I come from a family with a loud, overly-affectionate Italian patriarch, so it was my grandfather who I immediately thought of on Tuesday when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to a state attorney general's report on accusations of sexual harassment with a slideshow of him kissing and holding the faces of acquaintances and strangers.
"I do it with everyone," Cuomo insisted, a justification that some joked was akin to blaming the fact that he's Italian. "I now understand that there are generational, or cultural perspectives that frankly I had not fully appreciated," he went on. "And I have learned from this."
But Cuomo's slideshow was a smokescreen, and the fact that it reminded me of my grandfather meant it was a somewhat effective one at that. Because Cuomo's attempt to draw comparisons to, say, a slightly off-color but harmless older relative is only a distraction from the disturbing substance of the attorney general's findings.
After all, by no stretch of the imagination is it a mere difference of "generational or cultural perspectives" that makes a person think it's okay to kiss an executive assistant on the lips, "[grab] her buttocks during hugs, [ask] multiple times about whether she had cheated or would cheat on her husband, and once [reach] under her blouse and [grab] her breast," as one staff member graphically claimed Cuomo did.
Nor does the mere fact of being Italian predispose one to a "pattern of inappropriate conduct" with their staff, including a state trooper who accused Cuomo of running "his hand across her stomach, from her belly button to her right hip" when she opened a door for him. He even made sexually suggestive jokes to the doctor doing his COVID-19 nasal swab.
The fact that the photo montage made seemingly well-intentioned, familiarly European gestures the focal point of conversation on Tuesday lets the governor off the hook for his even bigger, more threatening actions. The montage still definitely makes him look like a creep, don't get me wrong — but it doesn't make him look, necessarily, like a predator. And that's a win for him.
Cuomo's bizarre photo montage was just that: weird and wacky enough to dominate the day's headlines, the online jokes, and the conversations and text messages, but also recognizable. It shouldn't be, nor should the familiarity now of men exploiting their positions of power to harass women who are just trying to do their jobs. With his photos and grandfatherly defense, Cuomo is trying to distract you. Don't let him.