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HRC Head Says 'No Wrongdoing' in Cuomo Matter; Board Chairs Dispute

Alphonso David

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David says an independent investigation of his assistance to former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has found no wrongdoing on his part, but the chairs of the HRC and HRC Foundation boards are disputing that.

David released a statement Sunday on Twitter saying he had been asked to resign but refused. He also said the investigation, ordered by HRC's boards, of his role in the Cuomo matter has been completed and found that he had not done anything out of order.

Then Monday, an email from the board chairs for HRC and its foundation disputed David's statement, including his assertion there had been no wrongdoing.

David’s role in helping Cuomo respond to accusations of sexual harassment has been under investigation by the law firm of Sidley Austin, retained by HRC for this purpose. David was the governor’s in-house counsel before joining HRC in 2019, and the governor’s office tapped him for information and advice after the accusations surfaced last December. The New York State attorney general released a report in August, finding the accusations credible, and Cuomo has now resigned, with Kathy Hochul, formerly lieutenant governor, moving up to the governor’s office.

David’s full statement is below.

I have spent my entire career speaking out for those who are left out and left behind. When the New York Attorney General’s report came out, I was shocked and sick to my stomach and immediately called on Governor Cuomo to resign. I was also the one who called for HRC to conduct an independent review, and I participated in it fully. I did this to answer any questions and ensure that there would be no ambiguity about my role or questions about my leadership. I was confident that the facts would speak for themselves: that I had a legal obligation to hand over a memo when the Governor’s office requested it, and that I in fact spoke out against the draft letter I was asked to sign.

I have now been privately contacted by the two co-chairs of the HRC board and their representatives, who informed me verbally that the review period has been completed, and that there is no indication of wrongdoing on my part. Despite this, they told me that the results of the independent review will not be shared with anyone — not me, and not the HRC community. It isn’t even clear from our conversations that a formal report actually exists.

Despite the lack of any findings, the board co-chairs have now asked me to consider resigning, not because of any wrongdoing, but because they feel the incident has been a “distraction” for the organization. They told me they reached this conclusion because they heard from two funders and a small handful of employees who expressed concern via email over the last several weeks. They told me they wanted to resolve the matter quietly during this holiday weekend leading up to the 30-day deadline for the review, hoping there would be less media interest during this time. I have the support of too many of our employees, board members, and stakeholders to walk away quietly into the night. I am not resigning.

The idea that this is a distraction is simply not right. I have not been distracted, nor have my HRC colleagues who are fighting for human rights. We have had an active month of advocacy and new financial commitments to the organization. The distraction would be calling for my resignation without providing the results of the review. Keeping the review behind lock and key would be an injustice to me, and more importantly to our employees, supporters, and all members of the HRC community.  I have worked my entire life to build a reputation for integrity, and on behalf of the entire HRC community, I call for complete transparency in this matter by making the full findings from the Sidley Austin investigation public and providing me the opportunity to review those findings with the board — even though I’ve been told there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

I want to thank the countless employees, funders, partners, and stakeholders who have expressed their support for me, publicly and privately, during these past weeks. I assure them that as a Black, gay man who has devoted his entire career to the fight for equality, I will never stop being a loud and proud voice for our community’s values. The co-chairs of the HRC board owe it to the entire organization we serve to complete this process with transparency and integrity.

Then Monday, an email from the board chairs was shared with Chris Johnson, a reporter for the Washington Blade, and Johnson posted it on Twitter. The email had been sent to all HRC employees. HRC officials had not responded to The Advocate's request for comment. The email referred to "inaccuracies" in David's statement.

David quickly followed with a statement of his own, saying the board chairs were engaging in "bullying" and seeking to "distract us from the truth."

David’s role in the Cuomo response included providing a record of a conversation he had with one of the accusers, former New York State employee Lindsey Boylan, and circulating a document that defended the governor and sought to undermine Boylan’s credibility. The document was intended as a commentary piece or letter to the editor, but no media outlet agreed to publish it. David declined to sign it himself but did try to find other signatories; he has said he saw only one, more positive version of the letter, and that he was legally obligated to turn over the memo regarding his conversation with Boylan. The attorney general’s report found that Cuomo’s response to Boylan’s allegations constituted unlawful retaliation against her.

The HRC board announced in August that it had hired Sidley Austin to conduct the independent review; some observers have questioned Sidley Austin’s independence, given other work it has done for HRC. But the firm “has not represented HRC on any matter related to any of the issues in the current internal investigation that Sidley is conducting,” an HRC representative recently told the Washington Blade.

The Cuomo scandal implicated another prominent LGBTQ+ activist as well. Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who argued the case at the Supreme Court that brought down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, had reviewed the commentary circulated by the governor’s office and pronounced it acceptable to publish with a few changes. Kaplan, well known for her work for women’s rights, subsequently resigned as board cochair at Time’s Up, which assists survivors of sexual harassment. Tina Tchen, Time’s Up president and CEO, has also resigned.

There have been varying responses to David's assertions, but HRC's director of HIV and Health Equity, J. Maurice McCants-Pearsall, released this statement, calling on the board to put out the full report and questioning if David would be treated in the same way if he were white. Some funders are standing by him as well.

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