By Julie Roginsky
Last week, The New York Post ran a jaw-dropping newspaper headline to its millions of readers: “State Soldier’s Testimony Shows What Cuomo and His Assistant DeRosa Were Doing,” with the deputy title “They ‘Kiss’ & Cop Tells”. The two-truck broadcast was accompanied by photographs of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his senior assistant, Melissa DeRosa, appearing “comfortable” at a dinner party.
Cuomo resigned his governorship earlier this year after several women testified that he sexually harassed them. An independent investigation determined that DeRosa fostered a toxic environment for other women in state government and failed to protect her accusers. The couple’s well-documented retaliation should prevent either from working in government again.
Cuomo is the rare powerful man to suffer consequences for abusing women, in part because he failed to tie them to confidentiality provisions that prevented them from speaking the truth to power. But unproven rumors about DeRosa are normal for any woman working in politics, especially one who has risen through the ranks to sit in the room where decisions are made.
The Post based its breathless reporting on testimony from a State Police bodyguard about a second-hand rumor that Cuomo and DeRosa were “kissing on the sidewalk as if they were were high school kids “and had” heard a rumor that … she and the governor were in a hotel room by themselves for about an hour. And then one of the two left the room.
Me too. I was also in hotel rooms with powerful elected men “for about an hour”. These hotel rooms are rear rooms. They are where decisions are made and private conversations are conducted. If DeRosa had been a man, you’d expect her to be in that hotel room, if that’s where the governor was.
DeRosa’s experience is not unique. Amid the Bridgegate scandal, the taxpayer-funded Mastro report concluded that Bridget Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Chris Christie, had closed the world’s busiest bridge due to a split with her powerful ex-boyfriend . Randy Mastro portrayed Kelly, an accomplished professional woman who had spent decades climbing the ladder of state government, as an unbalanced woman despised. Mastro never questioned Kelly to produce any evidence to support his theory and never subjected the two men accused of Kelly to this kind of sexist and heartbreaking analysis.
Several years later, Murphy administration officials and their allies spread the most slanderous rumors about Katie Brennan, who bravely came forward to describe an alleged sexual assault by a member of Murphy’s campaign staff. The poison these men whispered to reporters in the background, while publicly voicing platitudes about Brennan, was nothing but gossip, just a throwaway for them, despite the reputational damage it could have done for him. cause. To the women who witnessed it, it sent a scary message: keep your head down or you could be next.
The few women who arrive in the room where the decisions are made are there in spite of, and not because of the powerful men. The trial and error, the yelling, the innuendo all exist to eliminate women who just want to work with dignity, without having to make the shadowbox into fabricated rumors. Hard work pays off with whispered implications of sexual escalation. Talking about misogyny is a cause of gaslighting.
Decades ago, I worked for a congressman with whom I traveled across the country while raising funds for the Democratic Party. A prominent politician warned him that he might reconsider having me by his side or that “people would talk.” For years, I have been grateful to the congressman for not replacing me with a man just because of the optics. But that’s not gratitude I should have felt. It should have been furious at the mere implication that my career, for which I was killing myself, could be jeopardized just because I am a young woman. The episode indelibly tattooed something else on my mind: A woman will always be subjected to this kind of slanderous gossip if she intends to climb the political ladder. After a while, we choose to endure it or quit politics. No man I have worked with has ever had to make this kind of accommodation.
DeRosa was a powerful person rightly overthrown for retaliatory behavior against those who accused his boss of misconduct, something that must happen more often if politicians and their aides are to live up to the values they claim to espouse. But the behavior of politicians, agents and tabloid journalists who reduce accomplished women to chattel shows how far we still have to go if we are to make politics more inclusive for women.
No one questions that merit is the reason men walk into the room where this is happening. Merit is how women get there, too – coupled with a determination to ignore the mud they are constantly subjected to.
Julie Roginsky is a Democratic strategist and co-founder of Lift Our Voices, a nonprofit initiative dedicated to creating positive, systemic change in the American workplace.
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