When Speaker of the New York State Assembly Carl Heastie announced last Friday that in light of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, the assembly would end impeachment proceedings, many critics immediately suggested that Heastie had cut a deal with Cuomo.
Although he vehemently denied that he had made any deal with Cuomo, Heastie’s claim that the governor could not be impeached after resigning is on shaky legal footing. The taciturn speaker’s motivations in squelching the proceedings before fully consulting with assembly members are thus an open question.
The assembly’s investigation of Cuomo focused on matters well beyond the pattern of sexual harassment revealed by Attorney General Tish James’ bombshell report. Cuomo’s nursing home scandal, his use of government staff to work on his book during their work hours and his early Covid tests for his inner circle were also under the microscope. In at least one of these three matters, Cuomo appears to have gotten a helping hand from Heastie.
As the pandemic unfolded in the spring of 2020, the crisis in New York’s nursing homes began to capture headlines. As The Indypendent reported at the time, questions arose as to why the state’s nursing homes — a reliable source of campaign donations for the Cuomo regime — were granted a broad immunity shield in the early April budget negotiations.
The budget negotiation process is ultimately a matter of the “three people in the room” — the governor, assembly speaker, and state senate majority leader — reaching a final deal that is then voted on by members of two legislative bodies. As assembly leaders have stressed, the nursing home immunity provision was inserted at the last minute, with many members unaware of its inclusion until the crisis.
The nursing home immunity provision was inserted at the last minute, with many members unaware of its inclusion until thousands of elderly were killed by COVID-19.
In May of 2020, Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, chair of the health committee, called for an independent inquiry into the nursing home crisis. By that point, the state’s official death toll from COVID-19 in nursing homes had reached over 5,500.
As Gottfried explained at the time, Cuomo’s March 2020 executive order first established immunity for the nursing homes. Such protections were then expanded via “language the governor inserted in state budget legislation shortly before it was enacted.” This past March, Gottfried highlighted the “damage done” by that action taken by Cuomo “at the very last moment.”
According to Assemblyman Ron Kim, the most prominent critic of Cuomo’s handling of the crisis, the 11th-hour provision “disincentivized” nursing homes from investing in hiring, staffing, PPE and other measures to “get ahead” of the pandemic. Administrators, in his view, essentially said, “Now we have [immunity], we can’t get arrested and we can’t get sued. So why do we want to spend money?”
Last summer, despite opposition from nursing home lobbyists, Cuomo signed Kim’s bill that scaled back immunity. This spring, amid the attorney general’s sexual harassment inquiry and the assembly’s impeachment investigation, the two branches revoked the immunity by a nearly unanimous vote (212-1), the only pro-immunity vote coming from Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrne, a Republican from the outskirts of Rochester.
As one of the three people in the room when Cuomo bestowed the immunity gift upon nursing home providers, Heastie surely was aware of how it happened. His counsel and spokesman didn’t respond to The Indy’s requests for comment.
“Nursing home legal immunity must be part of the impeachment process,” Kim told The Indy. “It clearly establishes another motive (in addition to the book deal) for the executive office to deflate the nursing home data and death toll.” He added that if the legislature had possessed “real-time data” sooner, it could have acted more quickly to fully repeal the immunity.
If the assembly had followed through with an impeachment vote, the trial would have taken place in the state senate. Cuomo and his legal team would have been allowed to rebut any claims of misconduct. Heastie, in other words, likely would have found himself in the spotlight he dreads.
Please support independent media today! Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, The Indypendent is still standing but it’s not easy. Make a recurring or one-time donation today or subscribe to our monthly print edition and get every copy sent straight to your home.