If a picture normally tells a thousand words, this serendipitous shot corroborating Anna Ruch’s accusation of misconduct by Andrew Cuomo qualifies for a novel. Just as with Al Franken, this photo has the potential to crystallize multiple such allegations into an unforgettable icon that will define New York’s beleaguered governor. But unlike Franken, whose career was ended by a sophomoric prank on a sleeping fellow performer, it could end up overshadowing what should be an even larger scandal complete with a body count.
But in fairness, this photo really is creepy as hell:
— Jodi Kantor (@jodikantor) March 2, 2021
The story behind may not be as on point as the previous two allegations from Cuomo staffers, although it does demonstrate Cuomo’s sense of impunity:
Anna Ruch had never met Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo before encountering him at a crowded New York City wedding reception in September 2019. Her first impression was positive enough.
The governor was working the room after toasting the newlyweds, and when he came upon Ms. Ruch, now 33, she thanked him for his kind words about her friends. But what happened next instantly unsettled her: Mr. Cuomo put his hand on Ms. Ruch’s bare lower back, she said in an interview on Monday.
When she removed his hand with her own, Ms. Ruch recalled, the governor remarked that she seemed “aggressive” and placed his hands on her cheeks. He asked if he could kiss her, loudly enough for a friend standing nearby to hear. Ms. Ruch was bewildered by the entreaty, she said, and pulled away as the governor drew closer.
“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” said Ms. Ruch, whose recollection was corroborated by the friend, contemporaneous text messages and photographs from the event. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”
By sheer coincidence, a photographer managed to capture that moment — and Ruch’s very obvious distress in it. Cuomo’s hand on her face provide an eerie parallel to the photo that buried Franken three years ago under very different circumstances. It also gives a visual to the fear and revulsion that Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett have described in their allegations of sexual harassment and Cuomo’s impunity in imposing it. There is one difference, however, as my pal and colleague Guy Benson pointed out. It’s not exactly actionable, as Ruch has no professional link to Cuomo:
Okay, look. I’m a huge Cuomo critic. I think the nursing homes cover-up is THE scandal. Previous two harassment accusations also serious because of boss/subordinate dynamics. This one? Non-colleague, social setting, asked permission. Creepy/handsy/big age gap? Sure. Scandal? Eh. https://t.co/3ZZfkfqtGc
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) March 2, 2021
True enough, especially about the scandal with an actual body count:
So they dump Cuomo over the sexual harrassment charges. And the media has an excuse for continuing to ignore the 15,000 dead seniors he's responsible for?
— Larry O'Connor (@LarryOConnor) March 2, 2021
It’s a fair point that Ruch’s story doesn’t involve power-disparity dynamics between a governor and his employees, but that’s beside the point in two ways. First, this demonstrates a general pattern of using power to pressure women, which is at least somewhat related to reports piling up about Cuomo’s abusing others in non-sexual bullying. But more importantly, that picture sums up all of these story lines and transforms Cuomo’s image from tough Love Gov to Creepy Predator overnight.
Cuomo deserves to get the heave-ho over the nursing home scandal and cover-up. If he gets forced into a resignation over this, the worse scandal might not get the attention it deserves. But he likely deserves it for both.