As the backlash against Andrew Cuomo’s handling of COVID nursing home fatalities grows, lawmakers who have dared to cross the New York governor are beginning to share stories of his infamous temper.
“I’ve never seen something like it,” Representative Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) told Politico. “I’ve heard about the wrath and his anger, and that was the one time where I received it personally.”
Reed was recounting a 2017 phone call in which Cuomo berated him for 45 minutes over his support for President Trump’s hallmark tax reform bill, which eliminated federal deductions for state and local taxes, a provision that disproportionately harmed high tax states like New York.
Other lawmakers who spoke to Politico also described being on the receiving end of Cuomo’s angry phone calls, often made late at night.
“Anybody who knows the Cuomo administration knows that threats are what they consider their charm,” said one former Democratic elected official.
Last week, reports broke that a top aide to Cuomo admitted that the administration covered up the true data on nursing home deaths from the coronavirus across New York state in order to hide the magnitude of the issue from federal authorities.
Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa apologized to state Democratic lawmakers during a recent video conference call, saying “we froze” out of fear that the real nursing home death numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors, the New York Post reported.
New York state Assembly member Ron Kim, a fellow Democrat, described a threatening phone call he received from an angry Governor Cuomo last week as he was giving his children baths at home.
“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 said, adding that Cuomo also told him, “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.”
Kim, a progressive representing Queens, has been vocal against Cuomo’s failure to protect nursing home residents from the virus as well as the administration’s subsequent attempt at a coverup. Kim believes that his uncle was among the nursing home residents who died from a presumed case of the coronavirus.
“No man has ever spoken to me like that in my entire life,” Kim remarked about his call with the governor. “At some point he tried to humiliate me, asking: ‘Are you a lawyer? I didn’t think so. You’re not a lawyer.’ It almost felt like in retrospect he was trying to bait me and anger me and say something inappropriate. I’m glad I didn’t.”
Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi responded to Kim’s account of the phone call in a statement, saying, “Kim’s assertion that the governor said he would ‘destroy him’ is false.”
“The Governor has three witnesses to the conversation. The operable words were to the effect of, ‘I am from Queens, too, and people still expect honor and integrity in politics,'” Azzopardi said.
But New York City mayor Bill de Blasio backed Kim’s account of the conversation during a Thursday appearance on MSNBC, explaining to viewers that Cuomo has a reputation for berating people over the phone.
“That’s classic Andrew Cuomo,” de Blasio said. “A lot of people in New York state have received those phone calls. The bullying is nothing new.”
The high number of nursing home deaths in New York since the beginning of the pandemic has dogged Cuomo for nearly a year, in particular his administration’s policy of forcing nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients after they were discharged from the hospital. Additionally, the state had been tabulating the deaths of nursing home residents who died after being transported to the hospital as hospital deaths, making it difficult to ascertain the actual number of residents who died in nursing homes. A report issued by New York Attorney General Letitia James found that the state undercounted nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent.