Democratic New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim’s assertion this week that Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to “destroy” him in a spat over the state’s nursing home crisis marked the latest instance in which a political rival accused the longtime governor of bullying tactics.
Cuomo and Kim have engaged in a public war of words over what transpired on a phone call between the two last week, hours after the New York Post reported that one of the governor’s aides, Melissa DeRosa, admitted his office withheld data on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes.
In a series of media appearances, Kim alleged that Cuomo threatened to ruin the assemblyman’s career unless he walked back remarks to the Post in which he said the administration was “trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence.”
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While a top aide denied the governor ever threatened to “destroy” Kim, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, another frequent Cuomo combatant, backed up Kim’s claims during an appearance on MSNBC. The mayor suggested that Cuomo’s behavior was part of a lengthy history of intimidation.
“It’s a sad thing to say, but that’s classic Andrew Cuomo. A lot of people in New York State have received those phone calls. The bullying is nothing new,” de Blasio said.
Representatives for Cuomo did not immediately return a request for comment on de Blasio’s remarks.
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Claims that Cuomo is a “bully” to his political rivals predates the nursing home scandal. Actress Cynthia Nixon, who unsuccessfully ran against Cuomo in New York’s Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2018, repeatedly attacked the governor over his conduct on the campaign trail.
“We’ve all seen it: Andrew the bully,” Nixon said at a March 2018 press conference, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. “He bullies other elected officials. He bullies anyone who criticizes him. He even bullies the media with his reference to ‘your small questions.’”
Marc Molinaro, who challenged Cuomo in 2018 on the Republican ticket, made a similar remark at the time.
“Listen, we’ve all experienced it,” Molinaro said, according to Politico.
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The animosity between Cuomo and de Blasio, who have routinely clashed over state and city policy during the coronavirus pandemic, dates back even further. Since becoming mayor in 2014, de Blasio has bristled at Cuomo’s ability to overrule him on policy initiatives in New York City.
When the two Democrats clashed in 2015 over the mayor’s control of New York City schools, de Blasio lashed out at Cuomo, telling reporters that, “If someone disagrees with him openly, some kind of revenge or vendetta follows.”
Cuomo dismissed de Blasio’s claim.
“My way is the exact opposite and the proof is in the pudding,” Cuomo told NY1 at the time. He added that de Blasio was “frustrated” that he didn’t “get everything he wanted.”
Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a former Cuomo ally, detailed an adversarial relationship with the governor in a 2015 interview with the New York Times. She told the newspaper that Cuomo would frequently exert pressure through the media.
Miner said his conduct “takes the form of anonymous threats and also third parties coming to you and threatening.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s allies and top aides describe his hard-nosed approach to politics as a necessity to succeed in New York’s tough political landscape.
“New Yorkers want officials who can manage the government and work with the Legislature to end gridlock,” Rich Azzopardi, a longtime Cuomo advisor, told the Times that year.
Cuomo’s leadership during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic drew rave reviews in some circles. Last November, the governor received an Emmy award commemorating his management of the situation in New York and his “masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.”
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This month, the backlash over New York’s nursing home scandal – Cuomo’s public spat with Kim – has prompted a revolt among state lawmakers, several of whom signed a letter calling for the governor’s Emmy Award to be revoked.
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s office said its focus remains on combating the pandemic, not political disputes.
“While these politicians might have enough free time to write blustery letters and issue self-important press releases, our focus remains squarely on vaccinating as many people as humanly possible and leading the state through this public health crisis,” Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne said in response to the letter. “New Yorkers have seen the governor show up and fight on their behalf every day for nearly a year, and that’s why they support his actions to defeat COVID by a large margin.”