‘I believe Ron Kim’: De Blasio blasts Cuomo as bully over feud with Queens assemblyman

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks about the coronavirus at a Midtown news conference with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, March 2, 2020. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

Mayor Bill de Blasio accused Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday of bullying Assemblyman Ron Kim, the Queens legislator whom Cuomo attacked during a conference call with reporters the previous day.  

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” de Blasio was asked about the Feb. 17 episode in which Cuomo ripped Kim over his criticism of the administration’s underreporting of COVID-19 deaths in New York state nursing homes, and calls for the legislature to strip Cuomo of the emergency powers invoked at the start of the pandemic last March.

Kim had also appeared on Morning Joe before de Blasio, and said Cuomo had previously called him at night, while home with his family — ripping into him for 10 minutes and threatening to end his career for crossing him.

“For 10 minutes, he berated me, he yelled at me, he told me my career would be over. He’s been biting his tongue for months against me, and I had tonight — not tomorrow, tonight — to issue a new statement essentially asking me to lie,” Kim said Thursday morning. “[Basically], I heard and I saw a crime, and he’s asking me [to say] that I did not see that crime. That’s a line that he crossed that cannot be undone, and that’s why I had no choice but to come out and speak up.”

Kim has long criticized Cuomo for the handling of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor admitted earlier this week, in the wake of state Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation and a bombshell tabloid report, that the administration erred in not properly disclosing the data to state lawmakers, though it complied with federal requests.

Several outlets have also confirmed an Albany Times-Union report late on Wednesday night that the federal Department of Justice and the FBI were conducting an investigation into the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.

Calling the incident “classic Andrew Cuomo,” de Blasio — who has had a number of public clashes with Cuomo during his tenure — suggested that “a lot of people in New York state have received those [kinds of] phone calls” from him.

“The bullying is nothing new,” de Blasio said. “I believe Ron Kim, and it’s very, very sad. No public servant, no person who’s telling the truth should be treated that way. The threats, the belittling, the demand that someone change their statement right away — many, many times, I’ve heard that, and I know a lot of people in this state have heard that.” 

De Blasio called Kim “a good public servant” and “a person of integrity,” and said that nothing about his feud with the governor is surprising.

“It’s just the script is exactly what a lot of us have heard before,” the mayor said Thursday. “It’s not a surprise, it’s sad. It’s not the way people should be treated, and a lot of people get intimidated by that. I give him credit for not being intimidated.”

During his daily press briefing later on Thursday morning, de Blasio reiterated that he wasn’t seeking “to provide analysis of the situation,” but stressed that “someone being bullied is not acceptable, and Ron Kim was trying to raise real concerns.”

“That deserves respect, and he wasn’t given respect,” the mayor said. He also repeated a call he made during his Feb. 12 appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” calling for further investigation of the nursing home scandal.

“There clearly needs to be a full investigation,” de Blasio told reporters on Feb. 18. “We’re talking about thousands of people who were lost. Ours seniors, our elders, people who don’t know the truth.”

amNewYork Metro reached out to the Governor’s office for comment, and is awaiting a response. On Wednesday night, Senior Advisor to the Governor Rich Azzopardi issued a statement denying Kim’s claims.

“Mr. Kim is lying about his conversation with Governor Cuomo Thursday night. I know because I was one of three other people in the room when the phone call occurred,” Azzopardi said on Feb. 17. “At no time did anyone threaten to ‘destroy’ anyone with their ‘wrath’ nor engage in a ‘coverup.’ That’s beyond the pale and is unfortunately part of a years-long pattern of lies by Mr. Kim against this administration. We did ask for Mr. Kim to do the honorable thing and put out a truthful statement after he told the Governor he was misquoted in a news article, which he said he tried to correct but the reporter refused.  Kim said he would correct the story and then broke his word. No surprise.”

With reporting by Jacob Kaye.