Gov. Andrew Cuomo forcefully hit back at critics of his nursing home policies on Wednesday, accusing a Democratic lawmaker and persistent antagonist of engaging in unethical behavior.
The governor has faced enhanced scrutiny in recent days following reports that a top aide told lawmakers in a private call that the governor’s office "froze" when asked to deliver long-awaited data on nursing home deaths. And while Cuomo has been quick to defend the delay — citing a federal Department of Justice request for the information — as well as his administration’s overall handling of Covid-19 in long-term care facilities, legislators from both parties have been sharply critical of the governor.
That tension came to a head during a call with reporters on Wednesday when Cuomo took a swipe at Assemblymember Ron Kim of Queens.
“I have been open and candid when I have disagreements with someone politically, and ongoing disagreements with elected officials in the past — Mr. Trump, among others — and I’ve been very honest about them. I’ve had, well, my office more than me, has had a long and hostile relationship with Assemblyman Ron Kim,” he said, referring to a public split over a 2015 bill to protect nail salon workers from labor abuses. Kim supported the legislation but later turned against it as opponents began organizing and donating money to his campaign.
Kim, who chairs the Assembly’s Aging Committee, called the governor’s accusations a “distraction.”
The rare public callout, which Cuomo has usually reserved for Republican detractors (or saved for private late-night phone calls), appeared to catch many Albany observers by surprise. And it marked a new chapter in Cuomo’s public defense of his administration’s nursing home response.
The governor took issue with comments Kim made to the New York Post, which reported on the private call between administration officials and lawmakers regarding nursing homes. The Post subsequently reported on Tuesday that Kim and other Democratic Assembly members accused Cuomo of obstruction of justice in a letter seeking support to strip him of Covid-19 emergency powers.
Cuomo rejected that accusation. Instead, he argued that Kim — one of many lawmakers to speak out against the state’s nursing home-related policies, including immunity granted to health care providers — should be the one under scrutiny from the press.
“There’s a context with Assemblyman Kim, which has been written about in the papers, but I didn’t see anybody mention the context today, on the nail salon bill,” the governor said. “It was the subject of a major [New York] Times expose, and the upshot of it was he was influenced by campaign money and pay-to-play. Ironically, the same thing he accused me of today. … Isn’t that a coincidence? That’s why I point it out.”
Kim, in a statement issued shortly after Cuomo’s call with reporters, accused the governor of “underreporting nursing home deaths and withholding information about the situation to federal and state officials; a move that benefited the same healthcare donors that helped his campaign over the years.” He added that “the governor can personally attack me all he wants in an effort to distract us from his incompetent management.”
“We are talking about 15,000 nursing home deaths and his efforts to cover it up, and he’s talking about nail salons,” he told POLITICO. “What’s wrong with him?”
Kim did not respond to requests for comment about reports of a recent phone conversation in which the governor advised Kim to issue a statement clarifying his remarks about the initial New York Post report. Kim told various news outlets that Cuomo threatened his career and tried to pressure him to issue a statement.
A source confirmed the contents of the call to POLITICO. But Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, vigorously denied Kim’s account of the call. "Mr. Kim is lying about his conversation with Governor Cuomo Thursday night," he said. "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."
Senate Republican Minority Leader Rob Ortt said Cuomo’s most recent comments highlighted the need to rein in the governor’s emergency powers.
“We… must provide extensive oversight, and we must stand together to demand he and his administration be investigated and held accountable by state and federal authorities,” he said in a statement. “We will not be intimidated by this governor. Enough is enough.”
Cuomo has declined to apologize for his administration’s decision to let Covid-19 patients into nursing homes. But he told reporters Monday that he was sorry his administration did not prioritize the release of complete information about the spread of Covid-19 in nursing facilities, offering that the inaction created a “void” of accurate information that was filled by political opponents.
Anna Gronewold contributed to this report.