Montclair Councilor and Former Cuomo Director Calls For Governor to Resign, Says Workplace Was ‘Toxic For Women’

Montclair, N.J. – Montclair Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis, a former director under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined others in calling for the New York governor to resign in the wake of sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo has denied the allegations, most recently on Friday.

Yacobellis, who served from 2011 to 2014 as the governor’s deputy director of administrative services, told the New York Times he “often heard inappropriate jokes about the type of women the governor liked to hire” and added there was no significant training on sexual harassment during that time period.

“Training could have been the antidote to curing what was clearly a toxic environment for many women in the governor’s office,” Yacobellis told the Times.

Montclair Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis worked for the New York Governor’s Office from 2011-2014.

Yacobellis, who praised Cuomo’s leadership in an opinion piece last April, shared his own take Friday on the controversy surrounding Cuomo, explaining how he made the decision both to help The New York Times with their investigation and to go on the record.

Yacobellis writes:

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been paying close attention to the controversies surrounding Governor Cuomo. In that time, I made the decisions both to help The New York Times with their investigation and to go on the record. I did so with some fear, but ultimately decided that if these women could do it, so could I. To me, principles only mean something if you stick to them when it’s inconvenient.

I spent several years as Governor Cuomo’s Deputy Director of Administrative Services with primary oversight of his New York City office (the Executive Chamber). I wore many hats in that role, including onboarding new political appointees within the Executive Chamber and running our internship program. As I’ve been reading the stories from several female political appointees, what has come to mind for me is what I believe is a significant opportunity to alter the political workplace climate going forward.

Following my time with New York State, I became Chief of Staff to the head of Learning and Leadership Development for American Express. Among our team’s broad remit was the development and deployment of sexual harassment training to over 100,000 employees and contractors globally, each year with the standards and content always improving. At many times I’ve thought back to my time a decade ago in the Executive Chamber with both curiosity for why such training wasn’t commonplace for political appointees and some regret for not having pushed harder for it in my tenure. It simply wasn’t and still in many places isn’t the norm in those types of work environments.

But, in recent years since the Me Too movement took off, we’ve seen changes such as Congress updating their sexual harassment prevention efforts and recently Governor Murphy in New Jersey has mandated sexual harassment training for all of his campaign staff. I believe that trend must continue until all political appointees and campaign workers have the same opportunity. My condition for going on the record was that the article would discuss this. I’m glad that it did. My hope is that it would spark a broader dialogue about what I consider to be a significant opportunity to improve workplace culture for women in America, particularly in the public sector and in politics.

Governor Cuomo in many ways has been a political hero to me. I worked with him to get marriage equality passed in New York at a time when things looked shaky for its prospects nationally. I was at his side in the endless days and weeks following Superstorm Sandy as I ran logistics for our command center. One of the interns I hired went on to author the most significant gun control legislation in America and the Governor’s ‘get things done’ approach made me believe in the power and possibility of government. America saw this Governor Cuomo in his leadership and communication style so visible during the early days of COVID-19 — leadership that I praised.

But, as I have called out former President Trump and others for their behavior, I must do so too even when it’s someone who I both worked for and aligned with politically. The breadth and depth of trauma for women in his orbit over the years is unacceptable as it was for those around President Trump and many other powerful men before them. And I stand with those women. This isn’t about cancel-culture. This is about whether someone is fit to be an employer.

I believe it is time for Governor Cuomo to resign. For those who say he should be deemed innocent until proven guilty, I say that’s the standard for a courtroom, not for an employer with thousands of employees.

I also believe all elected officials and candidates for office must see to it that their offices and campaigns have both sexual harassment policies and sexual harassment training for workers. Let that be the new standard.

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  1. Councilor,

    You were given a soap box as part of your Township Council position. I’m glad to see you use it for regional and national issues. By law, your position gives you no special status. The same way your position gives you no special status on the Montclair Public School District. Your choice today was not a wrong choice. In fact, kudos to you. My question is what will be your choice tomorrow?

  2. Wow…just wow. Perhaps Mr. Yacobellis should examine how fit he is to hold political office. “The men who hold high places must be the ones who start.” (Neil Peart)

  3. *sigh*
    Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Do I care what a volunteer local
    Politician thinks? No more than I care what anyone thinks that wasn’t there. Can we ever let an investigation play out anymore? Or is the public the judge and jury? Al Franken.

  4. I didn’t read the Councilor’s comments that way.
    I read his comments as a part of a calculated, no-brainer rehabilitation of an obsolete political narrative Mr. Yacobellis was using. It wasn’t personal; it was a political covering of the bases. Of course, his closing paragraphs resembled a transcript of a legal justification distress call.

  5. The New York Times writers of the piece made no mention of his April 2020 statement. OK, the editor ranks are in turmoil (have for some time now) so forget the oversight role. Overall, it does get more of its product balanced than not. I can’t say it meets a high standard, and is going the wrong way. Mostly their problem. But, they almost never get it close to right when they write about Montclair. Isn’t there a journalist’s rule like Mr Placek’s developer’s rule, ‘don’t do it where you sleep’?

  6. If Mr. Yacobellis knew of Cuomo’s sexist and harassment climate while there as he seems to say in the Times story — why not do something about it or speak out more at the time. Or resign. Especially since he was responsible for personnel matters he asserts. Instead he even complemented Cuomo him last year for Covid actions. Isn’t this a bit of kicking the body when down. When it’s safe and buys you new publicity?”

  7. Please get to work, Mr. Yacobellis. More work and less talk might be a better strategy for you, and would certainly be of more benefit to the people of Montclair. Otherwise folks might discover over time that the emperor has no clothes.

  8. The man is speaking out against sexism and sexist behavior toward women in the workplace. One would think, by any reasonable standard, a good thing. You people!

  9. silverleaf,

    The man’s professional speciality is ensuring equal opportunity workplaces. This is what he does for a living. The Councilor gig is part-time, unpaid. We elected him, in part because of his 10 years experience in his profession and his standards. He worked the first 4 years for Cuomo. Hence, direct knowledge. Next, worked for AMEX 6 years. Hence, enlightenment.

    Ten short, compact years. At which point he, after his own Age of Enlightenment, gives props to the behind the curtain hostile workplace and regular sexual harassment…of a great leader. He said this last year as part of getting himself elected.

    I do see things a little different. I was watching the BBC New yesterday morning. They did a segment on Australian song birds risking extinction because the female songbirds – in their prime reproductive years – were rebuffing the louts who couldn’t sing worth a damn. Rather than lower their standards and mate with them to save the species, the females chose to risk extinction and seek out a more appropriate chap. The humorous part? The Australian group running the study was….

    The Difficult Bird Research Group!!!

    I’m not making this up. It would help to be familiar with The Empire’s popular slang term – bird. Of course, the BBC producers clearly missed this.

  10. There is a big difference between courage when speaking out and piling on the loser after the fact. As someone who has spent some time on a farm I witnessed a lot of the latter behavior….around the chicken coop.

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