‘Italian Guilt’: Cuomo’s Team Begged PR Exec to Rehab His Image for $100K a Month

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Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

After then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s offer of $100,000 a month didn’t convince PR exec Maggie Moran to handle crisis communications when sexual harassment allegations emerged last year, the disgraced pol’s office tried “Italian guilt” as a lure.

It didn’t work either.

The revelation is included in a transcript of a July 2021 deposition during which Moran, a Cuomo ally who served as campaign manager for his 2018 re-election bid, answered questions from lawyers with the New York Attorney General’s Office, which was at the time investigating accusations of improper behavior by Cuomo. New York Attorney General Letitia James released the 232-page document on Thursday as part of the final tranche of official materials related to the probe.

Moran, who was then a managing partner at high-powered PR agency Kivvit, testified during the deposition that “Cuomo world” had asked her and Kivvit to help prop up the governor’s rapidly declining image. While Cuomo was fending off the sexual harassment claims, he was simultaneously being investigated by state authorities for allegedly undercounting COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes by as much as 50 percent.

“The nursing home [issue], to me, was a different deal,” Moran said in her testimony. “You know, [Cuomo aide] Melissa [DeRosa] said one word out of context, they probably disclosed the numbers, nobody had a playbook during the pandemic, that felt, to me, like something that was worthwhile to work on.”

But the harassment allegations, Moran continued, “I just didn't really want any part of.” She said she decided not to help with the nursing home probe “once the allegations started.”

“The allegations, obviously, as a scandal trumped nursing homes, so now they were obviously all about the allegations,” Moran said, according to the transcript. “So, I gave him recommendations on who he might want to hire, because it wasn’t going to be us.”

The potential assignment was “not like a space I want to be in, not with the values of the firm, not with who I am,” Moran testified, even though she added that she did “not have a high opinion of [Cuomo accuser] Lindsey Boylan.”

Boylan, a former Cuomo aide, resigned in 2018 after accusing the governor of harassing her for years, allegedly kissing her on the lips after a meeting in his office, making it a point to touch her “lower back, arms, and legs,” and asking her to play strip poker. The 37-year-old Boylan, who earlier this year mounted an unsuccessful run for Manhattan Borough President, said in a bombshell blog post that she came to work “nauseous every day” after the kissing incident. Cuomo has steadfastly denied the allegations that eventually included accounts from other women such as a former executive assistant who accused him of groping her breast in 2020.

“As a woman in politics for almost twenty-five years, I lack any empathy for women who put themselves in positions that will reflect poorly upon all women in politics,” Moran said in her deposition. “It's tough enough as it is.”

Still, Moran said, “[E]ven if it’s Lindsey Boylan, I’m not going to defend men in these circumstances until everybody knows the facts.”

There was no way to feasibly separate the two jobs, and she couldn’t see a way forward, Moran testified, saying that “everything is a war for Andrew Cuomo.” And when a reporter “goes after you on one, they go after you on all. So, it doesn’t work.”

With Moran out, Cuomo’s office began leaning on two of Moran’s staffers and asking them to do it, she said.

“They’re trying to do Italian guilt [sic] into them doing it, and that kind of thing, go on leave, the whole nine yards,” she testified. “Neither of them wanted to do it, nor should they have to do it.”

When asked to explain “Italian guilt,” Moran—who is half Italian—said, “If they want you to do something, they’ll try everything. They’ll bribe you with food. Don't take the bribery word the wrong way. They’ll charm you, they’ll cajole you, they’ll try to twist your arm. They’ll do everything they can possibly do under the sun, including whoa [sic] is me, come on, help, please help, now is the time. If you’re family, you help. Guilt.”

A 204-page archive of exhibits released alongside the transcript indicate that Moran continued to advise Cuomo on the matter in some capacity. In one series of text messages, she can be seen going back and forth with a Cuomo-insider-turned-senior-Kivvit-staffer about messaging regarding the harassment charges and how to handle the press.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>A message between Moran and a Kivvit staffer regarding Cuomo’s response to sexual harassment allegations.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">New York State Attorney General’s Office</div>

A message between Moran and a Kivvit staffer regarding Cuomo’s response to sexual harassment allegations.

New York State Attorney General’s Office

Moran, who now works in the cannabis industry, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. Cuomo resigned in November after James’ bombshell report found he’d sexually harassed at least 11 current and former female staffers and engaged in a “pattern of inappropriate conduct” that got swept under the rug in a “hostile” and “unsafe” work environment.

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