New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) managed to seal a book deal that offered him more than $4 million to detail his pandemic leadership, while his administration worked to revise a potentially damaging Health Department report that would expose staggering COVID-19 nursing home deaths, The New York Times reported late Wednesday.
According to the Times, revisions by Cuomo’s top aides to an impending Health Department report overlapped with the governor securing the lucrative book deal and served to temporarily preserved his image as a leader amid the pandemic while guarding him from criticism.
The governor’s secretary Melissa DeRosa and another aide, Linda Lacewell, had shown concern about the higher death toll which had appeared in the second sentence of the report and was deleted from the final version, according to drafts of the report reviewed by the Times.
According to the Times, Cuomo also used the resources of his office to help with the manuscript for “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic,” using aides and junior staffers for tasks like editing and clerical work that potentially violated state laws prohibiting use of public resources for personal gain.
On at least two occasions, a top aide to the governor, Stephanie Benton, asked assistants to print parts of the book draft, and deliver them to Cuomo at the Executive Mansion.
One aide to the governor told the Times that she and others were also asked to type or transfer book notes that Cuomo had in part dictated into a cellphone.
DeRosa was also involved in the book’s development, and had attended online pitch meetings. According to some emails reviewed by the Times she also appeared to offer book edits.
A senior Cuomo adviser, Rich Azzopardi, told the Times that both DeRosa and Benton had “volunteered” for the project during their free time which he said was “permissible and consistent” with the state’s ethical requirements.
With regard to the tasks assigned to junior aides, he said, “Every effort was made to ensure that no state resources were used in connection with this project.”
“To the extent an aide printed out a document,” he said, “it appears incidental.”
Azzopardi on Wednesday also rejected any connection between Cuomo’s book and the Health Department report.
“There is no connection between the report and this outside project, period,” he said. “And any suggestion otherwise is just wrong.”
Cuomo has also been embroiled in a series of sexual harassment accusations, including from current and former employees, which has prompted investigations and calls to step down.
The revelation that Cuomo used staff to assist with his personal book project comes after separate reports last month that Cuomo’s administration gave members of his family and other well-connected New Yorkers special access to scarce COVID-19 testing in the early days of the pandemic last year.
The governor’s office said he would donate a “significant portion” of the book’s earnings to a COVID-related charity, although it is unclear how much.