The scrutiny of Covid-19 deaths in New York nursing homes has also put the governor’s aggressive behavior in the spotlight.
ALBANY, N.Y. — During Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s first term, two former administration officials were married in a New York City wedding heavily attended by state government workers, as well as some lawmakers and their aides.
When it was time for the toasts, a guest who worked for the Cuomo administration began with a question: “Who in this room has been yelled at or bullied by Andrew Cuomo?”
Hands shot up across the room, as laughter rolled through the crowd, according to two people who attended the wedding.
The theme suffuses many of Mr. Cuomo’s interactions — accounts in which the governor berated aides and elected officials, brought people to tears and threatened to fire them or end their careers. People outside the governor’s direct control who have clashed with him said he told them they would be subject to negative news stories or political challenges or, in one case, would be publicly likened to a “child rapist.”
After building a reputation as a competent and compassionate leader in the midst of a pandemic, Mr. Cuomo’s standing has faltered over the last month amid revelations that his administration underreported thousands of deaths of nursing home residents. Federal prosecutors are investigating, and lawmakers have moved to strip the governor of emergency powers he has held since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.
At the same time, heightened scrutiny is now being cast on a recurrent theme of his decade-long tenure: his penchant for verbal attacks and attempted intimidation. That trait burst into full view last week when a Democratic Assemblyman, Ron T. Kim of Queens, came forward with accusations that the governor had called him while he was home bathing his children and threatened to “destroy” him — urging him to retract negative comments he had made after the nursing home story broke.
During an appearance last week on ABC’s “The View,” Mr. Kim described being deeply rattled by the experience. “He has abused his powers,” Mr. Kim said. “And abusers are cowards.”
Mr. Cuomo’s office has called Mr. Kim a liar, but to many in New York politics, the report rang true, as other accounts of the governor’s aggressive and sometimes unsettling behavior have begun to emerge.
Indeed, in interviews with more than three dozen legislators, political consultants, former state and city officials and New York political veterans, a recurring portrait emerges of Mr. Cuomo: a talented and deft politician whose tendency toward aggression can seem out of step in an age when abusive behavior in the workplace or in professional surroundings is increasingly called out and often censured.
“His primary tool for governing is to create fear,” said Karen Hinton, a communications consultant who worked with Mr. Cuomo when he was housing secretary in the Clinton administration and has since fallen out with him.
In the fall of 2018, for example, when Mr. Cuomo was told by a leader of the Working Families Party — which had backed his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon — that it would endorse him in the general election because he was better than a Republican, Mr. Cuomo’s response was blunt.
“If you ever say, ‘Well he’s better than a Republican’ again, then I’m going to say, ‘You’re better than a child rapist,’” the governor said, according to two people who were on the call. “How about that?”
He once threatened to end the career of a staffer who failed to properly transfer a call to his office, according to one person who worked for him and requested anonymity for fear of retribution. He has been known to refer to his top female aides as the “mean girls,” said the person, who described the governor’s office as toxic and controlling.
Those who work in the halls of the Capitol say the governor’s conduct has an additional impact: scaring some employees into near paralysis for fear of earning his wrath.
Many of the tactics involve a threat to hurt people’s careers. Ms. Hinton, for example, says she fell out of favor when she became the press secretary for Mr. Cuomo’s nemesis in the Democratic Party, Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Soon, there were threats. During a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in 2015, Ms. Hinton questioned the state’s response in a New York Times article. Ms. Hinton said Mr. Cuomo told City Hall he would personally blame the mayor for any deaths in the city if Mr. de Blasio did not fire Ms. Hinton. The mayor did not dismiss Ms. Hinton, but City Hall distanced itself from her remarks.
One current and one former City Hall official confirmed Ms. Hinton’s account. The governor’s office said neither it or the anecdote about the Working Families Party was true, characterizing the negative comments about Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, as coming from “political adversaries.” The office also said the governor was “direct with people if their work is subpar.”
“The people of this state have known and given the governor their trust for the last 14 years, have heard him and looked into his eyes during the darkest period,” Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said in a statement. “Yes, they have seen him get impatient with partisan politics and disingenuous attacks, and New Yorkers feel the same way. They know you must fight to change the status quo and special interests to make progress, and no one has made more progress than this governor.”
Even Mr. Cuomo’s detractors will concede that the governor’s heavy-handed approach has often been effective in delivering concrete liberal accomplishments, including legalizing same-sex marriage, raising the minimum wage and enacting criminal justice reforms.
Others describe the governor’s use of anger as “an executive skill,” employed to cut through niceties and other time-wasters — skills of particular use during a pandemic response.
“The governor understands the political value of taking action and creating the perception of strength, even if it occasionally seems cocksure or bullying,” said Eric Phillips, a former spokesman for Mr. de Blasio. He called the governor “a master of brutalist political theater,” though he said those skills were less effective in “a moment demanding contrition or even a modicum of self-critique.”
Defenders also say that New Yorkers — who have elected Mr. Cuomo three times, commandingly — know what the governor’s personality is like. “It’s well-worn territory for the press and the public,” said Josh Vlasto, Mr. Cuomo’s former chief of staff. “Those traits are there, but they are part of a broader perception of him that the voters like and are comfortable with.”
Ken Sunshine, a veteran public relations executive and a longtime friend of the governor’s, noted that the nature of New York politics is tough. “Has he raised his voice on calls with me? I’m sure he has,” Mr. Sunshine said. “Have I done it sometimes? Sure. And by the way, we’re from a place called New York. It’s not for the timid.”
In this dispute, however, Mr. Kim, not the governor, has the support of a raft of New York politicians.
“That’s classic Andrew Cuomo,” said Mr. de Blasio on Thursday. “A lot of people in New York State have received those phone calls.”
Mr. Cuomo’s image was burnished by a series of nationally televised news conferences during the early days of the pandemic, in which the governor mixed just-the-facts presentations with dad jokes and appearances by his three daughters, his mother and his brother, Chris Cuomo, the CNN anchor. Last fall, even as a second wave of the virus began to swell in New York and nationally, he published a memoir, offering “leadership lessons” and a sentimental dedication.
“Love wins,” he wrote in its conclusion. “Always.”
But in the wake of the scandal over nursing homes, that persona has turned darker: On Saturday, Mr. Cuomo’s temper was mocked in a segment on “Saturday Night Live” in which his character, played by comedian Pete Davidson, sheepishly admitted to hiding where the deaths of nursing home residents occurred and promised vengeance on Mr. de Blasio, a frequent political foe.
Other accusations have been more serious: In December, a former top aide to Mr. Cuomo’s economic development agency, Lindsey Boylan, accused Mr. Cuomo of fostering a “toxic team environment.”
On Sunday, Ms. Boylan was among a growing chorus of people speaking out about Mr. Cuomo, telling The Times he is prone to “screaming at people inside and outside of the state government when he does not get exactly what he wants.”
Mr. Cuomo’s penchant for tough-talk tactics dates back decades, to his apprenticeship as an adviser to his father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, whom he was known to fiercely defend. “I think he learned it from his father, who needed bare knuckles to combat the old machine pols,” said Michael Shnayerson, author of “The Contender,” a 2015 biography of the younger Mr. Cuomo.
State Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Upper Manhattan who holds sway in the Legislature as the chairwoman of the chamber’s finance committee, said she had never been yelled at by the governor or his staff — for a reason.
She said Joseph Percoco, a former aide and informal enforcer inside the Capitol who was convicted of corruption in 2018, once told her she was on the “do-not-yell-at list.”
“I responded, ‘You people have such a list?’” Ms. Krueger said. “He said: ‘It is very small.’” (Mr. Percoco is in federal prison and could not be reached for comment.)
The backlash against Mr. Cuomo’s governing style stems, in part, from the changing makeup of the Legislature. Democrats won full control in 2018 thanks to a new generation of progressives that is more diverse and often unafraid of challenging the governor.
“The Legislature has become increasingly young and female, defining a feminist vision for leadership and workplace conduct,” said Alexis Grenell, a founder of Pythia Public Affairs who has written about Mr. Cuomo’s aggressive behavior in the past. “It’s not an accident that his loudest critics are young women.”
The rift between the governor and the legislative newcomers has often burst into public view. In 2019, Mr. Azzopardi, the governor’s senior adviser, told reporters after a dispute over fund-raisers that three recently elected female lawmakers, State Senators Alessandra Biaggi and Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, were “idiots,” preceded by a vulgarity.
“This pattern of behavior he has created this really serious systemic culture of fear and abuse of power that shapes policy outcomes in New York and impacts people’s lives,” said Ms. Biaggi, a Democrat who has feuded with the governor’s top aides on Twitter.
Strategists in the Capitol say that the often combustible natures of Mr. Cuomo and his staff make for difficult negotiations, often freighted by fears of retribution.
The instinct to punch first seems to come from the top of the executive chamber: As The New York Times and CNN published accounts of the calls to Mr. Kim on Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo used a large part of his daily news conference to attack the assemblyman, suggesting he had engaged in unethical and possibly criminal behavior in regards to a six-year-old law. (Mr. Kim denied this.)
Mr. Vlasto, the former chief of staff, said that ongoing Republican attacks and Mr. Kim’s suggestion that the governor had committed a crime by withholding the data on deaths was “so over the line,” it justified a strong response.
“This time he decided to smack it down, hard,” he said.
Others recount stories of Mr. Cuomo alternating between charm and rage — at one moment, a charismatic leader who wants to work on policy, and at another, an intimidating one who wants to vent, something one lawmaker described as an unpleasant, sometimes profane experience.
Some of his toughest critics would agree that the governor had earned his good press during the dark days of the pandemic last year. But they also say that his more recent behavior is no surprise.
“This is who he has always been,” said Rebecca Katz, a progressive political consultant who advised Ms. Nixon. “We tried to warn you.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic hits out at LeBron James for getting involved in politics – Sky Sports
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hit out at LeBron James for getting involved in politics, telling him to stick to what he is good at.
Four-time NBA champion James, who Ibrahimovic described as a phenomenal basketball player, has been one of the NBA’s leading voices against racial injustice and police brutality in the US.
A frequent critic of former US President Donald Trump, the LA Lakers forward also helped form a group aimed at battling voter disenfranchisement in predominantly black communities last year.
“I like him [James] a lot. He’s phenomenal, but I don’t like when people with a status speak about politics. Do what you’re good at doing,” Ibrahimovic told UEFA and Discovery+ in Sweden.
“I play football because I’m the best playing football. I’m no politician. If I’d been a politician, I would be doing politics.
“This is the first mistake famous people do when they become famous. For me it is better to avoid certain topics and do what you’re good doing, otherwise you risk doing something wrongly.”
Okay @Ibra_official based on your position @KingJames is great at basketball and shouldn’t voice his opinion about politics. You’re really good at football so you shouldn’t voice your opinion about Lebron using his platform for good. Or your opinion on anything outside football! https://t.co/xNbDo5vc9g
— Michael Johnson (@MJGold) February 26, 2021
Ibrahimovic’s comments were criticised by American sprint great Michael Johnson.
“Okay Ibra, based on your position @KingJames is great at basketball and shouldn’t voice his opinion about politics,” Johnson tweeted.
“You’re really good at football so you shouldn’t voice your opinion about LeBron using his platform for good. Or your opinion on anything outside football!”
Women Of Color Have Always Been In Politics. Now They Are Changing Congress. – FiveThirtyEight
The current Congress includes more women of color than ever before, thanks to historic wins in the 2020 election. FiveThirtyEight spoke with three political scientists about why it’s taken so long to get to this point, and how having these women in office will affect the legislature.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic to LeBron James – 'Do what you're good at,' stay out of politics – ESPN
Speaking in an interview for UEFA for Discovery+ in Sweden on Thursday, the outspoken striker said that although he admired James’ talent, it’s a “mistake” when athletes step out of their lane and get involved socially and politically.
“[LeBron] is phenomenal at what he’s doing, but I don’t like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time,” Ibrahimovic said. “Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football.
“I don’t do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good.”
James has been a force for social change and political action. His More Than a Vote organization drew more than 42,000 volunteers to work at polling stations for the November election, helped some earn back their voting rights and pushed for turnout among Black people and young voters.
He has also focused on his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
The I Promise School he opened in 2018 now has over 450 students in third through sixth grades. When the pandemic shut down the school, James and his team ensured students got hot meals delivered to their homes — even complete Thanksgiving meals. An affordable housing project for 50 families broke ground this year. And in December, plans for House Three Thirty (a nod to Akron’s area code) were announced, detailing how James is going to offer things like accessible family financial health programming, job training and a community gathering space.
“I still know what I do on the floor, and obviously, I give everything to the game,” James told The Associated Press in December. “But I can make a greater impact off the floor right now, more than I can on the floor. And I want to continue to inspire people with the way I play the game of basketball. But there’s so many more things that I can do off the floor to help cultivate people, inspire people, bring people together, empower them.”
His outspokenness hasn’t always been well-received, however. In February of 2018, a prominent conservative commentator famously told him to “shut up and dribble” in response to his “talking politics.”
Ibrahimovic has made headlines for acrobatic goals, bombastic boasts and on-field controversy throughout his wildly successful soccer career.
In January, he faced accusations of racism after a clash with Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku during a Coppa Italia quarterfinal clash. Ibrahimovic, who often refers to himself in the third person, was accused of having used offensive language during his spat with Lukaku and later posted a message on social media reiterating that he is against racism, with his coach later backing his claims.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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