‘Bond Woman’ Discuss and Groping: Albany’s Poisonous Tradition for Ladies

A legislative aide in New York’s state capital grabbed the thigh of a lobbyist so laborious at a fund-raiser that he left finger-shaped bruises on her pores and skin. A high official at a state company projected an image of a colleague in a bikini for all to see in a gathering she was attending.

One other lobbyist described a legislator touching her thighs and feeling her chest in his State Meeting workplace. And a state senator stated a male colleague advised her she appeared “like a Bond woman” as they sat close to one another within the chamber.

The senator, Julia Salazar, who declined to determine her colleague, additionally recalled attending a fund-raiser simply outdoors the Capitol in 2019 the place one other legislator’s employees member started commenting on her look. “He stated, ‘You have to be on a calendar,’” recalled Ms. Salazar, who was 28 on the time. “I used to be so embarrassed that I left.”

If encounters like these are unacceptable and doubtlessly career-ending, particularly within the #MeToo period, they’re additionally a defining a part of the tradition of presidency in Albany, N.Y., and so endemic that they’ve continued even after intercourse scandals took down a governor (Eliot Spitzer) and several other members of the State Meeting. Sexual misconduct in Albany has been thrown into sharp aid by allegations in opposition to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo from a number of present and former aides who’ve accused him of sexual harassment and, in a single case, groping throughout an encounter within the Govt Mansion.

“There are all of those patterns that we simply hold seeing again and again,” stated Leah Hebert, a former state legislative aide and a member of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, which advocates higher office situations in New York. “You would positively take a look at Albany and say nothing has modified.”

But the allegations, which Mr. Cuomo has denied, additionally counsel {that a} new era of girls in Albany won’t stay silent or tolerate behaviors that many males there noticed as regular. And the sexualized atmosphere in lots of places of work has modified lately with the election of liberal girls in higher numbers and efforts like harassment coaching. The #MeToo world is completely different from when most lawmakers knew their conduct at a bar close to the Capitol could be protected by the unwritten guidelines of the so-called Bear Mountain Compact — what occurred on the opposite aspect of the mountain stayed there.

In additional than 30 interviews, ladies and men who’ve labored in Albany — together with aides, lobbyists, authorities officers and elected leaders — described a predatory and misogynistic tradition that’s of a bit with Mr. Cuomo’s alleged conduct. Some say the governor and his high aides normalized intimidation in Albany over the past decade by way of bullying, which was widespread within the governor’s workplace, and aggressive political techniques geared toward members of each events.

“There’s an entire neighborhood of very sensible people who find themselves jaded by the abusive conduct and settle for it as regular and don’t do something about it,” stated State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who labored within the governor’s workplace earlier than she was elected in 2018 amongst a bunch of latest and outspoken feminine senators who included Ms. Salazar and Jessica Ramos.

She argued that the conduct of the governor and his employees despatched a sign to others in Albany. “In the event that they see the individual on the highest degree get away with it, and so they align themselves with that individual, then they’ll get away with it too,” Ms. Biaggi stated.

Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, stated that Ms. Biaggi had “chronically misrepresented her position” throughout her “temporary time” within the governor’s workplace, that “the governor didn’t substantively work together together with her,” and that “the vast majority of the senior employees by no means knew who she was.”

In interviews for this text, a number of girls described undesirable advances, touching and makes an attempt at kisses by lawmakers or state officers, generally throughout conferences or at bars after hours. Sexualized feedback are particularly prevalent, and cases of mistreatment stay unreported or unpunished. A number of girls expressed concern they might face career-ending ostracism — and even retaliation — within the close-knit state capital in the event that they spoke out, and most spoke for this text on the situation of anonymity to guard themselves from repercussions.

These interviewed stated there have been additionally subtler every day indignities: sexual innuendo and the expectation, nonetheless, that ladies put on skirts and heels.

“Feminine advocates who have been in Birkenstocks and pants are much less more likely to get a legislator to speak to them than a lobbyist in heels and a skirt,” stated one feminine lobbyist, who stated legislators would typically pause a dialog to touch upon her legs.

Some girls stated they’d adopted private guidelines to manage: no conferences after 7 p.m. No staying in Albany for longer than a day. A number of feminine lobbyists stated they might not meet with sure legislators alone, even of their places of work.

There are additionally extra formal measures: Interns within the State Meeting are banned from any occasion with alcohol, or from even using in a automotive alone with an Meeting member; powerful new state legal guidelines on sexual harassment went into impact in 2019; and the Legislature held its first listening to on the difficulty in a long time that yr.

But whilst rules have gotten stricter, no single code of conduct seems to exist in observe. Many ladies described how their experiences typically relied on the lads within the places of work the place they labored. Some companies and lawmakers had reputations for unhealthy conduct; others have been protected and supportive.

Ms. Salazar, a Democrat who represents part of Brooklyn, stated she believed the election of extra girls had dampened the tradition of overt harassment. Besides, Ms. Salazar, who joined the Legislature in 2019, stated she had skilled sexualized feedback that have been inappropriate at finest. She stated she felt that her standing as a lawmaker had allowed her to stroll away from sexualized interactions with out fearing penalties — one thing that may not be potential for these with much less authority.

On one event, Ms. Salazar stated, an older Republican senator who sat close to her within the chamber advised her, “You appear to be a Bond woman.” She stated that “it appeared odd for my male colleague to say that.” The identical senator, who’s now retired, was additionally recognized to show round in his chair and overtly stare at girls, she stated. (She requested that he not be recognized.)

Many ladies stated inappropriate conduct typically occurred after hours, when aides, lawmakers and different officers attend alcohol-fueled occasions that segue into nights on the metropolis’s bars.

Whereas many ladies stated their experiences of sexual harassment weren’t distinctive to Albany, the misconduct permeates within the capital due to an virtually college-campus environment. People who find themselves typically removed from house work collectively all day, then go to the identical fund-raisers or occasions, then exit in town collectively.

“As of late, any one in all us on this place could possibly be accused,” the Meeting speaker, Carl E. Heastie, stated throughout an emergency video convention assembly in March concerning the allegations in opposition to Mr. Cuomo. (Mr. Heastie’s spokesman stated the speaker had been speaking concerning the want for due course of for the accused, not about unhealthy conduct by his Democratic caucus members.)

Consensual sexual encounters should not unusual, nor are workplace romances, even for senior officers.

“Have I dated people who I’ve come throughout, you already know, at work? Certain,” Robert Mujica, a high adviser to Mr. Cuomo and the state price range director, advised an interviewer from Metropolis and State final yr. Mr. Mujica didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Maybe some of the uncomfortable settings for girls is throughout an annual journey to Puerto Rico, when a who’s who of New York politicians and lobbyists flock to the island to mingle on the seaside or minimize offers over mojitos at a resort bar.

For a lot of girls, the weekend is troublesome to navigate as a result of the strains between authorities enterprise and socializing are sometimes blurred. Some girls stated they have been deliberate about not ingesting an excessive amount of to keep away from being taken benefit of. Others stated they needed to endure a weekend of ogling, regardless of their finest efforts to not stand out.

“I used to be completely eager on dressing to not seize consideration,” stated Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, recalling occurring the journey as a younger employees member. “Darkish colours, mix in with the background.”

A lobbyist, who requested to not be recognized, recalled two purchasers telling her on the conclave that Mr. Mujica preferred her, with the suggestion that she might use that to their benefit in making an attempt to get what they wished within the price range.

In work settings in Albany, too, a number of girls described being aggressively pursued by lawmakers and their aides.

One lobbyist stated she was groped and harassed at a fund-raiser in 2018 by a high legislative aide to State Senator Simcha Felder; the individual grabbed her so laborious on the thigh, she stated, that she had finger-shaped bruises. The girl filed an incident report with the police and her boss notified the aide’s employer.

The girl stated she had spoken to New York State’s ethics fee, often called the Joint Fee on Public Ethics, simply as soon as, in early 2019, about its inquiry into the assault. She believes the investigation is ongoing however doesn’t know for certain, underscoring what many say is a irritating lack of transparency round such inquiries.

A number of state staff who got here ahead with complaints over sexual harassment in recent times say they have been demoted or fired because of this.

“If you wish to survive it’s a must to, to a point, settle for it,” stated Patricia Gunning, a lawyer and former inspector normal at a state company who reported what she stated was misconduct. “And I did. Till it turned intrusive and invasive in my work.”

In 2017, Ms. Gunning publicly accused Jay Kiyonaga, a high official at her company, the Justice Middle for the Safety of Individuals With Particular Wants, of making a poisonous frat-house tradition during which harassment was normalized. She stated that after she spoke up, she was compelled out of the company.

Ms. Gunning, who’s suing the state for retaliation, stated different girls who had suffered mistreatment on the company watched what occurred to her when she spoke out. “What they witnessed, with me coming ahead, was the message: Don’t do it,” she stated. “It destroyed my profession in public service.”

In a single occasion, Mr. Kiyonaga began a gathering by projecting a picture of a feminine co-worker in a bikini, which he had discovered on social media, to these in attendance, who included the girl, in accordance with an individual who was within the assembly. He finally took the picture down, taking part in it off as a joke.

As a senior company official, Ms. Gunning sought assist from Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s high aide — motivated, she stated, after seeing Ms. DeRosa communicate out forcefully in opposition to sexual harassment. Ms. DeRosa directed her inquiry to the state inspector normal.

Mr. Kiyonaga was fired in 2018 for sexual harassment however nonetheless collected a wage from the state till final yr due to an arbitration continuing. A lawyer for Mr. Kiyonaga declined to remark, citing the continuing litigation.

Ms. Gunning’s lawyer has struggled to acquire emails about her that have been despatched between the company and Mr. Cuomo’s workplace. These emails have to this point been withheld by the state’s attorneys, citing government privilege in most cases. A spokeswoman stated the Justice Middle stood by the firing of Mr. Kiyonaga, calling his conduct “abhorrent,” however declined to touch upon the case.

The identical government privilege argument has been utilized by the state’s attorneys within the case of one other state worker, Gina Bianchi, who stated she was fired from her senior-level job in 2017 after talking to an inspector normal as a part of an investigation into sexual harassment in her company, the Division of Legal Justice Providers.

The governor’s workplace additionally communicated with company management in that case, Ms. Bianchi’s lawyer stated, and people communications have additionally to this point been withheld. An company spokeswoman declined to remark.

The previous yr, amid the coronavirus pandemic, had been one thing of a welcome aid for some girls: With work largely distant, there have been no occasions to go to, no nights in bars.

Tori Kelly, the chief of employees to State Senator Andrew Gounardes, stated she a lot most well-liked working from her house in Brooklyn and attending Zoom fund-raisers to being in Albany.

“Not having to go up is a a lot safer proposition for me,” stated Ms. Kelly, who can also be a member of the Sexual Harassment Working Group.

On the similar time, many ladies stated there have been indicators that Albany’s tradition could be beginning to enhance.

Aravella Simotas, a former Assemblywoman, stated she had observed male lawmakers turning into extra engaged throughout sexual harassment trainings when the periods started to be held in smaller group settings. Earlier than, she stated, greater than 100 lawmakers could be convened concurrently for the coaching and plenty of wouldn’t listen, observing their telephones or doodling on notepads.

The feminine lobbyist who stated she was groped and harassed on the 2018 fund-raiser stated she might see a change in Albany in 2019, after a bunch of liberal younger girls have been elected to workplace. Now when she goes to conferences, she stated, she feels “safer.”

Amy Paulin, a Democratic assemblywoman who was first elected in 2000 and represents Westchester County, stated she witnessed frequent and conspicuous inappropriate conduct throughout her early days within the capital, together with a senator groping girls who have been on their solution to the lavatory.

“I don’t suppose it’s gone away, however I do suppose it’s a lot much less,” she stated. “The tradition has modified — it’s now not one thing to joke about.”

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