Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came to Buffalo and Lackawanna to pass out Christmas toys to kids Saturday, but he spent just as much time leaving no doubt where he stands on the issue of the day – whether Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak should resign if the sexual-harassment allegations against him are true.
In no uncertain terms, Cuomo repeatedly said the Cheektowaga Democrat should step down if the accusations are accurate.
Meanwhile, Buffalo attorney Terrence M. Connors, who is representing Gabryszak, said he has advised the assemblyman not to issue any statements in the matter.
“These are allegations – and I emphasize allegations,” Connors said. “Because these allegations may be the subject of a lawsuit, if they intend to go forward, I have instructed Assembly member Gabryszak that he cannot respond specifically to the allegations, but we will deal with them in the course of litigation.”
In fact, Cuomo said at least seven times either that Gabryszak should resign or that there’s no place in Albany for someone who has done what he’s accused of doing.
Cuomo, a lawyer and a former state attorney general, stressed that the sexual-harassment claims against Gabryszak are just allegations and need to be investigated fully.
“If it’s true, I think he should resign,” the governor quickly added. “It’s up to him, but my opinion is he should resign.”
Three former female aides to Gabryszak have claimed, in court papers, that the assemblyman engaged in a regular pattern of sexual harassment, citing dozens of allegedly inappropriate acts.
“On the Legislature’s behalf, on my behalf, that behavior has no place in state government, period, if those allegations are true,” Cuomo said. And such actions, if true, hurt the entire legislative body, he added.
Answering questions from the media after a pair of toy-donation stops in Lackawanna and Buffalo, Cuomo was prepared for the only agenda item from reporters.
“Obviously, the allegations are startling, and they’re troubling,” he said. “If they turn out to be true, I don’t think that person has any place in public service.”
Reporters peppered Cuomo with questions about the seemingly large number of such improprieties in state government and other government circles.
Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, standing with her fellow Democrat, said the culture in America often is degrading to women, especially from men in power. But that’s not just in Albany or New York State, she added.
People do silly, venal, unethical, stupid and self-destructive things, the governor noted, suggesting that was true in Albany and everywhere else.
“Do I ever believe people will stop doing stupid things?” he asked rhetorically. “No.”
But that doesn’t mean such behavior should be accepted, especially for people in public service.
“I like to believe that we hold elected officials to a higher standard,” Cuomo added. “We will not tolerate that behavior, if true.”
Cuomo also was asked about criticism leveled at him by New York GOP Chairman Edward F. Cox, who took Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to task Friday for what he called the Democrats’ “culture of corruption.”
“They’re just playing politics,” Cuomo replied. “This is too important an issue to play politics with.”
While Cuomo spent at least 10 minutes patiently fielding questions on Gabryszak, he clearly enjoyed the role he played as Santa Claus.
Together with the New York National Guard, several local elected officials and volunteers, Cuomo delivered a total of 350 toys and 250 coats to the Second Baptist Church in Lackawanna and the Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence in Buffalo. Earlier this month, the governor launched a statewide drive to collect toys, coats and school supplies from businesses and individuals.
Cuomo walked into the Lackawanna church carrying a large Crayola Play 'N Fold Art Studio toy. Dressed casually in a striped button-down shirt, open collar and zipped governor’s jacket, he shook hands with a large group of religious, civic and political leaders, before one man delivered another message:
“I’m a nobody, so I’m glad to see you,” the man said.
The state’s top elected official then asked 7-year-old Anthony Woods, of Buffalo, whether he was naughty or nice this year.
The boy shrugged.
“I’m afraid I was a little naughty this year, so I don’t know what I’m going to get,” Cuomo countered, “especially if the Legislature has anything to do with it.”