Nursing home scandal continues and Cuomo goes on the attack

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been under intense scrutiny all week.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been under intense scrutiny all week.
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been under intense scrutiny all week.

Nursing home scandal continues and Cuomo goes on the attack

Rounding up the week’s political news.
February 19, 2021

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been under intense scrutiny all week for reportedly covering up – until recently – the true toll that COVID-19 wrought in nursing homes. It even caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who called for a congressional investigation. But first, the Texas senator has to deal with his own scandal. With much of Texas without power, heat or water amid freezing temperatures, Cruz drew national ire for taking a trip to Cancun, Mexico, with his family. He claims he only went to drop off his daughters, who asked to go since school was closed. But now, instead of relaxing in the hot sun, he’s in hot water. But for the latest on the fallout in New York, keep reading.

Nursing home scandal continues

Another week brought fresh troubles for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration amid the growing nursing home deaths scandal. Cuomo started the week offering something of a mea culpa that fell short of an actual apology. The governor admitted that failing to provide the full data sooner created a “void of information” that led to conspiracy theories and distrust. But he insisted that there is nothing related to nursing homes and the state’s release of data for lawmakers or others to investigate. That isn’t stopping federal prosecutors however. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI opened up an investigation into the state’s handling of nursing homes deaths during the pandemic and its release of information. The probe was only started after a call between Cuomo’s staff and lawmakers leaked, in which Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said the administration “froze” when the Department of Justice requested information on nursing homes last year and that they were afraid that data they released could be “used against us.” The full transcript from that call has since been released by the Cuomo administration, raising more questions than it answered. The civil probe by the DOJ is still ongoing as well, and the Cuomo administration reportedly has not been cooperative, taking several months to comply with the department’s first request for information. Additionally, at the state level, momentum is growing among members of both parties to reduce Cuomo’s power in the wake of the scandal. State Senate Democrats plan to vote on legislation that will rescind the governor’s emergency powers that were approved at the beginning of the pandemic, while also creating a 10-person commission to review and approve of all future executive actions during the crisis. Republicans in the Assembly, meanwhile, are looking to form an impeachment commission. Although a handful of Democrats have raised the spectre of impeachment, the prospect still remains highly unlikely. And while a new poll shows that approval of Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes has gone down, his overall approval ratings still remain high.

Cuomo goes on the attack

That’s not all for the latest on nursing homes. Cuomo also went on the offensive against one of his most vocal critics on the nursing home issue: Assembly Member Ron Kim. In response to a New York Post article in which Kim and other Assembly members called on the federal government to investigate Cuomo for obstruction of justice, Cuomo dedicated a significant portion of one of his press conferences to discredit Kim. The governor accused Kim of engaging in pay-to-play corruption over legislation to better regulate nail salons from six years ago and suggested that Kim is holding a grudge from that time when the pair were on opposite sides of the issue. The personal attack surprised many observers and prompted both Democrats and Republicans to come to Kim’s defense. Soon after the public tirade from governor, CNN reported that Cuomo allegedly called Kim the evening the Post broke the story and threatened his political career if he did not release a statement defending the administration. Cuomo’s aides have denied that the governor threatened Kim at any point during the phone call. Cuomo’s penchant for aggressive phone calls to critics, including those in the media, that some described as bullying, has been an open secret among politicos for years, but the Kim incident is shedding fresh light on the habit. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called it “classic Andrew Cuomo,” adding that he has been on the receiving end of such calls himself. He has called for a federal investigation of the governor as well as a commission to look into nursing home deaths.

More pandemic reopenings 

Amid all the news around nursing homes, Cuomo announced more reopenings as new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue trending downward. Indoor amusement parks can reopen starting March 26 at 25% capacity, with outdoor parks returning at 33% starting April 9. Sleepaway summer camps are also on track to open this summer. This comes after the state hit a record number of vaccination appointment sign-ups in one day when eligibility opened up to people with underlying health conditions, although supply lines continue to hinder vaccination efforts throughout the state.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is deputy state politics reporter at City & State.