Politico [Arlington VA]
August 13, 2021
By Amanda Eisenberg
A coalition of women’s rights groups are drafting an agenda to present to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on her first day in office as governor — and a bill strengthening sexual assault survivor protections that has languished in Albany for nearly two years is at the top of the list.
The Adult Survivors Act would grant sexual assault survivors the chance to sue their abuser after the statute of limitations has passed. The collapse of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration amid a litany of harassment allegations is both giving new urgency to the bill and clearing a potential hurdle for its ultimate adoption.
The legislation, which could be signed by New York’s first female governor, is modeled after the Child Victims Act, a law signed by Cuomo in 2019 that has helped nearly 9,000 people file claims long after the statute of limitations has passed. But the new legislation, which gives an 18-year-old survivor the same opportunity as a 17-year-old, has been stuck in the state Assembly’s judiciary committee since January.
The slow-walk is something of a mystery as the #MeToo movement has gained steam and a slate of progressive women have gained power in Albany. The bill, first introduced in the fall of 2019, passed unanimously in the state Senate this past June.
For survivors, the logic of the delay appears clear: self-preservation.
“It’s reasonable to assume someone is afraid [the ASA is] going to affect someone,” said Evelyn Yang, one of 200 women who signed onto a lawsuit alleging sexual assault by former OB-GYN Robert Hadden and the wife of former mayoral candidate Andrew Yang.
“Survivors don’t deserve to be political pawns. We deserve a pathway to justice,” she added.
The 2017 reports of Hollywood producer and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual harassment and assault prompted a global reckoning with the systemic mistreatment of women — both by individual men and the institutions that protected them. People began to grapple with longtime abuses by partners, coworkers and bosses, galvanizing workers from all industry sectors — politics included — to seek justice for a range of behaviors as abhorrent as rape to daily indignities once seen as part of the job. Often, women would come forward to support the ones who came before them, as was the case with Hadden, Weinstein and, most recently, Cuomo.
The governor was among other male politicians, like former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, to position himself as a feminist ally, sharing the stage with Hillary Clinton in 2019 to push the state’s women’s agenda. The ASA would appear, then, to be a no-brainer — another bill to bolster Cuomo’s track record as a progressive leader.
“What reason could there possibly be to not bring it to a vote?” Yang said.
She, along with other advocates and survivors, tried petitioning Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes to help them push the legislation. The assemblymember was not present for a July 20 call about the bill after suggesting in an interview days earlier that women did not need the lookback period because, “I don’t know if people need to have additional time to say ‘Someone hurt me.’ If someone hurt you, say it right now.”
Yang and Marissa Hoechstetter, another Hadden survivor, accused Peoples-Stokes of blowing them off.
In a statement, Peoples-Stokes promised she would have an in-person meeting with the women present for the July 20 meeting.
“I am a supporter of survivors everywhere,” she said. “As an elected official, I support well-crafted legislation, and I believe this bill needs some amendments.” A representative for the assemblymember did not immediately clarify what those amendments should be.
“They have unspecified concerns. They can’t articulate them,” Hoechstetter said. “To me, it sounds like what they said all session.”
She added: “The ASA was stalled because of Cuomo.”
Hoechstetter, Yang, politicians and Albany staffers said the prospect of bringing the bill to the governor’s desk would be “awkward” not just for Cuomo but also for other members who have a reputation of being handsy.
“If there was a reason to pass the Adult Survivors Act, Gov. Cuomo presents an object lesson,” said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who introduced the bill with state Sen. Brad Hoylman. “Should there be any remaining hesitations, the recent revelations should make the necessity of the ASA undeniable.”
Other politicians seem dumbstruck by its lack of movement.
“I haven’t heard anything to indicate there’s some sort of correlation” between the impacts of the allegations against Cuomo and the bill’s lack of movement,” said Assemblymember Catalina Cruz. But she added, “Just because I don’t think it does, doesn’t mean there isn’t. There’s a reason why several reporters have asked me that.”
Cuomo, who was first accused of sexual harassment by former aide Lindsay Boylan in December 2020, took several aggressive steps toward addressing the allegations — none of them involving an admission of harassment or abuse.
He worked with Roberta Kaplan, a prominent lawyer who served as the chairperson for Time’s Up, to discredit one of his alleged victims. Kaplan later resigned from the group over her involvement.
Cuomo also hired lawyers to discredit and try to diminish the findings outlined in Attorney General Tish James’ bombshell report.
In a pre-recorded, 20-minute video last week, Cuomo denied those allegations, arguing his methods of showing affection had become outdated and that he had erred. The televised address showed more than a dozen photos of him greeting politicians and constituents with hugs and kisses — an effort that could create plausible deniability for voters who believe #MeToo has gone too far, or that his conduct was not of someone wielding power, but that of a clumsy 63-year-old father of three daughters.
“Nobody thinks more about Andrew Cuomo’s press strategy than Andrew Cuomo,” said Rebecca Katz, a progressive strategist. “Everyone who knew him or watched him over the years predicted he would never resign, and the only caveat in many of these predictions was when it came to impeachment: If he’s impeached, he couldn’t run again.”
Cuomo’s resignation — and questions over the Legislature’s ability or appetite to bring forward articles of impeachment — means a bill like the ASA and pending investigations could be the only methods to hold him accountable.
Hochul, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on whether she’d pass the ASA once she takes office and said she will “have more to share about her policy agenda” in the upcoming days.
“You have a responsibility to change the culture,” Hoechstetter said. “You want to be different and stand up? These are things you can do quickly.”
Anna Gronewold contributed to this report.