Cuomo must go: Calls grow to remove NY governor over COVID nursing home cover-up and sexual harassment

Cuomo must go: Calls grow to remove NY governor over COVID nursing home cover-up and sexual harassment
Andrew Cuomo in Sept. 2010, Pat Arnow
Fox News’ Jason Chaffetz claimed the NY Times was going easy on Andrew Cuomo — and a colleague set him straight

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls from fellow Democrats and progressive organizations to resign or be impeached over sexual harassment allegations and his cover-up of thousands of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation after three women — two former aides and a woman who met Cuomo at a friend's wedding reception — accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.

"Credible accusations of sexual harassment made by these courageous women coming forward show a clear pattern of Cuomo's abuse of power," says New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, who is calling for Cuomo's resignation. Kim also discusses a threatening phone call he says he received from Cuomo after he spoke out against the cover-up of nursing home deaths. "He personally got on the phone to threaten my career to suppress the truth," Kim says.

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls to resign or be impeached over sexual harassment allegations and his cover-up of thousands of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes. Many of the calls to resign are coming from fellow Democrats and progressive organizations, including the Working Families Party, which said Tuesday, "Andrew Cuomo's reign of fear, harassment, and intimidation cannot continue."

New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation after three women accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. In late February, a former top aide, Lindsey Boylan, accused Cuomo of kissing her during a one-on-one meeting and once suggesting they play strip poker. She described years of sexual harassment by the governor, who she claims went out of his way to touch her lower back, arms and legs. Another aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused Cuomo of making comments suggesting he wanted to sleep with her. On Sunday, a third woman, Anna Ruch, described meeting Cuomo at a friends' wedding reception in 2019. A photograph from the wedding showed Cuomo with his hands on Ruch's face as she looks visibly uncomfortable. She says he also grabbed her lower back right before that and loudly asked if he could kiss her. Cuomo has issued a statement saying his interactions may have been, quote, "insensitive or too personal" and that his actions may have been, quote, "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation," unquote.

On Tuesday, top Democrats in the New York Legislature agreed to move to strip Cuomo of emergency powers granted him during the pandemic. This comes less than a month after New York Attorney General Letitia James accused Cuomo of drastically undercounting the number of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes by as much as 50%, forcing the Cuomo administration to admit the true death toll to be nearly 15,000. The FBI and U.S. attorney in Brooklyn are now probing the cover-up. He's also being accused of secretly giving nursing homes legal immunity.

In February, Democratic New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, the chair of the Assembly's Committee on Aging, which oversees the nursing homes, revealed Cuomo called him at home and threatened him for speaking out. Kim said Cuomo threatened to, quote, "destroy me." New York Assemblyman Ron Kim is still with us.

Can you explain, first of all, that conversation and what it came out of? Talk about the nursing home scandal and why you feel it's so significant, Assemblyman Kim.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Thank you, Amy.

You know, I came forward with that governor's threatening call not because I fear being bullied, but because I fear that the governor would escape accountability. You know, that phone call is less about him being a bully and more so about the length that he would go to use his position of power to implicate lawmakers in covering up for his corruption. He wanted me to issue a statement to feed his narrative on why his administration withheld nursing home data, life-and-death information, that the delay was because a DOJ inquiry had to be satisfied before the state's questions. That is complete BS.

You know, he personally got on the phone to threaten my career to suppress the truth. He called me that night because he was desperately trying to avoid more investigations into his cover-up of nursing home information and data, you know, and his deadly decisions to transfer 9,000 COVID patients to unprepared nursing home facilities, and the fact that, as you mentioned, Amy, he gave his donors, corporate nursing home executives, an immunity from criminal prosecution at the peak of the pandemic.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Assemblyman Kim, as somebody who has known Governor Cuomo now for more than 30 years, what I heard about the story, what had happened to you, was perfectly understandable, because he has always been known as someone who is not only arrogant, but very much of a bully toward his critics. I remember numerous times as a columnist at the Daily News, after writing even a mildly critical column of the governor, suddenly getting a call from him and having to endure a tirade of profanities and yelling and screaming from him just because he didn't like a particular article. So this is perfectly part of his personality. But I'm wondering: In terms of this issue of the nursing homes, how did you first begin to understand the depth of what was happening and to begin to raise questions about this?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Thank you, Juan, for the question. I was on the ground since last year, because my constituents were reaching out to me. They couldn't get inside the nursing homes. They knew that COVID was transmitting. And they were seeing their loved ones die of agony alone. And they were seeking for desperate — they were desperate for help.

As I'm looking at what's going on, I'm reaching out to the Governor's Office. They're not responding. I'm reaching out to the Department of Health. A week goes by, a month goes by, and there's absolute no accountability and communication.

And just around that time, he issues that mandate to send thousands of COVID patients to unprepared nursing homes and issues a corporate legal shield — what I call a license to kill older adults at that time. That's when I started to push back. I introduced a repealer bill. And all of a sudden, the data disappears. It doesn't look that bad, because they delinked the information. They stopped counting the hospital deaths. And all of a sudden, New York went from number two, number three in the country to number 30 or whatever, and it no longer became a hot-button issue. And all the while, he goes out there, and he writes a book, and he publishes it around that same time, in October.

So, all these things, you know, when you look at — when you go back and connect the dots, I think the cover-up, the suppression of information, he took away our right to legislate, our right to repeal some of the toxic bills. He took away our ability to save people's lives. And for that, he needs to be held accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk a little more about the role of the Greater New York Hospital Association, this powerful industry group, and its support of the governor?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Cuomo prioritized the interests of his top corporate donors, including the hospital lobbyist, the nursing lobbyist, over saving lives. His administration admitted to deliberately withholding data. I believe he did this for two reasons: one, because it would make him look bad, and, two, to prevent the repeal of his toxic poison bill, which he bullied his way — he forced his way into, the last hour, in the budget, the 5,000-page budget, which shielded nursing home executives at the cost of people's lives. For this, again, he needs to be held accountable. Fifteen thousand families deserve justice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And it was the same legislation that was then copied by many other states around the country, and even the Republicans have been seeking immunity on a much broader scale for other companies, as well. Is that not right?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: That's right. It became — the industry released a press release immediately after it was passed by the governor, bragging that they wrote and put it in the budget. They immediately took down their press release the week after we called them out.

But, yes, they took the same language from state to state. They literally clicked copy and paste, word for word. And Mitch McConnell literally took word for word and tried to put it into the Washington stimulus package. But luckily, in Washington, there's a lot more people watching, and the public was aware, and it never made it out.

But in Albany, in the last hour, when no one was paying attention, Governor Cuomo was able to force that language into the budget, when even the chair of the Health Committee, Dick Gottfried, my good friend, didn't even know. And he reads everything. And didn't even know it got snuck in, the last minute, into the budget.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it's amazing you didn't know, Ron Kim, because you were head of the subcommittee that's in charge of the nursing homes, to show how last-minute this was. Is there a move to — I mean, there's a move to strip his executive powers, his expanded powers during COVID. Is there a move to actually just strip that bill, to take it out now, that immunity? And before we go on to the issue of sexual harassment, the number of families who trusted the system and were told that it would be safe to put their parents in nursing homes, and what exactly he demanded of these nursing homes, that hospitals — that they accept COVID patients from hospitals, and then, ultimately — explain how the cover-up of the numbers, of the number of people who died as a result of this decision.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Just around that time, when I was on the ground, the nursing homes that I was interacting with, they were screaming. You know, the workers were sick of COVID. Even the directors were out for weeks because they were sick. There were saying, "We don't have enough staff. We don't have PPE. You cannot send COVID-positives to our facilities. We're not a hospital."

But he did it, and he gave them a get-out-of-jail-free card as part of the deal. It was almost as if he normalized the duty of dying for older adults. He almost made feel like, for these nursing home residents, as if their ultimate fate was to die in these facilities. And imagine being a loved one being stuck outside, seeing this happen, and you're trying to tell the truth, and all you see when you turn the TV on is Andrew Cuomo and his brother cracking jokes on national TV. I mean, it just was one of the most demoralizing moments for my constituents going through that episode in New York.

But, yes, the suppression of data is so critical, because if we had real-time information, we would have had the data to repeal these toxic bills, to mandate — and go the other way, to mandate the for-profit — which, by the way, Amy, 65% of the industry in New York is for-profit nursing homes. We could have mandated them to spend every dollar they had to save people's lives. And if you can come back at the end of the pandemic and you show the receipts, that you spent everything that you had, you did everything, to buy PPE and hire staff, and people still died, then we can openly discuss what kind of liability protection we may provide, with the families and everyone involved, with the public's input. But that's not what had happened today — this year — last year. The legal immunity served as a disincentive for the for-profits to investing further into the staff hiring and buying PPE. It gave them an out to let people die.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there are calls for his impeachment or resignation just on this issue alone, but then there's the issue, the growing scandal, around sexual harassment. Charlotte Bennett, one of the aides who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, told The New York Times Monday, "As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences. … These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice." Bennett said Cuomo told her he was open to relationships with younger women — she's in her twenties — and complained about being lonely and being unable to hug anyone because of the pandemic. She said, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared." She shared texts that he texted her with The New York Times. That's one of the three women who have now accused him. Then, of course, there's Lindsey Boylan, his aide, in her thirties, who talked about the constant harassment — not only of Cuomo, but messages sent by his aide to her, as well. Your response? What do you want to see happen here?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I believe the women. The credible allegations of sexual harassment made by these courageous women coming forward show a clear pattern of Cuomo's abuse of power. And I believe the governor will be held accountable for sexual harassment.

This is a long pattern of toxic behavior that we all know that exists in places like Albany. And at the helm of it all is a person at the top who normalizes verbal abuse against women. Case in point, even his top aide have called some of my closest progressive young women colleagues in this Legislature "F—n' idiots," on record, in The New York Times, when they called him out for having fundraisers with the budget director in the room. These are the type of verbal abuse that he helped normalize, because at the very top, you know, he does it himself in those closed rooms. He cracks jokes. He sexually harasses. He preys on people, and he abuses his power all the time. And that's why he has an orbit of staff members that reflects his values every single day in his administration. And they all need to be held accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Assemblyman, I wanted to ask you — the Democrats have a veto-proof majority in both the New York state — in the Senate and the Assembly, but yet there are very few Democrats like yourself who are taking — daring to stand up and demand accountability from the governor. What do you think are the prospects for that to change over the next few weeks?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I think you will see changes. I think we are already seeing every day people calling for resignation, more people in our Democratic Conference. And I know that people in positions of power, they're making this about Democrats or Republicans. But I tell them that this is about the Democratic Conference and our credibility. We spent months telling Republicans in Washington to hold Trump accountable, to do the right thing, and we called them hypocrites. So, if we do not act and if we do not lead in this moment, what are we doing to our values and our credibility? Are we reciprocating their hypocrisy with our hypocrisy? So, we have —

AMY GOODMAN: Are you calling on Governor Cuomo to resign?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I have already called the governor to resign. But resignation doesn't mean accountability. He still needs to be investigated after his resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: And if he doesn't resign, will you make a move to impeach him?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I've called — I made my case, early on, to my colleagues of the moment that he tried to implicate my colleagues and the institutions in his wrongdoing. I believe that is a clear case of willful, corrupt conduct, which obligates us to pursue the impeachment procedure under the state Constitution. There's only a few of us at this point that are moving in that direction, but I believe every day, if he doesn't resign, more will join in the call for impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Kim, we want to thank you for being with us, member of the New York State Assembly representing the 40th District, co-chair — rather, chair of the Aging Committee. His recent opinion piece, we'll link to, in Newsweek, "It's Time to Impeach Andrew Cuomo."

Next up, we look at why some of the two-and-a-half million farmworkers around the country are facing an uphill battle to get vaccinated. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Out on a Limb" by Yuval Waldman. The conductor and violinist died last month at the age of 74.

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