Last week, as progressive New York assemblyman Ron Kim was taking care of his children at home on Thursday evening, he got a phone call from an irate Gov. Andrew Cuomo, he says. Cuomo yelled at him for 10 minutes, Kim recalled, and threatened Kim’s career. Cuomo was reportedly upset over Kim’s vocal criticism of his handling of nursing homes in the state amid COVID.
Cuomo wasted no time when Kim picked up the phone, the Queens assemblyman told The New York Times. “Are you an honorable man?” Cuomo began. He said that, if Kim didn’t retract certain statements criticizing the governor, he would ruin his career. After the call, Kim’s wife told CNN, Kim said “The governor threatened to destroy my life.”
Earlier that day, the New York Post issued a damning report in which Cuomo’s top aide admitted that his administration purposefully hid COVID nursing home data last year out of fear of criticism. Kim has been critical of Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic before and was quoted in the New York Post piece maintaining that criticism.
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After the aide apologized to fellow Democrats over the issue, Kim told the New York Post that “It’s not enough how contrite they are with us. They need to show that to the public and the families — and they haven’t done that.” Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes has been a subject of much scrutiny over the past weeks and months, particularly when a report by the state attorney general found last month that the state underreported nursing home deaths by 50 percent.
In the early days of the pandemic, the virus hit Queens, which Kim represents, especially hard and Kim suspects that he lost his own uncle to the virus. He has urged Cuomo to apologize to families affected by the nursing home deaths, but the governor has yet to do so.
Evidently, Kim told CNN, Cuomo continued to try calling Kim over the weekend; Kim received calls with no caller ID followed by messages from aides saying that the governor wanted to talk to him, he said. Kim said he didn’t pick up the phone.
On Wednesday, Cuomo went public with his grievances with Kim. In a press briefing, Cuomo spent nearly six minutes of the hour-long call criticizing the progressive lawmaker, saying that he and his administration have had a “long and hostile relationship” with Kim.
Stunningly, he accused Kim of participating in “pay to play” politics, which is when businesses donate to political campaigns in exchange for professional contracts, over an issue with nail salons from 2015. He called it a “continuing racket.” Though the spat between Cuomo and Kim over the nail salons remains unresolved, it was a bizarre topic to broach during a call that was supposed to be about the pandemic.
Kim and Cuomo both said that Kim had attempted to get his quotes retracted out of concern for the aide, but the New York Post refused. Still, knowing this, Cuomo tried smearing Kim’s reputation on Wednesday because Kim didn’t want to issue a statement retracting his quotes — because, according to Kim, he still felt they were true, even if he felt bad for the aide.
Kim is reportedly not the only one who has faced threats since last week from Cuomo and his aides over criticism for his handling of the pandemic. Three of Cuomo’s fellow Democratic New York lawmakers, who remained anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the governor, have also faced threats from the governor, CNN reports.
Though Cuomo received much praise as an alternative to Donald Trump during the beginning of the pandemic, holding video briefings on the coronavirus, he has since faced criticism from progressives for his handling of the pandemic.
Cuomo has come under fire, especially in the wake of the nursing home cover-ups, for being obsessed with his image and personal grievances and for what some deem improprieties. For instance, last year, as the pandemic still raged and shortly after his administration covered up nursing home deaths, Cuomo released a book titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic.”