In a steady drum beat of allegations getting closer and closer to Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself, the New York Post reported late Wednesday night that Cuomo’s top campaign brass were aware of an inflammatory mailer sent by the New York state Democratic Party against Cuomo’s primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon. The document, which implied without credible evidence Nixon is anti-Semitic – in fact, Nixon is raising her children Jewish – drew swift condemnation from across the political spectrum.
Cuomo has consistently denied knowing about it beforehand, but a series of revelations have brought forth evidence that a series of Cuomo associates did know and the controversy keeps getting closer to the governor personally. Below is a chronological timeline of the controversy and the Cuomo camp’s evolving admissions.
Sept. 8: Immediate Backlash
A rebuttal from Jewish leaders who know Nixon was almost instantaneous after some New Yorkers found the advertisement in their mailboxes on Saturday, Sept. 8. Approximately 7,000 New York City households received the mailer, which accused Nixon of ignoring the rise of anti-Semitism and of being opposed to the state of Israel, while touting Cuomo’s record on Jewish issues. That afternoon, New York City Councilman Brad Lander tweeted criticism of state Democratic Party for lying about Nixon’s position. That evening, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and her wife Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, whose LGBT-friendly synagogue Nixon attends, weighed in on Facebook with a joint post that sharply denounced the campaign literature and defended Nixon.
Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith tweeted that “Governor Cuomo didn’t approve of or have any knowledge of the mailer in question” and “he disagrees with the language” at around 5 p.m.
The state party executive director, Geoff Berman, tweeted, “Let me be very clear: This mailer was a mistake and is inappropriate and is not the tone the Democratic Party should set – it will not happen again.” Berman denied approving the piece on Twitter but also resisted providing any details as to how it came about. Cuomo would later imply the decision to send out the mailer came from entirely within the organization Berman controls.
Sept. 9: Cuomo, Nixon and others respond
Infuriated, Nixon responded to the news the following day, saying, “I am the mother of Jewish children." She demanded a full explanation of how the piece she called a “smear campaign” was approved. She also called for Berman to be fired and Cuomo to record a robocall for voters apologizing for calling her an anti-Semite.
In a news conference, Cuomo denied responsibility for the mailer. “I didn’t know about the mailer,” he said, but noted that he disapproved of the tone and language. As Cuomo began speaking, Berman tweeted again to announce the party “will work with the Nixon campaign to send out a mailing of their choosing to the same universe of people” targeted by the initial one.
Sept. 11: The Post received a pitch on the subject from the Cuomo campaign before the mailer
By Tuesday, multiple news outlets were poking holes in Cuomo’s story. Politico surveyed local campaign experts who cast doubt on the Cuomo campaign’s denials. According to one of Politico’s sources, “It’s impossible to imagine Cuomo or his team didn’t sign off on this in some way.”
But the bigger news was the New York Post reporting they received a story pitch from an “andrewcuomo.com” email address before the mailer came out for a story about Nixon’s views on Jewish issues. The Post wrote that the Cuomo aide gave their reporter a hard sell for covering what the aide alleged was Nixon’s support for the pro-Palestinian “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement against Israel. (To say Nixon supports BDS would be a gross exaggeration, even a misrepresentation, of her specific support for Israeli theater artists who are boycotting one specific theater in the West Bank.)
Cuomo’s campaign revealed a sliver more about the campaign literature’s mysterious origins, identifying the source only as “an individual helping the campaign on constituency outreach.” Campaign spokeswoman Abby Collins stated, “In the future, constituency representatives will not be allowed to draft or participate in the mail program” and “moving forward, the state party executive director and lawyer must sign off on each peace.” Collins declined to elaborate on whether anyone had approved the mailer about Nixon.
In an interview on WNYC's “the Brian Lehrer Show,” Nixon sounded amused by the offer from the state party to send a follow-up mailing. “I wonder when that mailer would go out,” said Nixon. “Would it perhaps arrive the day after the election or perhaps next week?”
Sept. 12: Cuomo’s right-hand man knew
More bad news for Cuomo emerged on Wednesday, when the Post reported that, according to an anonymous Democratic source, Lawrence S. Schwartz, the former secretary to the governor, “was very involved with the mailer and signed off on it.” The Cuomo campaign released a statement essentially confirming the Post’s reporting. “Larry Schwartz who serves on our campaign in a volunteer capacity was reviewing mail pieces in an ad hoc fashion, but he only saw the positive section of the mailer and never saw the negative section,” said Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.
The Cuomo campaign named David Lobl, a former special assistant to the governor who was volunteering with the re-election effort, as the actual author of the mailer. According to the Cuomo campaign, Schwartz unintentionally signed off on the flier after it was drafted by Lobl. According to the Post’s source, Lobl is the “fall guy” and “the real story is the campaign did this.”
Sept. 13: Primary Day and Cuomo claims “fully positive” campaign
The day of the primary elections, Cuomo claimed he had run a “fully positive” campaign throughout his Democratic primary race with Nixon. Nixon’s senior campaign strategist Rebecca Katz later mocked Cuomo’s claim, saying, “Rather than apologize to Cynthia for his false anti-Semitic accusations, or apologize to New Yorkers for repeatedly lying about the mailer, Gov. Cuomo chose to double down on his dirty politics.”
Sept. 18: Top Cuomo campaign aides knew
Finally, the New York Post reported on Tuesday the 18th that Cuomo’s inner circle was emailed the mailer for approval. According to interviews and documents obtained by the Post, campaign manager Maggie Moran was copied on discussions about the campaign literature and her top aide Adam Steinberger was involved in its creation two weeks before the election. Allegedly the governor’s office was made aware, too: Jill DesRosiers, executive deputy secretary to the governor, was copied on the email.
The Post reported that Schwartz signed off on the mailer despite stating that he was uncomfortable with it in an email exchange from Sept. 3 and Sept. 4.
Cuomo’s team hasn’t released a statement responding to the latest news.