NY Assemblyman says Cuomo is smearing him to distract his critics

A Democratic lawmaker says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to "destroy" him during a private phone call last week for criticizing his handling of COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes.

Cuomo, who has long had a reputation for playing rough in politics, denied the allegation Wednesday, and fired back by calling the Assembly member a chronic liar.

The governor used a call with reporters to blast Assembly member Ron Kim, of Queens, one of nine Democrats who signed a letter seeking support for a bill that would revoke the governor's emergency powers related to the pandemic, which are set to expire this spring.

The letter, sent to Assembly members Tuesday, said Cuomo's administration "deliberately covered up" the extent of the pandemic's impact on nursing homes and assisted living facilities by publishing an incomplete accounting of the number of deaths, despite requests from lawmakers, reporters and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In recent weeks, the administration revealed that 15,000 long-term care residents have died, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.

"(I)t is now unambiguously clear that this governor has engaged in an intentional obstruction of justice," the letter said.

Cuomo said it’s a "lie" that he obstructed justice, and told reporters Wednesday that he had a "long hostile relationship" with Kim. The governor also accused Kim of being "unethical" for backing nail salon owners as lawmakers discussed safety and wage reforms of the industry in 2015. Kim had initially supported the reforms, but later opposed some of them after getting support from salon owners.

"I didn’t say anything about Assemblyman Ron Kim. He attacked me," Cuomo said. "He attacked me and said that I obstructed justice in a letter."

Kim told The New York Times and CNN on Wednesday that Cuomo called him on the phone Feb. 11 to shout at him about his comments on the nursing home issue.

"He goes off about how I hadn’t seen his wrath and anger, that he would destroy me and he would go out tomorrow and start telling how bad of a person I am and I would be finished and how he had bit his tongue about me for months," Kim told The New York Times. "This was all yelling. It wasn’t a pleasant tone."

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Cuomo’s senior advisor, Rich Azzopardi, accused Kim of lying in a statement Wednesday.

"At no time did anyone threaten to ‘destroy’ anyone with their ‘wrath’ nor engage in a ‘coverup,’" wrote Azzopardi, who said he was on the phone call.

Kim has been a frequent critic of the administration on nursing home issues, including its months-long delay in releasing a full count of fatalities.

Cuomo on Monday said the state didn’t cover up deaths, but should have moved faster to release information. "No excuses: I accept responsibility for that," he said at a news conference.

Last week, Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa told Democratic lawmakers that the administration took months to release data revealing how many people living at nursing homes died of COVID-19 because officials "froze " over worries the information was "going to be used against us."

Kim said Wednesday the governor is now trying to distract the public from growing criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike about his administration's handling and reporting of outbreaks.

"The governor can smear me all he wants in an effort to distract us from his fatally incompetent management," Kim said in a statement.