ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Ana Liss, whose accusations against Governor Cuomo were cited in the New York Attorney General’s sexual harassment report, talked exclusively with Adam Chodak Sunday.
Liss, who is now the executive director of Monroe County Executive Development, worked for Gov. Cuomo about seven years ago and claimed Cuomo created a toxic workplace environment for women.
Her testimony was included with that of ten other women in the AG’s report that accused Cuomo of sexually harassing female staff members.
In the interview with Adam, Liss reacts to Gov. Cuomo’s decision to step down and the recent announcement that the impeachment proceedings will come to an end.
Full Interview Transcript:
Adam Chodak: Last week, the governor comes on at 11:45 am and starts talking. Did you know what was going to happen?
Ana Liss: No, I did not. I believed the governor was going to hold fast to his commitment to not stand down I assumed that, if anything was going to cause him to resign or otherwise step down it would be the impeachment proceedings getting underway so it was a surprise to me.
AC: When he did make that shift and he said he was going step aside, what was your initial reaction?
AL: I was pleasantly surprised to know that he was making that decision however having listened to his statement I didn’t hear any contrition, acknowledgment of fault. I heard victim-blaming, gaslighting, and shirking of his responsibilities as the most powerful man in the State of New York. I didn’t feel any sense of victory that the governor was stepping down. It’s a failure on the part of our state government that this took place. No one wants to see a transition take place in this manner so I don’t think it’s something worth celebrating, but I’m glad he’s moving aside and that Kathy Hochul will be able to take the reigns of state government.
AC: Do you think this will help to get the general message out about sexual harassment, workplace environment? It seems like more people are talking about it and where things stand legally now.
AL: It seems like the conversations are happening all over the state, all over the country in every environment and we’re thinking about sexual harassment differently. It’s not as explicit as grabbing a body part and saying something that’s just a black-and-white statement of desire. There’s gray area. When you brush up against a woman’s body when you comment on a woman’s sex life, relationship history when you don’t refer to a woman by her name and refer to her as a pet name. When you require women to wear high heels and skirts and look a certain way in the workplace, that’s harassment, that isn’t fair. And it makes women feel less than and it’s demoralizing and I think we’re at a flashpoint in history right now where the dialogue is shifting to a higher level.
AC: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has announced the end of impeachment proceedings. A lot of reaction to that. Your thoughts on that?
AL: I think it’s a missed opportunity for another layer of investigation and a credible entity looking at the evidence, weighing the evidence, and making a determination of faults in the matter. So I’m a little disappointed that they’re not moving forward with it, but the fact remains that the governor has stepped down. I’d like to see if the impeachment investigation isn’t going to take place, I’d like to see the governor be held accountable in some other way and it looks like at least in the case of Albany County there’s a criminal investigation underway so perhaps that will be the arena.
AC: I know you didn’t celebrate, but did you at least feel validated in some sense. You didn’t come forward with some of the allegations that others did of sexual assault. At the same, you talked about the workplace environment and things like that. Do you feel validated by this process?
AL: I feel validated. When I came forward, I received a lot of online hate and people in my own family and circle kind of indicating like, well, that wasn’t that big of a deal. Or even going so far as to say that was a stretch and I was just trying to get attention. But what I was trying to convey by coming forward was that it was a toxic workplace environment particularly for women and it was beyond the insidious nature of what was going on behind closed doors. It was much more pervasive than that and I believe that I was believed by the attorney general’s office. There was a team of highly credible investigators that were charged with listening to me, taking my evidence. I had to retain an attorney, it was a highly vetted, transparent rigorous process, and in the document, it states that I was telling the truth and that my narrative was bordering on illegal and in fact, one of the investigators quoted me at the press conference so I felt as though, yes, obviously I was telling the truth. I knew the whole way through that I was telling the truth and now there’s evidence to the fact, not just me telling my story.
AC: You did put yourself out there. You received pushback from members of your own family, the community. Do you regret doing what you’ve done?
AL: No, I don’t regret it. I thought a lot about the decision beforehand and after the fact. There were several months there where it looked like there wasn’t going to be an outcome like this and I was feeling the pressure in my work life and at home. I did pay a bit of a price in terms of my professional networks and relationships and I did scratch my head and think, was that the best decision as a woman, as a young professional who’s still trying to make my mark in the world, but at the end of the day, I wanted to fall on the right side of history. And I believe the other women because I know the other women, particularly Lindsay Boylan. I worked there and I witnessed things that were wrong and illegal and painful and toxic and gross quite frankly and this is the fourth most populous state in the country, trillions of dollars in our economy, there’s a lot on the line here, we need to hold our leaders accountable and I wanted to tell the truth and not hide in the shadows.
AC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AL: I worked there in 2013 and 2014 and for many years I felt as though I couldn’t hack it because of the environment. It seemed as though there were other folks that could survive with those expectations, that pressure, the name-calling, the sexualization, and I felt like by not wanting to remain there, that was a personal and professional failure on my part. And it’s taken me this long to finally realize that, no, it wasn’t me. It was them. It was the governor. It was that place. That’s wrong. And so now I can look back on that chapter of my career and my life through a different lens and I’m proud of the work that I did there. I did a lot of exciting things that made a positive impact and I don’t have to think I couldn’t survive because that place wasn’t for me. That place wasn’t right for anybody. And I just hope that this will usher in a new era, a new set of expectations for the executive chamber of the State of New York, the highest office in state government, this will usher in a new era for higher offices everywhere in the public sector or private sector or elsewhere. And the state government will become a safe place for women to work and I also hear good things about Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, she’s by the book. She has a good reputation as a workhorse and she treats her staff well. I’ve had positive interactions with her and I’m glad that part of the outcome here is we’re going to get the first woman as governor of New York State.