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Albany’s Reckoning With Sexual Harassment Is Long Overdue

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In February, Albany held its first hearing on sexual harassment since 1992, after Anita Hill thrust the issue into the national spotlight. Many women in that pre-hashtag era were inspired by Hill’s testimony to share their own painful stories. One was then Assembly member Earlene H. Hill, who said publicly that Assembly colleagues had harassed her on multiple occasions. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo praised Earlene Hill at the time for not naming her antagonists. By exercising restraint, he said, she “accomplished the purpose of educating the people to the differences that still exist for women, without perhaps destroying the career of some individuals who might very well be creditable, commendable people otherwise.”

New York’s governor is now Andrew Cuomo. In 2017, he scolded NPR reporter Karen DeWitt, telling her that sexual harassment is about “society,” not state government. In 2018, he and three male legislators, one of whom had been accused of forcibly kissing a staffer, pushed through a package of reforms denounced as inadequate by survivors of harassment. In January 2019, feeling crowded, he joked to reporters, “We need space, or I’ll bring you all up on charges under the Me Too movement.”

Cuomo also appointed Sam Hoyt, a former Assembly member who was disciplined for having an affair with an intern while in the Assembly, to the Empire State Development Corporation, a role in which Hoyt was later accused of sexual harassment by a different woman (the NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), at which most commissioners are appointed by Cuomo and ten of 12 are men, cleared Hoyt). In 2018, Cuomo fired a high-ranking state official, James Kiyonaga—after years of complaints from Kiyonaga’s female colleagues, many of whom said they faced retaliation for complaining.

New York’s executive branch, in other words, hasn’t made much progress on sexual harassment since 1992. Fortunately for women, its state legislature has. In January, a new class of young, progressive legislators including Alessandra Biaggi and Julia Salazar swept into office. They joined colleagues like Sen. James Skoufis, 31, who served in the Assembly since 2012 and was elected to the State Senate in 2018, and Assembly member Catalina Cruz, who was elected in 2018. In 2009, the legislature had just ten legislators under 35 and three women legislators under 40. Today, there are 28 legislators under 35 and 18 women legislators under 40. And they are pushing to rid Albany of sexual harassment once and for all.

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