Two backers of Attorney General-elect Letitia James have accused governor-elect Andrew Cuomo of attempting to raise her profile by publicly announcing that his government agency will prosecute a former aide to ex-city comptroller Bill Thompson for sexual harassment.
The backers, a former Thompson chief of staff and a former staffer at the governor’s office, both told a Staten Island congressional delegation meeting Thursday that they believe the timing of the accusation against Christine Perone, a former deputy director of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to keep black voters in the Democratic mayoral primary, was connected to their backer’s desire to keep James on his ticket.
“This was to change the conversation,” the former Thompson staffer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The former aide’s comments were broadcast live on the House floor by a bipartisan delegation from Staten Island, which is represented by Representative Daniel Donovan.
James, who had little name recognition after being in office for less than three months, has quickly become one of Cuomo’s most prominent allies. She was frequently mentioned by Cuomo in public appearances during the campaign and was seated with the governor in the inaugural, along with his top aides. Perone’s statement, issued the night of the election by the board of elections, was widely viewed as a successful last-minute coup.
Thursday, James was asked if she welcomed Cuomo’s announcement.
“Well, I am not going to talk about campaigns,” she told reporters.
The governor-elect’s office has declined to comment, and also has not yet responded to the allegation made by the former Thompson staffer.
The campaign of Assemblyman John McDonald, another Cuomo ally and the other male contender for the congressional seat, is attacking the former Thompson staffer for speaking publicly about the accusation and for his involvement in the campaign to obtain subpoenas.
The campaign, in a statement, accused him of knowing Perone for nearly a decade.
Perone faces criminal charges of sex harassment, coercion and public corruption stemming from the harassment claims she filed against her former supervisor, Alex Carey, a former chief of staff in the mayor’s office, according to a criminal complaint.
Cuomo’s office announced on Wednesday that state prosecutors would take over the case.
“Despite pressure from city officials, we have chosen to take the case and to prosecute it,” Cuomo said in a statement.
On Thursday night, the city’s acting corporation counsel, Barry Levin, revealed in a letter to the comptroller-elect that he had recommended to Carey that he resolve the matter “voluntarily” in 2015, but said the aide later elected to pursue the charges in court.
In New York State, state investigation typically leads to enforcement by the attorney general, rather than an investigation by state prosecutors. The complaint filed by Perone named both Thompson and Carey, and both men asked a grand jury to convene.