for public service, was valued above all else.

“There’s no right or wrong way. It’s the Cuomo way,” one former staffer said she was told when interviewing for the job. “He wants people who are literally going to fall on the sword for him, and they all will.” As Sarah told us, “We all would have taken a bullet for the governor. He was the most important person.”

Some former staffers who spoke to Gothamist/WNYC had a more generous interpretation of what it’s like to work for Cuomo. Some refuted the characterization that it was a toxic workplace or that there were dress codes, but they conceded the environment was not for everyone.

“I think everyone there wants to do the best work they can. Sometimes that work-life balance is sacrificed. I was definitely burned out by the end of my time there,” one said, adding, “I didn’t take it personally.”

Cuomo addressed recent accusations of sexual harassment lodged against him during a press conference on Wednesday. He denied that he had ever “touched anyone inappropriately” and pledged to cooperate with an investigation by the New York attorney general.

“I want to address the recent allegations that have been made against me,” Cuomo said. “As you probably know, the Attorney General is doing an independent review and I will fully cooperate with that review. Now, the lawyers say, I shouldn’t say anything, when you have a pending review until that review is over, I understand that. I’m a lawyer too.”

“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward,” he continued. “And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional. And I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it. And frankly, I am embarrassed by it. And that’s not easy to say. But that’s the truth.”

“I never touched anyone inappropriately,” he said. “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable … And I certainly never ever meant to offend anyone, or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do.”