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As Cuomo Fallout Spreads Through Advocacy Communities Human Rights Campaign Fires Leader

HRC’s Alphonso David was one of several advocates who advised Cuomo’s team on sexual harassment allegations. Two leaders at Time’s Up resigned last month.

Amanda Becker

Originally published by The 19th

The fallout in the circle that advised former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on how to counter sexual harassment allegations spread late Monday when the Human Rights Campaign fired leader Alphonso David less than 10 days after Tina Tchen resigned as president of Time’s Up.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is the country’s largest LGBTQ+ organization. Time’s Up was founded in 2018 by high-profile women in Hollywood and politics to fight sexual misconduct and advocate for gender equity in the workplace. Both advocacy organizations worked closely with Cuomo’s office to pass anti-discrimination and harassment legislation.

But when New York’s attorney general released a 165-page investigative report last month finding that Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women and retaliated against one, it contained a bombshell that sent ripples through the advocacy communities for women and LGBTQ+ people.

David, a longtime aide to Cuomo before joining HRC, was described in the report as one of several outside advisers who engaged in a “flurry of communication” to protect Cuomo as his staff arranged to leak one accuser’s private personnel file to the media and drafted an op-ed letter that impugned her credibility. Another adviser was Time’s Up board member Roberta Kaplan, who resigned shortly after the report was released. Tchen was not named in the report, but it stated that Kaplan had consulted her on the matter.

David, who was the HRC’s first Black president, was set to mark his second anniversary as the group’s leader and sign a new contract with the board, which expressed full confidence in him after the release of the attorney general’s report. After staff raised concerns in a series of contentious meetings about David’s role and the negative impact it could have on the organization’s work, HRC tapped the law firm Sidley Austin to conduct a 30-day review of David’s interactions with Cuomo.

At the time, David said he had done nothing wrong and would “fully endorse the decision of the boards” because “multiple inaccuracies have been circulating and therefore this definitive review is important.”

The situation came to a head over the weekend, when David said publicly that the board told him the review had been completed and he had been cleared of wrongdoing but nevertheless asked him to consider “quietly” resigning ahead of the 30-day mark so he would not be a “distraction” to the organization’s work. He called for the findings of the review to be made public.

Both David and the board sent emails to staff over the holiday weekend disputing each other’s accounts of the review and its conclusions, according to internal communications reviewed by The 19th. Some of David’s backers made public displays of support.

HRC board co-chairs Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson sent another email to staff late Monday saying that David had “acted counter to HRC’s values, mission, policies” in advising Cuomo and “damaged both HRC’s reputation, as well as his own.” They said they had not told him he had been cleared of wrongdoing.

“Alphonso’s public statements and email to HRC’s staff yesterday and today contained a number of false and misleading statements about the investigation and his status within the organization,” the co-chairs wrote, adding:

“He alone bears responsibility for what he did and the consequences.”

Shortly after, HRC announced publicly that its boards had voted to remove David “for cause” and that Chief Operating Officer Joni Madison will serve as interim president while a search is conducted for David’s replacement.

“As a Black, gay man who has spent his whole life fighting for civil and human rights, they cannot shut me up,” David countered, saying that his employment was unjustly terminated after he asked for details about the 30-day review.

“Expect a legal challenge,” he added.