By PETER YACOBELLIS
For Montclair Local
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been paying close attention to the controversies surrounding New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In that time, I made the decisions both to help The New York Times with their investigation and to go on the record. I did so with some fear, but ultimately decided that if these women could do it, so could I. To me, principles only mean something if you stick to them when it’s inconvenient.
I spent several years as Cuomo’s deputy director of administrative services with primary oversight of his New York City office (the Executive Chamber). I wore many hats in that role, including onboarding new political appointees within the Executive Chamber and running our internship program. As I’ve been reading the stories from several female political appointees, what has come to mind for me is what I believe is a significant opportunity to alter the political workplace climate going forward.
Following my time with New York State, I became chief of staff to the head of Learning and Leadership Development for American Express. Among our team’s broad remit was the development and deployment of sexual harassment training to more than 100,000 employees and contractors globally, each year with the standards and content always improving. At many times I’ve thought back to my time a decade ago in the Executive Chamber with both curiosity for why such training wasn’t commonplace for political appointees and some regret for not having pushed harder for it in my tenure. It simply wasn’t and still in many places isn’t the norm in those types of work environments.
But, in recent years since the Me Too movement took off, we’ve seen changes such as Congress updating its sexual harassment prevention efforts and recently New Jersey Gov. Phil Murph has mandated sexual harassment training for all of his campaign staff. I believe that trend must continue until all political appointees and campaign workers have the same opportunity. My condition for going on the record was that the article would discuss this. I’m glad that it did. My hope is that it would spark a broader dialogue about what I consider to be a significant opportunity to improve workplace culture for women in America, particularly in the public sector and in politics.
Cuomo in many ways has been a political hero to me. I worked with him to get marriage equality passed in New York at a time when things looked shaky for its prospects nationally. I was at his side in the endless days and weeks following Superstorm Sandy as I ran logistics for our command center. One of the interns I hired went on to author the most significant gun control legislation in America and the governor’s get-things-done approach made me believe in the power and possibility of government. America saw this Gov. Cuomo in his leadership and communication style so visibly during the early days of COVID-19 — leadership that I praised.
But, as I have called out former President Donald Trump and others for their behavior, I must do so too even when it’s someone who I both worked for and aligned with politically. The breadth and depth of trauma for women in his orbit over the years is unacceptable as it was for those around Trump and many other powerful men before them. And I stand with those women. This isn’t about cancel culture. This is about whether someone is fit to be an employer.
I believe it is time for Cuomo to resign. For those who say he should be deemed innocent until proven guilty, I say that’s the standard for a courtroom, not for an employer with thousands of employees.
I also believe all elected officials and candidates for office must see to it that their offices and campaigns have both sexual harassment policies and sexual harassment training for workers. Let that be the new standard.
Peter Yacobellis is a Montclair councilman at large and a former deputy director of administrative services for the Cuomo administration.
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