ALBANY, N.Y. — A former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo published a lengthy essay on Wednesday morning accusing the governor of sexual harassment and outlining several unsettling episodes, including an unsolicited kiss in his Manhattan office.
The aide, Lindsey Boylan, described several years of uncomfortable interactions with Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, including an invitation to play strip poker on a government airplane and an email from another top aide suggesting that the governor thought she was a “better looking sister” of another woman.
Ms. Boylan, who worked for the state’s economic development agency at the time, published that email from December 2016, and said the governor began calling her the other woman’s name in professional settings, an experience she described as “degrading.”
Mr. Cuomo’s administration, already reeling from a controversy over his handling of nursing homes, denied Ms. Boylan’s accusations.
“Ms. Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false,” said Caitlin Girouard, the governor’s press secretary.
Ms. Boylan, who is running for Manhattan borough president, first publicly accused the governor of sexual harassment in December, in a series of remarks on Twitter. At the time, Ms. Boylan did not speak to the media, offer details of the alleged harassment or provide corroboration.
On Wednesday, however, Ms. Boylan wrote that she had told her husband and mother of her concerns about the governor. She also offered new details, including describing an incident in 2018 when she said that she and Mr. Cuomo were alone in his Manhattan office.
“As I got up to leave and walk toward an open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips,” Ms. Boylan wrote. “I was in shock, but I kept walking.”
Mr. Cuomo and Ms. Boylan met one-on-one at least four times in 2018, according to the governor’s public schedule database. Three of those meetings took place in the State Capitol; one, on the afternoon of July 19, happened in Mr. Cuomo’s office in Midtown.
Ms. Boylan wrote that in her early days working for the Cuomo administration, her boss at Empire State Development had once told her that “the governor had a ‘crush’ on me.” She added that Mr. Cuomo had gone “out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.”
“His senior staff began keeping tabs on my whereabouts,” she wrote, publishing an email from 2016, in which a top aide to Mr. Cuomo asked Ms. Boylan’s boss if she was going to be attending an event.
The attention from the governor also included a private invitation to his office in late 2016, Ms. Boylan said, when she says he showed her a cigar box Mr. Cuomo said he received from President Bill Clinton when he served in his administration, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
“The two-decade-old reference to President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was not lost on me,” she said.
In October 2017, Ms. Boylan wrote, the governor joked that they should play strip poker while on a flight back from an event in Western New York. The two were in close quarters, sitting across from one another on the plane, with a press aide and a state trooper sitting nearby.
Ms. Boylan said she replied: “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” in a sarcastic manner.
“I tried to play it cool,” she wrote in the essay, which was published on Medium. “But in that moment, I realized just how acquiescent I had become.”
On Wednesday, the governor’s office disputed her account, releasing a statement from four current and former administration officials who were aboard one or more of the four flights in October 2017 — including three from Western New York — where Ms. Boylan had accompanied the governor.
“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” said the statement, signed by John Maggiore, Howard Zemsky, Dani Lever and Abbey Fashouer Collins.
Beyond the flight, the governor’s office addressed few other specific details of Ms. Boylan’s account.
Mr. Cuomo, whose only public appearance on Wednesday took place hours before Ms. Boylan’s essay was published, did not directly address the new allegations. But in December, when Ms. Boylan first went public, the governor vehemently denied the accusations.
“Look, I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has,” Mr. Cuomo said during a news conference last year. “But it’s just not true.”
On Wednesday, The New York Times spoke to three people who worked in the governor’s office during Ms. Boylan’s time there. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while they could not corroborate her allegations, they concurred that the governor would sometimes make inappropriate remarks during work and comment on people’s appearances.
Early Wednesday evening, the governor’s office facilitated a statement to The Times from Ashley Cotton, a former aide to Mr. Cuomo when he was state attorney general, a position he left in 2010.
“I’ve known and spent over 20 years working with Andrew Cuomo — he is the same person in private as he is in public,” Ms. Cotton said. “He can be funny, he can make lousy jokes, he can be tough and direct. But I have never known him to cross the line.”
The senior aide to Mr. Cuomo, Stephanie Benton, who wrote to Ms. Boylan about a “better looking sister,” said in a statement late Wednesday that it was her attempt at banter, not the governor’s.
On Wednesday, leaders of the Democrat-controlled Legislature called the allegations disturbing, as Republicans called for additional investigations and even the governor’s resignation. State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader of Albany’s upper chamber, said, “Clearly, there is no place for this type of behavior in the workplace or anywhere else.”
Ms. Boylan’s allegations come as Mr. Cuomo faces one of the most turbulent moments of his decade-long tenure.
The governor came under fire this month after his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, disclosed in a private meeting with state lawmakers that the administration had withheld data on the full extent of deaths of nursing home residents during the pandemic.
The revelation immediately roiled his administration, leading federal prosecutors to open an investigation and state lawmakers to consider stripping Mr. Cuomo of his pandemic emergency powers.
The governor’s conduct has also faced renewed scrutiny after Ron Kim, a Queens assemblyman, said Mr. Cuomo had threatened to “destroy” him in a phone call after Mr. Kim publicly criticized his administration’s handling of the nursing home controversy. The governor’s office called Mr. Kim a liar, while Mr. Cuomo went on to publicly attack Mr. Kim during one of his coronavirus briefings.
On Monday, The Times reported on the governor’s longstanding tendency toward aggression and instances in which he has berated aides, bullied elected officials and threatened political opponents over the years. Some former staffers described the governor’s office as a toxic workplace and Mr. Cuomo, 63, as a demanding and controlling boss who governs by fear and retribution. In December, Ms. Boylan had herself called working for Mr. Cuomo the “most toxic team environment” of her career.
Unlike previous crises that Mr. Cuomo has weathered — from the conviction of close associates to his abrupt disbandment of a commission investigating public corruption — the nursing home scandal and reports of his private behavior have begun to spread beyond Albany’s political confines.
Ms. Boylan joined the Cuomo administration as a top aide at Empire State Development in 2015 before taking a job as a special adviser to the governor in 2018, something she said she did with a precondition that she would keep her old office and “remain on a separate floor from him and his inner circle.”
After the unwanted kiss, Ms. Boylan said her “fears worsened,” and her work relationships with female members of his senior team “grew hostile.”
“I was reprimanded and told to get in line by his top aides, but I could no longer ignore it,” she wrote.
Ms. Boylan, 36, left the administration in late 2018. She did not return several requests for comment via phone or text.
Last year, she launched a bid to unseat Representative Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, but lost by a wide margin in the Democratic primary. Ms. Boylan has focused her campaign for Manhattan borough president, where she has been one of the lower-profile candidates, on the need to create affordable housing and speed up the city’s economic recovery.
“Telling my truth isn’t about seeking revenge. I was proud to work in the Cuomo administration. For so long I had looked up to the governor,” she wrote. “But his abusive behavior needs to stop.”
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.