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Cuomo was on thin ice even before harassment allegations

Cuomo was on thin ice even before harassment allegations
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New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoNew Mexico governor settles with former campaign aide over claim of unwanted sexual behavior Fauci fatigue sets in as top doc sows doubt in vaccine effectiveness New Mexico governor signs marijuana legalization bill MORE (D) is struggling to hold on to his job amid rising calls for his resignation from both allies and rivals after three women publicly accused him of harassing behavior.

But even before the women came forward with their accusations, Cuomo’s support in the Democratic-dominated legislature was slipping, after a senior official confessed to top-ranking members that the administration had lied about the number of people living in nursing homes who had died of COVID-19.

In a startling call in early February, Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s most senior adviser, told legislative committee chairs that the administration had balked at turning over the nursing home data after the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) requested it. The administration, DeRosa said, feared the Trump administration would use the data to exact a political toll.

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“Basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa said, according to a partial transcript of the call released by the governor’s office.

“We said to the leaders, can we please pause on getting back to everybody until we get through this period and we know what’s what with DOJ,” DeRosa said.

Legislators had been furious about a January report issued by Attorney General Letitia James (D), which accused the administration of drastically undercounting deaths connected to nursing homes. Now, those on the phone were stunned by DeRosa’s admission.

“We shared a text asking each other, did she just admit to committing obstruction of justice?” Assemblyman Ron Kim (D) told The Hill. “It’s clear that if we did not speak up, if we did not tell the public what the administration admitted, we would be implicated in the coverup.”

Kim, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Aging, had been agitating for the nursing home data for months. Since the beginning of the pandemic washed over New York City, he had been inundated by constituents who could not see or contact their loved ones inside locked down nursing homes.

“I was on the ground with the families who were calling my office frantically saying COVID is spreading in these facilities,” Kim said. “There was rapid transmission and families were literally crying for help, like save my loved ones.”

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Kim said the lack of information hindered the legislature’s ability to do its job in overseeing nursing homes that enjoyed legal protections at the height of the outbreak.

“We could have legislated differently. We could have repealed the toxic immunity bill, we could have held the nursing homes accountable, to a higher standard,” Kim said. “For seven months they dodged our questions on why they weren’t releasing this data.”

“It was clear that his administration had no interest in being transparent,” Kim said. “They chose to listen to his top campaign donors, the hospital and nursing home executives.”

Days after the call, Kim’s phone rang. In a blistering tirade, Cuomo himself demanded Kim issue a statement covering for DeRosa. Kim said Cuomo had threatened to “destroy” him.

“He wanted to suppress the truth, and he wanted me to support his narrative about the suppression of nursing home data,” Kim said. “He made that decision to call and berate me and threaten me because he ultimately did not want any other investigations looking into the nursing home decisions.”

In a statement after Kim’s initial disclosure of the call, senior adviser Rich Azzopardi called the legislator a liar.

“At no time did anyone threaten to ‘destroy’ anyone with their ‘wrath’ nor engage in a ‘coverup.’ That’s beyond the pale and is unfortunately part of a years-long pattern of lies by Mr. Kim against this administration,” Azzopardi said. He acknowledged that Cuomo had asked Kim to issue a statement. “Mr. Kim and the governor’s office have had a long, hostile relationship.”

But in the days that followed, many legislators, journalists and activists shared their own stories of receiving angry calls from a governor who does little to cultivate friends and allies. What had been an open secret in Albany was now just open.

“Andrew Cuomo has stepped on a lot of toes and poked a lot of eyes,” Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D) told The Hill. “When he was in trouble, nobody came to his defense.”

What might have been a political headache for a governor who had otherwise become a media darling during the pandemic evolved into something far worse weeks later, when three women came forward with detailed accounts of what they called harassing behavior.

Legislators who were already mad at Cuomo were given three more reasons to call for his exit. Cuomo gave them another one when he tried to choose the person who would oversee an independent investigation into his behavior, an effort James swatted away.

In interviews with more than a dozen legislators over the past week, many expressed as much rage over the administration’s handling of nursing home data — and the extent to which the administration covered up their failings — as they were about the alleged harassment.

“This governor clearly does not want to answer to anyone. What it boils down to is he’s not willing to be a part of a coequal branch of government,” Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara (D) said in an interview in which he called for Cuomo’s resignation. “Enough is enough. We’re seeing a continued pattern of an abuse of power.”

Kim said he no longer wanted to dwell on Cuomo’s angry call, but that the governor should not be let off the hook.

“I think every day more of my colleagues are publicly calling for his resignation, but a resignation doesn’t equate to accountability,” Kim said. “His actions and his abusive behavior need to be held accountable.”