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The ‘famiglia’ Cuomo: When blood ties unleash an online smear campaign

The sister of the former New York governor orchestrated a crusade to discredit the women who had accused her brother of sexual harassment

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
Andrew Cuomo New York
Andrew Cuomo, when he was governor of New York, in an undated image.

For many Italians, family is everything. That’s at least true for the Italian-American family of New York’s former governor Andrew Cuomo. When the Democrat was accused by several women of sexual harassment, his brother, journalist Chris Cuomo, staked his position at CNN to come to his defense. And it has just been revealed that his sister, Madeline Cuomo, was the mastermind behind an online campaign to smear his accusers.

According to a bombshell report published Monday by The New York Times, Madeline, 59, orchestrated a campaign to discredit the women who had accused her brother of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. The report states that Madeline urged a group of women aged between 50 and 70 to attack the accusers — an image the press has quickly jumped on. Madeline reportedly told the women that her brother appreciated their hard work, although it is not clear whether he knew about the campaign. Andrew, Chris and Madeline are three of Mario Cuomo’s five children. Mario Cuomo was the governor of New York for a decade.

Andrew Cuomo resigned in August 2021 after several women accused him of sexual harassment. A report by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who is also a Democrat, revealed that Cuomo had sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, including current and former government workers, through unwanted touching and inappropriate comments. Cuomo and his aides also reportedly retaliated against at least one of them for going public with their allegations.

Following the accusations, many of the women who accused Cuomo began to be ruthlessly harassed online. The smear campaign was launched by a group called We Decide New York (WDNY), which was largely made up of women in their 50s, 60s and 70s. The group supported Cuomo due to his management of the Covid-19 pandemic, which made him a hero across the United States. In the spring of 2021, WDNY began to come to Coumo’s defense: the group believed that the governor’s successful management of the pandemic should not be tarnished by the complaints of a few workers or former collaborators.

And given the importance of the famiglia, who better than Madeline to lead the charge? More than 4,000 text messages, emails and voice notes, to which the New York newspaper has had access, show how she orchestrated the campaign. In the notes, the youngest of the Cuomo family helped the WDNY plan what to post online and coached members on what to say to the press — but always in secret, behind the scenes.

The women continued to follow Madeline’s instructions, but became uncomfortable when she suggested giving her brother’s accusers a scare. Not content with describing the accusers as “despicable,” “unsophisticated” and “bimbos,” the 59-year-old said that the accusers needed “to be frightened into shutting up right now.”

Madeline Cuomo’s aggressive tactics sparked a backlash. Far from closing ranks, they began to back down. Last September, Charlotte Bennett, a former Cuomo aide, sued the former governor over sexual harassment allegations. In response, Madeline suggested the group share an image of Bennett dancing in lingerie. But not everyone agreed with the move. “Even a slut has the right to not be sexually harassed,” wrote one member of the group.

Madeleine Cuomo, meanwhile, had developed quite a fondness for leadership. A year earlier, in the spring of 2021, she also mobilized WDNY to come out in defense of brother Chris Coumo, when he filed an arbitration demand against CNN. It didn’t amount to much: the journalist and prime-time anchor was fired from CNN for using his media sources to help his brother fight sexual misconduct charges, a flagrant violation of journalistic ethics.

Andrew Cuomo went from being hero of the pandemic to a villain in the blink of an eye — not only because of the sexual harassment allegations, but also for masking the real number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes. Today he can be seen at the occasional fundraising event, toying with the idea of a return to politics. Chris Cuomo, meanwhile, was hired by the startup cable network NewsNation. As for Madeline Cuomo, it is unknown what she does in her spare time, now that her partners have turned their backs on her. But at least she has the famiglia.

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