ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - According to CNN, Governor Cuomo reportedly threatened a state lawmaker’s career for criticizing the governor’s handling of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat who represents Queens, claims Cuomo called him on his cell phone last week.
“Gov. Cuomo called me directly on Thursday to threaten my career if I did not cover up for Melissa [DeRosa] and what she said. He tried to pressure me to issue a statement, and it was a very traumatizing experience,” Kim told CNN.
Cuomo proceeded to tell the assemblyman that “we’re in this business together and we don’t cross certain lines and he said I hadn’t seen his wrath and that he can destroy me,” according to Kim.
DeRosa is a top aide to the governor who told Democratic lawmakers that the state had delayed sharing full COVID-related death toll data from nursing homes with the Legislature because of concerns about a potential federal investigation by the Department of Justice.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Rich Azzopardi, senior advisor to Cuomo, said Kim “is lying” about his conversation with Governor Cuomo.
“Over the last six days he has baselessly accused this administration of pay to play and obstruction of justice. These continued falsehoods are why the Governor chose to speak out today. We will not allow an unscrupulous politician to deceive New Yorkers or distort the truth,” Azzopardi said in his statement.
Last week, the state released data saying more than 15,000 residents of nursing homes and related facilities in New York died of COVID-19.
The number was far higher than the 9,000 deaths the Cuomo administration was originally reporting.
According to CNN, a Cuomo adviser denied that the governor threatened to destroy Kim.
It was reported earlier Wednesday that Assemblyman Kim and state Senator Alessandra Biaggi are introducing a bill to repeal the governor’s emergency powers, which the Legislature approved at the start of the pandemic.
A host of state Republicans, including Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, are on board with that.
“We’ve been working for a long time to remove the governor’s authority here and the abuse thereof. So, it’s nice to have it be a bipartisan effort now,” said Walczyk (R. - 116th District).
Kim is also one of 9 Democrats in the Assembly saying Cuomo broke federal law when his administration withheld data of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19. They’re calling it an obstruction of justice.
In a conference call Wednesday, Cuomo defended himself against the charge.
“I obstructed justice, says Assemblyman Kim and several other legislators. That’s a lie,” said the governor.
Cuomo has taken responsibility for not releasing the data sooner. He has said his office was responding first to a federal department of justice inquiry.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R. - 117th District) says a full investigation into the governor’s actions is needed.
“There’s enough information there that we should have someone investigating what the causes are. Is it criminal isn’t it criminal, I’m not sure about that,” he said.
(Full text of Azzopardi statement)
“Mr. Kim is lying about his conversation with Governor Cuomo Thursday night. I know because I was one of three other people in the room when the phone call occurred. 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. We did ask for Mr. Kim to do the honorable thing and put out a truthful statement after he told the Governor he was misquoted in a news article, which he said he tried to correct but the reporter refused. Kim said he would correct the story and then broke his word. No surprise. Instead over the last six days he has baselessly accused this administration of pay to play and obstruction of justice. These continued falsehoods are why the Governor chose to speak out today. We will not allow an unscrupulous politician to deceive New Yorkers or distort the truth. Mr. Kim’s current statements do not even align with the comments he made at the meeting (see below). He is without credibility as his own words demonstrate. Lies have caused families grieving from COVID enough pain. We understand it is our obligation to correct misstatements so families understand the true facts during COVID.
“Mr. Kim and the Governor’s office have had a long, hostile relationship. The animosity initiated when Mr. Kim supported a bill protecting nail salon workers only to do a 180 degree reversal after he received significant funding from the owners of the nail salons. He was criticized by good government groups at the time and the Governor’s office called his actions into question. Mr. Kim continues to receive funding from nail salon owners and continues his attempts to remove the protections for nail salon workers. It is an ongoing unethical situation with Kim receiving funding from owners attempting to stop our efforts to protect victimized nail salon workers. We believe Kim’s continuing pay-to-play actions are at a minimum unethical and when and if investigated will prove to be illegal. To be clear, neither the Governor nor his aides threatened any legislators and in fact, the meeting in questions was considered positive by those who attended. It is the distortions of the meeting by those with different agendas that we object to.
“On the merits Mr. Kim and the NY Post and republicans argue that the state’s March 25th order on nursing homes was bad policy. What they fail to mention is the state was following federal policy and if the Post and republicans want to play a political blame game, they should blame Donald Trump and they should have blamed Donald Trump’s since last March 25th when they promulgated the guidance. We will stick to the facts.
“Dr. Zucker does not believe the March 25th order was wrong. Even with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, health experts do not believe it was wrong. We believe it saved lives and the facts demonstrate that. If, with the advantage of hindsight, we concluded the March 25th order was wrong, Commissioner Howard Zucker would admit that and we would take action against the federal government for malpractice in issuing flawed guidance. COVID was already in the nursing homes by the time March 25th arrived. That is a proven fact. Hospital beds were critical. And that is a proven fact. People needed hospital beds with ventilators and critical care nursing staff to save their lives. We provided that. Unlike other states and countries our hospital system was not overwhelmed and we went from the highest infect rate to the lowest and saved lives. That is the irrefutable truth.
“We do agree that we did not provide enough public information quickly enough which created a void for conspiracy theories to flourish. We accept responsibility for creating the void and in a perfect world, the conspiracy theorists would accept responsibility also. In a more perfect world the conspiracy theorists would stop playing politics and negatively effecting the grieving families who lost loved ones in nursing homes. Obviously in this toxic political environment, it is not a perfect world.”