Human Rights Campaign staff had an intense meeting Wednesday with the group’s president, Alphonso David, regarding his ties to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with several employees calling on David to resign.
David is under fire because of his role in responding to sexual harassment allegations against the governor. He was Cuomo’s in-house counsel before joining HRC in 2019, but after the harassment claims emerged last December, Cuomo tapped David and other former staffers and allies to assist with his response. David’s role included sharing confidential files regarding one of the accusers, state employee Lindsey Boylan, with another member of the governor’s team, who then provided them to the media in an effort to discredit Boylan, according to a report released Tuesday by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
After the report came out, David tweeted that Cuomo should resign, joining a chorus of other activists and many elected officials, including President Joe Biden. But the HRC staff is incensed at David, as evidenced by a recording of the meeting, held by conference call, that an employee shared with HuffPost.
“HRC employees spent most of the call berating David over the report’s findings that tie him to Cuomo’s attempts to smear his accusers and publicly redeem himself,” HuffPost reports.
“You are creating a toxic environment where partners can’t trust us,” one employee said. “When are you resigning?”
“Is the best way to protect HRC’s brand for Alphonso to step down?” another said.
“Alphonso, we will band together and take this to the board to request your resignation,” one other vowed. “Are you willing to take down our org with you?”
David said he was sickened by the harassment documented in James’s report. He also said he was not previously aware of any of the allegations against Cuomo.
“I knew nothing. Nothing,” he said. “No one ever disclosed allegations of harassment with me, either during or after I worked in state service. Also, I never saw anything.”
David also defended his role in an email to HRC’s board and in an interview with the Washington Blade (he has not spoken to The Advocate about the Cuomo matter, but the publication has reached out to him). Regarding the file on Boylan, he told the board, “After initially being unable to find the file, the Governor’s office requested a copy of the electronic memo from me which I provided (as I am required to do as a former counsel) but my copy was subsequently not relied on because the office found the full official file.” The email was shared with the Blade, and David confirmed its accuracy.
The file detailed his meeting with Boylan regarding her frustrations at working for the state and complaints by some of her staff. This “involved an investigation of her regarding allegations of racial discrimination by other employees,” David told HRC’s board. The person who circulated the file to the media, Rich Azzopardi, intended to discredit Boylan by showing she was fired, according to the James report, but in actuality the file showed she was not fired or pressured to resign. She ended up resigning voluntarily.
The James report also details that David was one of the people who reviewed a document drafted by Cuomo and his associates that defended the governor and was considered for release as an open letter or commentary piece. David declined to sign on to the document because he doubted the veracity of some of its content, but he agreed to seek out other potential signatories. One aide to Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa, said David was willing to sign on if needed. The document did not end up being published, but it was shared with several members of the media.
“I wasn’t willing to sign it because it included facts I couldn’t verify,” David told the Blade. “I was not aware of it. I wasn’t personally involved and had no personal knowledge, so I refused to sign the letter and I think everybody else did.”
David was also involved in discussions about calling another state employee, identified in the James report as Kaitlin, who alleged harassment by the governor, and secretly recording the call. “In that instance, it was simply asking me, in my role as a former counsel what the law was, not the context,” David told the Blade.
The HRC board has renewed David’s contract for another five years. The contract had already been finalized, but the announcement was made Tuesday, coincidentally the same day the James report came out.
“The Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Campaign Foundation Boards have full confidence in Alphonso David as president of the organization,” said a joint statement from HRC Foundation Board chair Jodie Patterson and HRC Board of Directors chair Morgan Cox, shared with several media outlets.
“In recognition of his extraordinary leadership during extremely challenging times, we were proud to extend his contract to stay on in his role for five more years,” they said. “For the last two years he has been boldly leading the organization as it works to achieve its mission: full equality for all LGBTQ people, in the midst of a global pandemic, a nationwide reckoning on racial justice, and the most important presidential election of our lifetimes.”
In his interview with the Blade, David said he did not intend to resign from HRC. “This is my life’s work,” he said. “I’ve been a civil rights lawyer for 20 years. This is what I’ve been doing, this is what I did in government. I wrote the marriage equality law. I drafted the Paid Family Leave Law, drafted the minimum wage law, drafted regulations to prohibit discrimination against trans people. This is my life’s work. So I intend to continue the work that I’ve been doing because the work of marginalized communities, the work to actually represent marginalized communities is too important.”
However, David is receiving calls to resign from activists with other organizations, and Dana Nessel, the out attorney general of Michigan, tweeted Wednesday that she would not accept support from HRC while David remains at the helm.
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