Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) allegedly used a legislative leader as a go-between to try to silence a lawmaker who is one of his principal critics in the state’s nursing home scandal, thereby raising separation of powers issues.
State Assemblyman Ron Kim claims that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, through an aide, relayed a message purportedly from the New York governor containing language that Kim should employ to water down his criticism of Cuomo.
Kim was the first Democrat to call for Cuomo’s impeachment following the revelation that a Cuomo staffer admitted in a February 2021 meeting with top Democrat officials that, for political reasons, Cuomo’s administration withheld information on nursing home deaths from the federal government.
Cuomo was reportedly upset that Kim told the New York Post that Cuomo may have been “trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence that might put the administration or the [Health Department] in further trouble with the Department of Justice.”
To correct the record, as Cuomo perceived it, the governor allegedly wanted Kim to release a statement to the effect that the Post took his remarks out of context and to blame the whole thing on President Donald Trump.
“Administration officials at the meeting contended the Trump administration had initiated a politically motived effort to blame democratic states for COVID deaths and that the State received a document request from the Department of Justice which had to be fulfilled on a priority basis and therefore state legislative responses were delayed,” the proposed statement allegedly read, in part.
A “stunned” Kim refused to play ball, however, because he concluded to do so would make him “complicit” in the coverup, he told the Post.
At one point, Cuomo allegedly called Kim personally and threatened to “destroy” him.
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An official with watchdog group Common Cause chided Heastie for falling short of his ethical responsibilities. “There’s no excuse for the Speaker’s office colluding with the [governor’s office] to clean up its mess. The Legislature is a co-equal branch of government, not a laundering service for the Governor.”
Politics ordinarily comes with a lot of rhetorical dodging and weaving, subtext, and indirect communication. A Heastie spokesman insisted, however, that “At no point did we suggest or encourage any member to say or do anything, period!” Cuomo’s team has acknowledged that they reached out to Kim through Heastie’s office, but that was just standard operating procedure.
Speaker Heastie is also under fire for inadequately funding the preliminary legislative Cuomo impeachment probe; the governor is in hot water for both the nursing home scandal and numerous sexual harassment allegations. Separate investigations are also ongoing.
Amidst the virus outbreak, Cuomo made the disastrous decision to send COVID-positive patients into nursing homes. According to a report released in January by the state’s attorney general, the Cuomo administration may have underreported the COVID-related nursing home death toll by more than 50 percent.
During the pandemic, Cuomo nonetheless took numerous victory laps in the media and even published a book touting his stellar leadership during the crisis
Cuomo has refused to step down and has not announced yet whether he will seek reelection. Democrats control all the levers of power in the state, so it remains to be seen if the governor will actually be held accountable or if the investigations, in the end, will merely constitute just going through the motions.
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