De Blasio’s payback: New York mayor unloads on wounded CuomoMarch 3, 2021
NEW YORK — Call it payback.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is sticking it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo at every opportunity, seizing on the governor’s misfortunes as crises pile up for his fellow Democrat and longtime rival.
De Blasio has called Cuomo’s alleged behavior “grotesque,” “perverse” and “terrifying,” saying Tuesday that he must resign if sexual harassment accusations lodged by multiple women are substantiated.
“If these allegations are true, he cannot govern,” the mayor told reporters.
There’s been no love lost between New York’s two top chief executives for years, with a simmering feud dating back to 2015 as the mayor was fashioning himself as a national progressive leader and the governor was slumping in the polls.
But de Blasio — conscious of the power that Cuomo wields over the city’s affairs and his willingness to use it to punish his foes — has usually been careful to couch his criticisms in a veneer of civility.
Now, with Cuomo looking vulnerable amid dual scandals involving sexual harassment allegations and Covid-19 nursing home deaths, de Blasio is telling the world what he really thinks.
There’s more on the line for de Blasio than the chance to gloat at the potential downfall of an enemy who has tormented him for years. He’s pushing the state Legislature to strip away the emergency powers they granted Cuomo at the beginning of the pandemic, which have taken away the city’s control over everything from vaccine distribution to the closing and reopening of indoor dining.
And the mayor may be weighing a run for governor himself. When asked in recent days about his future, he’s said he’d like to continue working in public office and did not rule out a run for governor.
“The people of New York State will look at everything and make their judgments in due time,” de Blasio said last week. “I have not made any plans yet for my next steps. At some point I’ll sort it out.”
The mayor has been raising money again through two political action committees that he used to finance his ill-fated presidential run. Five long-time donors — Dennis and Karen Mehiel, Olga and George Tsunis and Jack Rosen — gave a total of $17,500 to the state NY Fairness PAC in December, records show. A month later the Mason Tenders District Council and 32BJ SEIU, two politically active union groups, also chipped in $5,000 apiece to de Blasio’s state committee. The Mehiels and Rosen also gave $15,000 to the federal Fairness PAC.
A member of the mayor’s team said the committees are raising money to pay off tens of thousands of dollars they still owe in debt and that recent contributions have nothing to do with the governor.
In the meantime, the allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo — and before it the scandal over the deaths of nursing home residents — have given de Blasio all the fodder he needs to become a constant presence on cable news.
“If [an investigation] proves that these allegations are true, how can someone lead a state if they’ve done these kind of things?” de Blasio told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday.
Three women, including two former employees, have publicly accused Cuomo of inappropriate behavior. One of his accusers, Lindsey Boylan, says he kissed her without her consent. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are probing Cuomo’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in nursing homes, after the state for months failed to report thousands of deaths.
The dual scandals have drawn attention to Cuomo’s history of aggressive behavior and threats, which de Blasio says he’s experienced first hand.
“I’ve worked with lots of political leaders. I talk to Chuck Schumer all the time. I talked to Nancy Pelosi. I go down a whole list. I’ve worked with U.S. presidents,” de Blasio said Monday night on NY1’s Inside City Hall. “No one acts like this.”
On Tuesday he again said the governor should step down if the allegations bear out and pressed once more for a return to local control.
“If you put too much power in one person’s hands, bad things happen. We need local control back,” de Blasio said at a press briefing Tuesday.
Cuomo’s tight grip has led to repeated clashes over the course of the Covid-19 crisis. When de Blasio first called for a shutdown in New York City as the disease encroached, Cuomo immediately shot down the idea. Researchers later found that an earlier closure could have saved thousands of lives.
Cuomo also shot down de Blasio’s announcement that city schools would remain closed for the rest of last school year, only to eventually sign off. And the governor’s administration initially disparaged City Hall’s advice that New Yorkers should wear masks, which the city lacked the authority to issue a mandate.
But the two have clashed over any number of pre-pandemic issues, including state funding, the MTA and taxing the rich.
With Cuomo’s emergency pandemic powers dramatically expanded, de Blasio’s independence from Albany has been even further curtailed.
“The State legislature must immediately revoke the Governor’s emergency powers that overrule local control,” de Blasio said in a statement Sunday, as he called for two separate independent investigations into the sexual harassment and nursing home allegations.
After a former aide, Charlotte Bennett, told the New York Times the governor asked her questions about her sex life and told her he was open to relationships with younger women, Cuomo admitted to “being playful” and teasing employees about their personal lives in a way that could be interpreted as unwelcome flirtation. “To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” he said.
De Blasio was quick to reject the governor’s attempt at a mea culpa.
“That’s not an apology,” he said Monday. “He seemed to be saying, ‘Oh, I was just kidding around.’ You know, sexual harassment is not funny. It’s serious. It has to be taken seriously.”
In daily press conferences that have continued even as Cuomo retreated behind closed doors for more than a week and counting, as well as several national TV appearances, de Blasio has been equally harsh on Cuomo’s handling of the nursing home crisis.
Some 15,000 residents at New York nursing homes and assisted living facilities died from the virus — numbers that were released only after state Attorney General Tish James released an investigation finding the state undercounted nursing deaths by 50 percent, by failing to include people who died in hospitals.
Cuomo’s top aide told legislators the administration “froze” and did not hand over the data because of fears it would be used against them by the Trump administration, igniting an additional furor. It is still unclear to what extent Cuomo’s policy requiring nursing homes to admit Covid-positive patients contributed to the death toll.
“Thousands of lives lost. We still don’t know why. We still don’t know how much of the truth was covered up. We still don’t know how much of it might have been because of the influence of campaign contributions from the nursing home industry, a very powerful industry. There is so much that needs to be uncovered here,” de Blasio, who has himself faced several allegations of doing favors for campaign donors, said Monday on CNN.
“I don’t see how anyone can function as a governor and have the trust of the people and the respect of the people, if they purposefully covered up the deaths of thousands of our seniors, our elders, family members, beloved family members who are gone,” he added.
Joe Anuta and Amanda Eisenberg contributed to this report.