New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took aim at Gov. Andrew Cuomo over allegations that he threatened New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim during a heated phone call.
Cuomo reportedly called Kim on Feb. 11, after news broke of an alleged coverup of New York COVID-19 nursing home deaths, according to the New York Post.
In the phone call, Cuomo reportedly threatened that Kim—a fellow Democrat—”will be finished” and “destroyed,” according to the outlet.
De Blasio commented on the report in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday.
“Yeah, it’s a sad thing to say,” de Blasio said. “But that’s classic Andrew Cuomo. A lot of people in New York State have received those phone calls.”
Kim earlier criticized Cuomo after Cuomo’s secretary Melissa DeRosa admitted that his administration withheld nursing home death numbers apparently out of concern it might be politically damaging.
“As legislators, we have the duty to uncover the truth behind the nursing home deaths and the governor’s explanations do not add up,” Kim said in a statement. “While he claims he was taking time to answer the Justice Department, we saw him gallivant around on a book tour and victory lap across prime time cable shows. Again, all while his top aide deliberately hid the information in fear of political and legal consequences.”
Kim’s remarks regarding the Justice Department refer to DeRosa’s comments last week on a conference call with state legislators, during which she appeared to tell them that the Cuomo administration withheld how many nursing home residents died from COVID-19 because they feared the numbers would “be used against us” by prosecutors. At the time, the Justice Department was probing nursing home deaths in four states, including New York.
DeRosa issued a statement on Friday in which she disputed the characterization that the data had been withheld to foil federal investigators.
“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first. We informed the houses of this at the time,” DeRosa said.
“We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout. As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.”
Cuomo has said that things “should have been done differently,” telling reporters during a recent briefing that the state prioritized the federal requests over state requests.
“We have to learn from it, we have to correct it,” he added. “We were managing a pandemic. The number one priority was saving people’s lives every day.”
Allegations of a cover-up to thwart a DOJ probe have led to calls for Cuomo’s impeachment.
At a press conference Wednesday, Cuomo also accused Kim of having a vendetta against him. After the Post reported on the alleged threat against Kim, Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi accused Kim of misrepresenting parts of their conversation.
“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,” Azzopardi said. “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,” Azzopardi added. “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.”
De Blasio told MSNBC he believes Kim’s account.
“You know, the bullying is nothing new. I believe Ron Kim, and it’s very, very sad,” de Blasio said. “No public servant, no person who’s telling the truth should be treated that way. But yeah, the threats, the belittling, the demand that someone change their statement right that moment–many, many times I’ve heard that, and I know a lot of other people in this state have heard that.”
Kim has also released a statement criticizing Cuomo for issuing a controversial—and since-revoked—March 25 order that sent thousands of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes.
The March 25 directive—subsequently reversed in May—essentially prohibited nursing home operators from refusing to accept residents even if they tested positive for COVID-19.
“No resident shall be denied readmission or admission to a nursing home solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” the order said.
Under the order, if hospital staff determined residents were medically stable, nursing homes were prohibited from requiring that the patient be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission. Experts warned at the time that the order would lead to a surge in COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Cuomo’s new order, issued in May, required hospitals to keep elderly COVID-19 patients until a negative test was confirmed or move them to another state-run facility that wasn’t a nursing home.
Cuomo has repeatedly rejected links between the since-repealed policy and the thousands of nursing home deaths in the state. Last year, the Cuomo administration flatly denied the allegations.
“Admission policies to nursing homes were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities. And data suggests that nursing home quality is not a factor in mortality from COVID,” New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said.
A state Department of Health study (pdf) essentially corroborated this stance, concluding that it was infected nursing home staff that fanned the spread.
“This study highlighted a critically important fact that the overwhelming majority of hospital patients sent back into nursing homes were not only medically stable, they were no longer contagious, and that 81 percent of the nursing homes receiving COVID patients from New York’s hospitals already had the virus,” said Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health, in a release.
However, questions have been raised about the reliability and impartiality of the study, and a number of lawmakers have called for a probe.
Jack Phillips and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.