Andrew Cuomo may have left the governor’s mansion in Albany, N.Y., but the repercussions of his fight to stay in power continue to wreak collateral damage. As previously reported by The Root, several leaders of prominent social justice movements were swept up in the fallout of the now-disgraced politician, including attorney Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan, co-founder and board co-chair of Time’s Up. Following the release of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report, Kaplan stepped down in early August amid revelations that she and Time’s Up President and CEO Tina Tchen advised the governor’s staff amid mounting sexual misconduct allegations—and were specifically implicated in helping to refute an accuser. Though both Kaplan and Tchen denied the characterization, Tchen soon also resigned, leaving her posts last week (h/t NPR).
Then, there is Alphonso David, former counsel to Governor Cuomo and current president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States. Also scrutinized “for his role advising the staff of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during their efforts to undermine the credibility of a woman who had accused the governor of sexual harassment” (h/t Washington Post), an independent investigation was commissioned by the HRC board.
According to an online statement released on Sunday, that investigation has quietly come to a close without finding any wrongdoing on the part of David. In fact, the embattled president claims it was he who requested the investigation, however, its results have neither been shared with him, HRC staff, nor the public. Nevertheless, he says the HRC board is pushing for his resignation, claiming the controversy has proven too much of a “distraction.”
David’s full statement, transcribed:
I have spent my entire career speaking out for those who are left out and left behind. When the New York Attorney General’s report came out, I was shocked and sick to my stomach and immediately called on Governor Cuomo to resign. I was also the one who called for HRC to conduct an independent review, and I participated in it fully. I did this to answer any questions and ensure that there would be no ambiguity about my role or questions about my leadership. I was confident that the facts would speak for themselves: that I had a legal obligation to hand over a memo when the Governor’s office requested it, and that I in fact spoke out against the draft letter I was asked to sign.
I have now been privately contacted by the two co-chairs of the HRC board and their representatives, who informed me verbally that the review period has been completed, and that there is no indication of wrongdoing on my part. Despite this, they told me that the results of the independent review will not be shared with anyone—not me, and not the HRC community. It isn’t even clear from our conversations that a formal report actually exists.
Despite the lack of any findings, the board co-chairs have now asked me to consider resigning, not because of any wrongdoing, but because they feel the incident has been a “distraction” for the organization. They told me they reached this conclusion because they heard from two funders and a small handful of employees who expressed concern via email over the last several weeks. They told me they wanted to resolve the matter quietly during this holiday weekend leading up to the 30-day deadline for the review, hoping there would be less media interest during this time. I have the support of too many of our employees, board members, and stakeholders to walk away quietly into the night. I am not resigning.
The idea that this is a distraction is simply not right. I have not been distracted, nor have my HRC colleagues who are fighting for human rights. We have had an active month of advocacy and new financial commitments to the organization. The distraction would be calling for my resignation without providing the results of the review. Keeping the review behind lock and key would be an injustice to me, and more importantly to our employees, supporters, and all members of the HRC community. I have worked my entire life to build a reputation for integrity, and on behalf of the entire HRC community, I call for complete transparency in this matter by making the full findings from the Sidley Austin investigation public and providing me the opportunity to review those findings with the board—even though I’ve been told there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
I want to thank the countless employees, funders, partners, and stakeholders who have expressed their support for me, publicly and privately, during these past weeks. I assure them that as a Black, gay man who has devoted his entire career to the fight for equality, I will never stop being a loud and proud voice for our community’s values. The co-chairs of the HRC board owe it to the entire organization we serve to complete this process with transparency and integrity.
Several other leaders have since spoken out in David’s defense, including former Speaker of the New York City Council and 2013 mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, who thanked David for his service and encouraged him to fight on, tweeting that HRC “must embrace fairness [and] transparency.”
Longtime American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also offered her support, tweeting: “I know [Alphonso David]...He has alway fought for justice. He is also a wonderful human being. Why after an internal review which clears Alphonso would anyone ask for his resignation[?]”
J. Maurice McCants-Pearsall, HRC’s director of HIV and Health Equity, expressed his disappointment in a letter sent to HRC board members. Posting the missive online, he accompanied it with a tweet stating: “For nearly two years I have served under the leadership of [Alphonso David] at the HRC and we’ve made great stride toward ending the HIV epidemic in Black and Brown communities. We have to support him in this moment and ensure that he’s able to do his job.”
McCants-Pearsall’s letter also outlined David’s achievements at the organization as the first Black person to lead HRC—success that had earned him a five-year extension prior to the Cuomo controversy. McCants-Pearsall further called out “internal racism” within the HRC, urging the board to “do the right thing,” his statement reading in part:
I personally find the recent developments of the HRC board to be disturbing and undermines the work and headway that was made in the Black and Brown community. If there was an investigation, where is the report? We’ve spent nearly 30 days awaiting the findings of the report, but according to the conversation the board had with Alphonso, there was no evidence of wrongdoing, nor will the report see the light of day. This is appalling, regardless of one’s support for Alphonso or those who think that he should resign, it’s imperative that we see the report to understand what happened and why the board saw fit to ask him to resign.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to question if we’d be in the same situation had Alphonso been a white gay man? My answer is no. I believe that the board would have gone above and beyond to protect him. However, Alphonso is a Black man, and sadly, Black people are the most despised creatures in the world. This sentiment is why he wasn’t afforded the same level of blanketed trust and support given to his predecessor. This is disgusting and brings shame on HRC. Contrary to popular belief, Alphonso is supported among staff, members of the press, within the community and among the funders who have personally reached out to me voicing their concern and fear that he’s being railroaded for the sins of a white man.
At the time of this posting, there had yet to be a public statement made by HRC leadership with regard to the investigation into David or his future with the organization. As for Time’s Up, Chief Operating Officer Monifa Bandele has since stepped in as interim CEO; however, as of Saturday, the ongoing controversy stemming from the Cuomo scandal had also prompted the resignation of at least eight Time’s Up board members, including Shonda Rhimes, Jurnee Smollett and Eva Longoria. The departing board members released a statement online , which read in part (h/t Deadline):
TIME’S UP is ready for new leadership, and we want to move forcefully toward its new iteration. We have strong faith in the talent and dedication of our interim CEO Monifa Bandele as a leader. As has been announced, Monifa will be overseeing a comprehensive assessment of the organization, in collaboration with an outside consultant, and the input of our stakeholders: survivors and those who work for survivor justice and gender equity in the workplace and beyond.
Updated: Monday, 9/6/21 at 2:56 p.m., E.T.: On Monday afternoon, David posted a follow-up statement on the issue after reportedly having been told by the board that the investigation is not, in fact, complete, despite previously having been led to believe otherwise, he maintains. His account of the ongoing situation is printed below in full.
This morning the HRC board co-chairs sent an organization-wide note that further elevated their effort to confuse and distract us from the truth. I debated whether to provide a response, but ultimately even though their note offered little, their attempt to change the facts and assert things that aren’t true was too egregious for me to stay silent.
The facts are that I was contacted by the board co-chairs late Friday night. They told me that the Sidley Austin review was complete, but they would not provide the report to me or to anyone. They gave me a deadline of 8am the next morning to tell them whether I would resign. They didn’t offer a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing on my part when I asked repeatedly.
After being silent for 24 hours since I issued my statement, this morning the co-chairs now say that the investigation is not yet complete. One of the most troubling questions about the note from the Board co-chairs is that if anyone were to take them at their word that the investigation hasn’t yet wrapped up, even though that is completely opposite what they told me, why would they have pressured me to resign before it was complete and before they had any findings?
In addition, their silence over the past 24 hours, and now saying the investigation is not yet complete, indicates that they have not yet finalized the findings and had never intended to share any report. Their statements have been so contradictory that we will now see what if anything they produce, and whether it will be on Sidley Austin letterhead as it must be, or something else written by the co-chairs. We’re all left wondering whether this whole process was preordained from the start.
Finally, this new statement tried to suggest that my lawyers engaged with their lawyers in a discussion about me possibly separating from HRC, indicating we were in the middle of some kind of negotiation. This is simply not true. They contacted my lawyers, and neither my lawyers nor I ever suggested at any point that I would even consider stepping down. Our simple and repeated demand was that they share the Sidley Austin report.
Their refusal to offer up the findings, even with the indication that they found no evidence of wrongdoing, and yet still urge me to consider resigning during a holiday weekend to avoid media interest, does disservice to any persons or organizations involved in the fight for civil and human rights.
We need to end this bullying and a cloak and dagger process that disrespects what we agreed to and that now has the co-chairs scrambling, trying to backpedal and recreate truths.