NEW YORK — More state lawmakers are alleging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his staff of creating a toxic environment of bullying, as Cuomo is embroiled in a scandal related to his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
The growing chorus of voices are rushing to the defense of Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim who said Cuomo threatened to ruin his career if he did not retract criticism related to nursing homes. Cuomo’s office denies Kim’s characterization of the call.
One reason Kim is not backing down is because his fellow lawmakers are stepping up.
Thursday Bronx State Sen. Gustavo Rivera spoke openly about bullying behavior from Cuomo in a virtual Zoom room full of fellow lawmakers. Friday more critics of the governor were speaking up.
“The way the governor treats his colleagues in Albany, is really the worst kept secret,” said Bronx and Westchester State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi. “His pattern of abuse has created a culture of fear that shapes outcomes in New York State.”
Biaggi recalled one instance when she and several other lawmakers were critical of a fundraiser that raised conflict of interest concerns during a budget negotiations. She said a top aide for Cuomo called her and her colleagues “f—ing idots.”
Biaggi also mentioned other times where the governor reached out directly. She said there was no yelling, the message was more subtle.
“On several occasions the governor has been in touch to say that he did not appreciate my criticism of him,” Biaggi said.
Cuomo Friday continued to insist his only mistake on nursing homes was not correcting misinformation. He did not address claims of bullying directly, but he did make several comments about more aggressively shooting down misinformation and lies.
“We have to put the politics aside,” Cuomo said. “But I said [to the legislature] I’m not going to allow people to lie to the people of New York without answering them.
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou said when looked at through the lens of his administration’s behavior, the language is a not-so-veiled threat.
“He just cannot help himself,” she said.
Niou tweeted Friday morning her inbox is flooded with stories about Cuomo. “So many people have been bullied, mistreated, or intimidated by him,” she wrote.
I kid you not….my text messages, my DMs, and my inbox are flooded with cuomo stories. So many people have been bullied, mistreated, or intimidated by him.— Yuh-Line Niou (@yuhline) February 19, 2021
Next week the State Senate and Assembly will begin going down one of two roads to hold the governor accountable. They will either completely strip away Cuomo’s special pandemic executive power, or modify it by putting in place a commission that will act as a check on his directives.
However, the political consequences will come to a head next year as disgruntled Democrats across the state consider a primary challenge of the once wildly popular governor.
“That’s up to the governor whether he has a challenger,” Biaggi said. “If he takes accountability of this moment. But let’s reorient this conversation. Fifteen thousand senior citizens lost their lives in nursing homes.”
A political analyst discussed what impact this will have on Cuomo’s political future:
Despite the legislature working to hold Cuomo accountable next week, the governor said Friday he wants to work with them on sweeping nursing home reform.
Cuomo’s plan includes price transparency, higher penalties for health code violations, and profit caps designed to funnel more money to patient care.