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HRC Leader Critiqued for Cuomo Ties But Says Governor Should Resign

Alphonso David

Alphonso David had been the New York governor's lawyer before joining the Human Rights Campaign and was involved in the response to sexual harassment accusations.

Alphonso David, now president of the Human Rights Campaign but formerly counsel to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is receiving some criticism for his involvement in the governor's response to sexual harassment allegations but is also saying Cuomo should resign.

David's name surfaces several times in the 168-page report issued Tuesday by the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James. The investigators who compiled the report wrote that they conclude Cuomo "engaged in conduct constituting sexual harassment under federal and New York State law" by "among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching, as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women." Cuomo later issued a televised statement saying he had never engaged in such behavior.

David has limited his comments on the matter to the following tweet:

David is mentioned primarily regarding the response to accusations by Lindsey Boylan, who was chief of staff to the CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation and later deputy secretary for economic development and special advisor to the governor.

Boylan alleged Cuomo commented on her appearance, touched and kissed her without her consent, and made inappropriate comments to her, one "to the effect of, 'let's play strip poker,'" according to the report from James's office. She went public with these accusations last December.

Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Cuomo, then contacted David, who had become HRC's president in 2019. She was seeking confidential files about Boylan's time in state government and asked David to provide what he had. He turned over files from a time in 2018 when he had counseled Boylan about her frustrations in working in the Executive Chamber (a body that includes the governor's top aides) before she resigned from her post. He had kept a copy of the files, which contained complaints about Boylan, when he left state government "because it 'may have been the only instance where [he] was actually involved in a counseling of an employee when [he] was in the Executive Chamber,'" the James report quotes David as saying. The files appear to be a matter of attorney-client privilege, with Cuomo being David's client, so he may have been obligated to share them.

Rich Azzopardi, a top aide to the governor, then circulated those files to journalists with the Associated Press, New York newspapers, and TV networks. The report characterizes this as an attempt to discredit Boylan, but it did not do so. Azzopardi told several journalists that Boylan "got fired after being confronted," but the files say she resigned voluntarily. "During the meeting Mr. David was clear that she was not being asked to resign, fired, or pushed out in any way," a memo quoted in the report states. "In no uncertain terms he said that she was simply being counseled in response to the complaints that have been made about her from multiple sources."

Cuomo went on to draft a document, characterized as a letter or potential commentary piece, with help from several advisers. It defended him and sought to undermine Boylan and, according to James's report, "denied the legitimacy of Ms. Boylan's allegations, impugned her credibility, and attacked her claims as politically motivated (including with theories about connections with supporters of President Trump and a politician with an alleged interest in running for Governor)."

It was circulated to former aides, including David, who joined others in saying that releasing it was a bad idea. (Another prominent LGBTQ+ activist, attorney Roberta Kaplan, said it was OK to be released with some changes; she was attorney to DeRosa, Cuomo's secretary, during the investigation.) David, also saying he wasn't convinced the information in the letter was true, declined to sign it but said he would try to find others who would, although DeRosa said at one point he volunteered to sign if needed. The letter was never published, although it was shown to some journalists. This and the circulation of the confidential files "can constitute retaliation" and "sent a chilling message to other would be complainants," according to the attorney general's report.

The report also criticizes Cuomo and his aides for bringing in so many people outside state government to direct the response, including former employees such as David and the governor's brother, journalist Chris Cuomo. "The common thread among all of these individuals was a proven, personal loyalty to the Governor," the report states. "Their inclusion in the deliberations and the significant role they had in decision-making reflect how loyalty and personal ties were valued as much, if not more, than any official function or role in State government. And because they did not have any formal position within the Executive Chamber, they could not reasonably have been relied upon to protect its interests as an institution or the interest of its current and former employees (including some who were complainants or witnesses). ... The senior staff of the Executive Chamber (and the Governor's select group of outside confidantes) looked to protect the Governor and found ways not to believe or credit those who stepped forward to make or support allegations against him."

But now, in seeking Cuomo's resignation, David has joined many other prominent political figures, including President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and LGBTQ+ pols such as U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones, New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman, and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

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