A routine press call with Governor Andrew Cuomo and reporters to provide an update on COVID-19 statistics veered to a topic that had little to do with the pandemic. The governor lit into Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens over a nail salon bill that passed six years ago.
“I do believe Ron Kim acted unethically, if not illegally,” Cuomo said. “I do believe he has a continuing racket where he raises money from the owners of the salons who opposed the salon bill. I believe that.”
More recently, Kim has been a fierce critic of Cuomo on nursing homes. Kim lost his uncle, a nursing home resident, to COVID-19 last spring.
This month, officials in the Cuomo administration released new numbers that show they greatly underreported COVID-19 deaths of patients who lived in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. They then refused to release that data to the legislature, which formally requested it almost six months ago. Kim has accused Cuomo of engaging in a deliberate coverup.
“I never said anything about Assemblyman Ron Kim. He attacked me,” Cuomo said. “He attacked me and he said that I obstructed justice. He said the immunity, the immunity bill was because of my political contributors. These are very harsh accusations.”
In a New York Post story posted Tuesday night, Kim was quoted in a letter to colleagues accusing Cuomo of obstructing justice.
Kim has also said that Cuomo stuck an immunity provision in last year’s budget for hospitals and other health care facilities as a favor to his wealthy donors. Kim was asked about it during an interview on “Inside City Hall” Tuesday night.
“We’ve been fighting for a full repeal since last May. It was passed and pushed by the Executive in the budget,” Kim said.
Responding directly to Cuomo’s broadside Wednesday, Kim issued a statement: “The governor can smear me all he wants in an effort to distract us from his fatally incompetent management. But these facts are not going away.”
Kim also told CNN that in a phone call last week Cuomo was furious and threatened to “destroy” him. Responding to the governor’s comments about one of his members, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie urged unity within the party.
“Now more than ever, everyone involved needs to lower the temperature and work together to move this state forward and get past this pandemic. That should be our focus,” Heastie said.
In a lengthy statement, Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, denied that the governor threatened to destroy Kim, and he accused Kim of lying.
Meanwhile, the Cuomo administration responded Wednesday evening to reports that the FBI and federal prosecutors have launched an investigation.
In a statement, Azzopardi wrote, "As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to."