Report details how Cuomo's staff worked on his memoir
Top aides in the Cuomo administration were directly involved in the production and marketing of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic-era memoir last year, according to an investigative report released Monday by the state Assembly.
That was in conflict with the terms of the book, which was supposed to be written and produced without the use of any state resources — including work from staff, the report said.
“Our investigation evidences that the Book was the product of significant work performed by Executive Chamber staff during a time of a global pandemic requiring an around-the-clock response,” the report said.
Cuomo was first approached with the idea of writing a book just three weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.
It wasn’t until early July that the former governor hinted publicly at his work on the memoir, telling an Albany radio personality that he was “thinking about writing a book about what we went through,” according to the report.
By that time, between March and July, Cuomo had already penned about 70,000 words, the report said. The book hadn’t been approved by JCOPE, the state’s ethics agency, at the time, but was given the green light a few days later.
Over the course of the year, his top aides would get involved in writing and editing the book, and more, according to the report.
“These senior officials attended meetings with agents and publishers, transcribed and drafted portions of the Book, coordinated the production and promotion of the Book, and participated in working sessions to review and finalize the Book,” the report said.
One of Cuomo’s top aides sent or received more than 1,000 emails related to the book during the second half of last year, according to the report. Another senior staffer sent or received more than 300 emails regarding the memoir.
Work was also done on the book outside of email, according to the report. Over the summer, senior members of Cuomo’s government staff communicated directly with his publisher over the phone and in person as well, the report said.
“During the drafting, there was particular attention paid to the nursing home section of the Book, and a senior Executive Chamber official noted that this section was ‘critically important.’” the report said.
Cuomo had been under fire, at the time, for his administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, including data related to deaths at those facilities. Thousands of deaths of nursing home residents hadn’t been disclosed to the public at that point.
At least one senior administration official was also directly involved in Cuomo’s press strategy regarding the book, the report said, and tracked the number of sales each day through coordination with the publisher. The book was released last October.
“The senior Executive Chamber official repeatedly sought updates regarding the Book’s pre-sales and expressed frustration when figures were not delivered promptly,” the report said.
“The key Executive Chamber official sent emails, oftentimes during the work week, related to asking public figures to attend events with the then-Governor to promote the Book.”
The same official also helped coordinate a media blitz on the book for Cuomo, making personal calls to media outlets for coverage, the report said. They were also engaged with the publisher on strategies to raise the book’s rankings online, according to the report.
Much of that was done during the workday, according to the report, including hours-long editing and audio recording sessions between Cuomo and his top staff at a time when COVID-19 was still very much present in New York, the report said.
“One Task Force member described the process as a ‘complete scramble’ in the Chamber to provide edits and information regarding the Book, with pressure to quickly provide information in response to requests from those in charge,” the report said.
Senior administration officials also roped junior staff into working on the book, according to the report.
Those workers were regularly assigned tasks by their supervisors related to the book, the report said. On one occasion, a handful of junior staffers recalled being asked to compile information on Cuomo’s public COVID-19 press briefings, according to the report.
It’s unclear if that work was related to Cuomo’s memoir, according to the report, but junior staff were also involved in more menial tasks, like drafting the book, the report said.
While representatives for Cuomo have claimed that all work done on the book by state government employees was done so voluntarily, staffers interviewed as part of the Assembly’s report disputed that claim.
One state official told investigators that work on the book wasn’t seen as any different than other duties assigned to junior staff by their supervisors.
“The state official explained that Book-related assignments were given by superiors and were expected to be completed like any other task,” the report said. “He further explained that the work was not voluntary.”
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Cuomo, disputed the report’s findings, saying that no one was forced to work on the book, and that any time spent doing so was part of each staffer’s personal time.
“Staff who volunteered took time off, evidencing that they were volunteering and not on state time,” Azzopardi said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is Assembly hype.”
Cuomo’s contract for the book was supposed to net him at least $5.1 million, but that could be clawed back by the state.
JCOPE, the state’s ethics agency, recently revoked its advisory opinion that allowed Cuomo to solidify his book deal last year. The commission could move to collect Cuomo’s earnings, but have shown no intention of doing so, as of now.