Describing an alleged exchange with the governor that has not been previously reported, Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim told CNN that he received a call on his cell phone from the governor last week as he was bathing his children 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. Cuomo proceeded to tell the assemblyman that “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,” according to Kim.
Cuomo’s adviser denied that the governor threatened to destroy Kim.
DeRosa is a top aide to the governor who came under fire last week after she told state lawmakers in a private virtual meeting that the state had delayed sharing with the legislature the full scope of the Covid-related death toll of New York’s nursing home residents because of concerns about a potential federal investigation by the Department of Justice. (The governor’s office has since released a partial transcript of the call.)
Kim, a progressive representing Queens who has been among the most vocal critics of Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic and believes his own uncle died from a presumed case of Covid in a nursing home last year, participated in that virtual call. During the meeting, Kim said he called on the governor to apologize to family members of those who died in assisted living facilities. When the New York Post first reported on DeRosa’s controversial comments, he was one of the participants quoted in the piece criticizing those remarks.
“No man has ever spoken to me like that in my entire life,” Kim said of his phone call with Cuomo. “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.”
Kim’s wife told CNN that she had overheard parts of Kim’s phone call with Cuomo last week, and described the governor as “loud” and “angry.” She said she heard Cuomo say, “Who do you think you are?” as well as the words, “my wrath,” and that immediately after the phone call, her husband told her: “The governor threatened to destroy my life.”
Cuomo’s efforts to reach Kim appeared to continue through the weekend. Kim said he received multiple calls from a “No Caller ID” number, followed by messages from Cuomo aides saying that the governor would like to speak with him again. Kim said he did not return the phone calls. He has since hired a lawyer, telling CNN that he believed this was necessary following Cuomo’s first call which made him feel that the governor had asked him to lie about what had happened in last week’s virtual call. He said he has informed the governor’s office that any outreach should be made through his counsel.
When CNN first reached out to Cuomo’s office for comment for this story on Tuesday, communications director Peter Ajemian did not directly respond to or deny Kim’s allegation of threats from the governor in a written statement. Late Tuesday, Ajemian said the office would send a clarifying statement. Ultimately, the office sent a statement from senior adviser Rich Azzopardi late Wednesday morning that said: “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.
Around the same time that Azzopardi’s statement was sent to CNN, Cuomo began a previously scheduled press conference call on the coronavirus, and discussed his office’s “long and hostile relationship” with Kim.
Cuomo said Kim’s political animus dates back to a 2015 bill to reform nail salons that the governor proposed and that Kim initially backed, but later opposed. Cuomo cited a New York Times report from that year that examined financial contribution’s that Kim received after he flipped his position. In that article, a top Cuomo aide was critical of Kim.
Kim said on Wednesday that he “100%” stood by his allegation that Cuomo had threatened to destroy him. He said he did not recall Cuomo making a specific reference to Queens, but that Cuomo had asked him last week on the phone, “Mr. Kim, are you an honorable man?”…