In an email to staff, Sheila Poole said she’s “appalled and angry”
Far from the adulation he received during his daily pandemic briefings last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now finds himself with precious few defenders, following the release this week of a damning report by the Attorney General’s office that the Democratic governor sexually harassed 11 women.
Now, with impeachment hearings looming, even officials in his own administration are speaking out. On Thursday, in a rare move for a government official, Commissioner Sheila Poole of the Office of Children and Family Services emailed a statement to her staff condemning Cuomo’s actions — though she stopped short of calling for him to step down.
“Having read the report, I am appalled and angry,” the commissioner wrote to state employees who work in juvenile justice, child welfare and child care. “The humiliation and trauma articulated by these women, and the excruciating detail provided as evidence to investigators, illuminates the deep and powerful harm perpetuated not only by the governor, but by others who in other ways ignored, minimized or worse yet, took deliberate action to diminish the credibility of the victims.”
The strongly-worded statement was Poole’s first known public critique of the governor since several former staffers came forward in February to accuse him of a pattern of inappropriate touching and sexual comments in the workplace. In her report released Tuesday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James found the governor had engaged in “unwanted” touching of women around him, including “numerous offensive and sexually suggestive comments.” James also found that the governor’s executive chamber engaged in intimidation and retaliation against those who could reveal the sexual harassment of the women — members of the public, the governor’s staff, state employees and a trooper on Cuomo’s protective detail.
Gov. Cuomo appointed Poole as the acting head of the multibillion-dollar state child welfare agency at the end of his first term in 2014, and elevated her as the commissioner five years later. She has worked for the state agency since 2007, and previously served as commissioner of the Albany County Department for Children, Youth and Families.
This week Poole joined a growing list of high-profile politicians expressing support for the women who had been harassed and condemning the governor’s actions. Members of Cuomo’s own party have also been among his loudest critics. In recent days, public calls for his resignation have come from the top — President Joe Biden — as well as almost all of New York’s Democratic state senators, the majority of its Assembly members, and both of its U.S. senators.
Pressure continued mounting Thursday. Leaders of several large labor unions, including New York City’s largest municipal union, also called for Cuomo’s resignation.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the harassment perpetuated by Governor Cuomo. It is evident he is no longer fit to serve,” wrote District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido on Twitter, in a joint statement with the leader of the Council’s chapter representing city child welfare and juvenile justice employees. “The Governor must resign. If he does not, the Assembly must begin the process to impeach.”
There was no public comment from the Public Employees Federation, which represents 54,000 workers across the state, including some workers in detention facilities for sentenced youth, which are operated by Poole’s agency.
If Gov. Cuomo were to be impeached, resign or be removed from office through the impeachment process, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D). Hochul was spotted taking the subway to speak at an event in Harlem on Wednesday evening, after rescheduling an event in Brooklyn where she had planned to promote the recent allocation of $1.1 billion for child care centers. Her hat read “Fight like a girl.”
Despite the political maelstrom rocking the state executive, Commissioner Poole urged her staff to remain focused on their work of ensuring the safety and well-being of New York’s children.
“The coming days will be difficult, with many reasons for us to be distracted from what brings us to serve the public and endeavor to fulfill our mission here at OCFS,” Poole wrote. “We have youth in facilities to care for, State Central Registry hotline calls to be answered, contracts to process, major initiatives to implement and many organizations and stakeholders counting on us to deliver.”