Gov. Kathy Hochul has awarded a $4.3 million contract to investigate New York’s Andrew Cuomo-led response to the coronavirus outbreak — drawing fire from critics who accuse her of slow-walking the probe until after Tuesday’s election.
The one-year contract goes to consultant the Olson Group, an emergency management firm in Alexandria, Va. Hochul, who was lieutenant governor during the pandemic, first announced the planned probe in July.
But critics say the timing of the firm’s hire is curious — announced during the final days of a gubernatorial campaign where Hochul is fighting for her political life in a closer than expected race against Republican opponent Lee Zeldin.
“Given that COVID killed more than 75,000 New Yorkers — and the next virus could arrive at any time — the state’s leaders might have been expected to show more urgency in studying how to improve their operations,” said Bill Hammond, health analyst at the Empire Center for Public Policy, in a blog post.
“The hiring came more than two and half years after the state learned how tragically unprepared it was for a major pandemic, and 15 months after a governor resigned rather than face impeachment in part because of how he handled the crisis,” he wrote.
The results of the review could be explosive, scrutinizing life-and-death decisions made during the worst period of the COVID-19 outbreak, not only by the disgraced ex-Gov. Cuomo but also the politically powerful hospital and nursing home industries that now largely support Hochul.
A no-holds barred probe could also question what role Hochul played in decision-making during the pandemic.
The awarding of the contract was first reported by Spectrum News’ State of Politics.
Hammond has reservations about the study, which is being overseen by the governor’s office and the state Division of Homeland Security. He said the investigation of what happened should be independent and the consultant should have subpoena power to get information.
“There’s very little reason to believe they will rock the boat,” he told The Post.
“So far, the Hochul administration’s efforts on this front are sending troubling signals. Fully analyzing New York’s response to a catastrophe as big as COVID-19 should be a major, urgent priority for the state government – not something to be grudgingly addressed years later by a consultant on a skimpy budget.”
Cuomo came under fire for a controversial March 2020 edict that required nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients released from hospitals, even though the former governor himself previously said the highly contagious killer bug had spread through the facilities like “fire through dry grass” — killing more than 15,000 frail, immunosuppressed elderly residents.
Investigative reports by state Attorney General Letitia James and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that the Cuomo administration initially undercounted nursing home deaths by half and The Post exposed a strategy to cover up the true results amid a federal probe.
The former governor also enraged many New Yorkers by writing a $5 million profit-making memoir about his handling of the pandemic, accusing him of profiting off the backs of dead people. He also had government staffers help draft the book, titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Leaders of Voices for Seniors, the major advocacy group for thousands of nursing home families whose loved ones were killed by COVID, said Hochul failed them and have endorsed Lee Zeldin for governor.
“If Gov. Hochul can sit in a room in front of crying and heart-torn families, while promising an investigation and has failed to deliver; how can we believe she will keep any promise to her constituents,” the group said in a statement endorsing Zeldin.
Vivian Zayas, co-founder of Voices for Seniors and whose mother, Ana Martinez, died of COVID in a Long Island nursing home, said, “We believe our cries for justice will no longer fall on deaf ears under a Zeldin Administration. We have not forgotten and will not forget Gov. Hochul abandoning our families.”
Zeldin — who promised to appoint a special prosecutor to investigative pandemic-related nursing home deaths if elected — accused Hochul of being “complicit” in the COVID-related scandals because he served as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor when they occurred and “she knows it.”
“Hochul never said a word about the administration’s deadly nursing home order and cover up. She was silent as State Health Department officials went to private residences of the administration’s family and friends to provide VIP testing near the start of the pandemic,” Zeldin said.
“Hochul remained AWOL as taxpayer-funded administration staffers were being misused to write Andrew Cuomo’s $5.1 million self-congratulatory book… Instead of swift answers, she’s dragging her feet just long enough so that the initial findings don’t come out until after the November election. The voters of New York have an opportunity on November 8th to shut down this corrupt machine once and for all.”
Hochul’s office said the governor is delivering on her promise of a no-holds barred probe.
“New Yorkers who have lived through being at the epicenter of a global pandemic, lost loved ones, and experienced economic hardship deserve a thoughtful, meaningful, and independent after action review, and that’s exactly what we’re working to deliver,” said Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays.
“We have identified the Olson Group as the winning bidder of the RFP for a contract with a maximum value of $4.3 million, and we are moving through the contract approval process.”