New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on Northeast Report May 1, 2020. This interview was recorded a few minutes before airtime. It has not been edited.
Well, hello, governor. How are you? Are you holding up under this tremendous pressure?
I am holding up, holding up. No cracks yet, Alan.
Lemme ask you this-
Besides the cracks I had before.
And the cracks coming out of me. OK. So governor, the question I have is, there's been quite a to-do about whether the vice president should have worn a mask, when he went to the Mayo Clinic. Do you wear a mask ever?
I wear a mask. I wear a mask, when I say people should wear a mask. So you know, I go out- When I'm walking the dog or I'm in public, I take a walk with my daughters. I wear a mask.
Oh yeah. Well, look, I think it makes sense. I don't wear a mask. When you're, when you don't have to wear a mask, right? If you're walking alone, you don't have to wear a mask. If you're not going to encounter other people, you don't have to wear a mask.
But if you are going to come in proximity, you can't maintain social distance and you should wear a mask. So I wear a mask. The- I think the vice president, in that setting- if everybody's wearing a mask, you're in the hospital, I think you should wear a mask just as a point of, of leadership.
Right? It was their- it was the Mayo Clinic's rule. It was a posted rule and he still didn't do it. I mean, now he's wearing it. I think he got, sort of raked over the coals in the in the press, and now he's wearing it. There, so you're quite right. I think it's a about, a matter of leadership. Let me, speaking of leadership. Let me ask you this, there are a couple of polls out now, which are rather extraordinary. And show you right after Dr. Fauci is among the most popular people in America. Do you wonder when that's going to change? I mean, you know, you got a lot of unpopular decisions to make. You gotta- there's going to be people fired in schools and that kind of thing and it's got to, it's got to get to you in some way, doesn't it?
I don't think about a change. What? Are you sure it has to change?
No, certainly not. It's all been changing for the good for you, up to now.
No, look. I think it's interesting, Alan because, you know me, I, I'm doing what I do. I think that the times has changed. I think the focus has changed. I've always been about competent government. I've always been about performance in government. I've always been about substance of government, that government can work. And that's what we're doing here. And it's been about facts and presentation and communication and my attempt at being personable, and humor, and who I am. I did feel here- Look, let's take a step back for a second.
Nobody understands how delicate the situation was. Governmentally, from a leadership point of view. You had to communicate to the people of the state, how serious the situation was, so that they would actually comply with these highly disruptive orders: stay in the house, etc. So you had to communicate the seriousness of the situation. But you couldn't communicate it in, in such a way as to create panic, because then the essential workers wouldn't show up. Right? So that's a very fine line, communicate the facts, but not panic and not fear. Because, God forbid, the essential workers don't come to work. God forbid, there's no food on the shelves. Now you'll have a real problem. Or, God forbid you issue an order as governor, "Everybody stay home". And they say, "No". Now you have a real problem.
But it's a very fine communication line. So the way I did it was: facts, honesty, bluntness, and personalize it. I understand what you're feeling, I feel it too. I understand the impact on your family. It's happening in my family too. So using myself as a vehicle to communicate the situation as basically a metaphor, or an analogy for the whole situation, which I think helped me communicate it because there's only so far you can go with infection rates and rate of transmission. So I used myself and my family.
Do you think about these things before you go out? Or do you just do them intuitively while you're doing them? I mean, you just gave us a philosophy of how you handle it and what you want to get across. But do you say, "Okay, today I'm gonna do this..." or do you just sort of go out there and say, "This is who I am and you know, I'm gonna do my thing".
I just go out there and do whatever I do. I mean, I have certain facts, you know, that they have in the morning, which are just the numbers. But then I just try to figure out a way while I'm doing it, to communicate it to people. So it is understandable and relatable. I did think early on about the overall situation of the fine line in communication. Yes, it's serious. You have to comply, don't panic. You also have to show up to work tomorrow morning. Which, which I felt comfortable with the message. They were both correct. But it's a fine line between those two. And I don't think people understood the, the potential problem of either non-compliance or fear by the essential workers. And now you have no food, no public transit. Uh, no lights, you know- and you want to see New York City explode. That's what would happen, explode with fear.
You know, as, as a guy who grew up as I was, as were you- riding the IRT and the IND- I don't even think they call him that anymore- And, you know, they were always, there were always problems in terms of hygiene. Now, you're closing them down from one o'clock in the morning to five o'clock, and we're hearing that you've got other ways of getting the essential workers to work. What are they?
Well, first, it's amazing what we're doing here- all across the board. I mean, this is all extraordinary. People don't even understand how extraordinary it is. The subway has never been closed, you know that? It's always been 24 hours. It's never been closed.
I never thought about that.
Yeah, what happened here, Alan, is, again, it's the confluence of events. You have fewer MTA workers because they go out sick, fewer cops because they go out sick. So more homeless now ride the subways because you have fewer MTA workers and fewer NYPD policing it. So the trains become filled with homeless people.
Oh, I know.
During a pandemic, they're not wearing protection. They're putting their lives in order. They're making the trains, un, unusable for riders. And you now have this virus that can last up to three days- depending on who you believe- on a stainless steel surface. And by the way, the internal interior of a subway car is like, all stainless steel. So we say we're going to close it for four hours, disinfect it- you've never disinfected a subway system before you've never disinfected cars. How do you do it? What solution? How do you protect the worker?
And you have to get the homeless off the trains to do it, which is probably a good thing anyway, because now you can actually have the outreach workers work with them to get the services they need. And then for those four hours that you close it, you have to find an alternative transportation route. So we'll use buses, vans, or if they have to, Uber and Lyft- that the MTA will pay for if they don't have a route that goes there. So, that's a totally extraordinary system when you think about it.
Wow. Some people may have thought you were a meanie by kicking the homeless out of the, out of the subways because this is where they were going. But you've stuck to your guns.
A meanie. Okay. By the way, first of all, I've worked with the homeless all my life. There's- you haven't had a governor or a chief executive who is more experienced with the homeless. I started in my 20s, I was the largest provider for homeless families in the nation. I did it for eight years in the Clinton Administration, won all sorts of awards from Harvard University for it. And had a, did a national plan to help the homeless that is still in use today, by the Trump administration. So nobody can say, "I don't know what I'm talking about, or I haven't shown compassion". But you want to say it shows compassion to put a homeless person sleeping on a subway car in the middle of a global pandemic, with Coronavirus, without any protection? You think that's decent treatment of an individual? Then we have a difference of opinion.
I want to go back to Fauci for a minute. If Trump fires Fauci, which I think is inevitable. Would you hire him? Would you bring him on to New York State? What do you do? Is there a place for him?
Donald Trump could never hire- never fire Dr. Fauci, it would be a terrible mistake. And I don't believe he would ever do it even just out of- for political reasons. If for any reason, Dr. Fauci was no longer in federal service, I would move heaven and earth to try to seduce him to join the state of New York.
And do you have personal conversations with Fauci? I know you do, you know, is there- do you ever talk about you know the possibility of his, his getting canned?
Personal conversations? Do you mean like about girlfriends, boyfriends, family?
That's next. That's next. Listen, listen. You're gold now. No matter what you do, no matter what you do, somebody raises- let's go there. You're on CBS, I think, the other day and the anchor talks to you about your eligibility as a as a bachelor and all of a sudden they're a front page stories and newspapers about how you gonna, how you're gonna be, you know- she's, there's a matchmaker who wants to set you up because you can't do it on your own, you need somebody to do that. That was all baloney, right?
I was entrapped. I was entrapped. The question was- we were talking about coronavirus, and there was like a pivot to a poll done by a matchmaker, where my brother and I were the top candidates in this matchmakers poll for eligible bachelors. I then, said basically, well, Chris is married, so he's not eligible. However, I am.
Ah, ha, and ...
That was it. That was it. That was the story. You can't say anything these days.
No, you can't, you can't. So, you know, they're, they're impertinent questions, by impertinent people like me. So are you seeing anybody right now?
Well, if I was I wouldn't be eligible.
No, well, you could be eligible.
Am I in a serious relationship with anyone now? I am not.
Well, are you in an un-serious relationship with anyone?
Depends on how you define un-serious.
I'll tell you how... No. Okay, so so
I'm working. I'm working. I'm working.
Yeah, well listen, I got a call from somebody today, at the radio station. Who said, "Listen, you know the governor right?" And I said, "Yeah, I know him, I know him. I interview him" "Will you please ask him why I can't get my ununemployment, unemployment check?" Now I know you get that question all the time. And I know that, he says he called 100 times in a row one day, and he kept getting the same non-answer. He also says he got a little bit of money and then it stopped- can you tell us where you are on unemployment insurance?
I talk to the governors on these conference calls, this is a nationwide problem. You had a system that was designed to handle several thousand people, on the phones and on the websites. They're now handling, literally millions. Every state system is overwhelmed. I know it's no sanction, but our state system is actually working much better, than many other states. And it is hard to get through, Alan, but when you get through, you will get the same amount of money, back to the start date. It's not that the delay in signing up actually costs you money. It does if you need the check today, it's it's not a help. But- and there is, it can take several days but you will get the same amount of money. I don't understand why he would have gotten the check and then it stopped. Unless he got the federal, one-time check.
Which may be possible.
That, That's right. That's right. Well, okay, so I asked the question. Question asked, question answered. And so they say, you know, on Law and Order. So my question to you now is about the schools, you made a decision not to open the schools this year. You still haven't decided about summer school, right? And you don't know about the fall?
Right, these schools- to open a school with the right social distancing plan, in this timeframe. With this current virus spread is what- neither the public health officials recommend it. And we talked to a ton of Education Advocates as well as educators, and they don't recommend it. You'd have to get a plan in place, Alan, where a school can basically social distance. And just think about it, you'd have to decrease class size. You'd have to run additional classes, find teachers. How do you feed students in the cafeteria, maintaining social distancing? How do you put them on a bus? How many more buses? So it was just- you couldn't do it intelligently for this academic year. Summer school, where you have fewer students, it could be done from a physical point of view- many of the school districts believe they could do it. If it was safe from a public health point of view. That's why, I try to take it in intelligent intervals and increments. I said we'll make a decision on summer school by the end of May, which allows us to go either way, by the end of May. You could do summer school or you could not do summer school and people would have enough notice.
Joe Biden was on television. On Morning Joe, this morning. You've been there right?
So, and you know what that's like. You know, I watched it and thought it was interesting. What's your-what grade would you give him for his his performance?
Yeah. I didn't, I didn't catch him on Morning Joe. I was getting ready for, or this morning. But look, it's a difficult situation. Everybody respects a woman's right and responsibility to come forward. And she did. And we encourage that all across the board. Joe Biden denies it. Obviously. He's done that already. You've had media reports on it. I think it's it's one of those issues that, it's going to be up to people to decide. For myself- I know Joe Biden a lot of years. He has always been straightforward and true to his word. So I accept his word.
Once somebody is accused: correctly or wrongly- there are people out there who do this. Is there a, is there a way, is there a way to deal with it? Or is it just hopeless?
Look. People wind up making their own decision, especially this year, you have an election coming up, so I think- that's why I say people will make their own decision. But look, no, we- the short answer is no. It's an ugly time out there. I'm not talking about this situation, just in general. It's a political time. People make accusations. They don't need any basis for it. You know, people can write columns, they can send letters, they can issue press releases, and they don't need a basis to make an accusation, right. Anybody can say anything. And then if you're in elected office, you can defend it the best you can. But the, you know, the "Do you beat your wife? When did you stop beating your wife?" You know, those accusations... They're just ugly. Yeah, they can have no basis to them, but people are free to make them and then you can say, you know, "I never beat my wife." Okay, now the people decide.
Now we have more than 20 accusations, I believe, against President Trump and- of similar nature. So my question to you is, how does this play out in a general election? I mean, will either of these guys be- and I suspect that's what what's going on here- Will either these people be allowed to raise this issue without getting it back full force. I mean, here's one accusation 27 years ago, or something like that. And here's Trump with all of this garbage that he's carrying, so- all of these accusations so- you know, what happens?
Well, I think that'll- there will be dialogue on that on the campaign obviously and you're right. When one side raises it, the other side will raise it. But I don't even think that's where this election goes. I think this election is gonna be about- first performance in office. I think it's going to be a referendum on on President Trump more than anything. He's a very clear signal of style and, and direction. I think it'll be a referendum on him, over the past four years- or three years and change- and I think it will be a referendum on how he's handled the Coronavirus. You know this, this Coronavirus. It's redefined what government means, Alan. It's not just a snapshot in time for people. Let's be, let's be honest. Why government has been relevant over the past 15 years? It hasn't. In a lot of people's lives, the economy has been going fine enough, you know. A little difference here, a little difference there- Democrat, Republican, but most people have been living their lives. All of a sudden, besides World Wars, where leadership mattered and competence mattered. All of a sudden government really matters. I mean, it really matters. You look at those polls-
I'm looking at them and they're incredible about you. Which leads me to the next question, I'm sorry for interrupting, but we have so little time, but I wanted to ask you this. I'm getting- I'm sorry. I'm getting a ton of mail about how you should be the candidate, for president. Now I keep telling people, "How can he be the candidate? He hasn't got any delegates. He's gonna walk into the convention, all of a sudden by acclamation, and everybody's gonna stop and say he can do it?" But a lot of people want to see you run for President, but how in the world could that happen? I don't see how it could.
It can't. Because I won't. That's what stops it in the tracks. But look, one of the reasons I think, I'm- I've been effective here in communicating- And I think this for me, you know, I think it works on a lot of levels. But one of the reasons is, I have credibility, because I have taken myself out of the political suspicion bubble, right? Oh, these politicians, they're always about themselves. They're always jockeying for the next position. There must be some political agenda. No agenda. I won't run. I'm not running either president, vice president, well, "Maybe you'll go want to work in the admi-" I don't want to go work in the administration. Nothing, nothing. I have no agenda, but representing you. That is my only agenda. Representing you. Democrat, Republican, short, tall, doesn't matter. I'm not going anywhere. I don't want anything else. I have no agenda besides your own. I think that's one of the reasons people feel comfortable believing what I say.
Seven out of 10 do in the last poll. Seven out of ten approve of the job you're doing. That's extraordinary. And I, I know that you're not focused on poll numbers, at least you- well, you would say that, I mean, who could, who could argue it with you? But, but it's extraordinary where you are in the national spotlight, right now. And what, what can I say?
Well, let me, let me ask you this.
Have you- have I done anything different than you have always seen me do, except with more frequency?
Yes, yes. Yes, you have.
I have. Okay, you're not gonna like this, but I'm gonna say it. People are seeing you as much nicer than they used to see you. They used to see you as a sort of a, you know, a hard charging, you know, personalized politician and they don't see that now. Right now they are saying, "What a great guy. I would like to date him."
You saw that because you talk to all these Albany insiders and that's your Albany insider view from talking to your friends. "Oh, the governor, the governor, the governor, I wanted to pass this bill. He didn't want to pass the bill. He vetoed my bill. He didn't raise my budget." That is your Albany insider, myopic vision.
-that any- What I do in the press conferences, in the Red Room is the same thing I've done in every press conference. My jokes haven't gotten any better. Not at all.
OK, OK, OK. Now, you, you, you know the many analysis offered by Trump, gives the president far too much credit I suspect. Cuomo's poll numbers, yours, have far less to do with Trump and far more to do with the governor's everywhere, all the time approach to dealing with the coronavirus. Is that an unfair hit?
I have always been. Yeah, no. I've always been everywhere. If there's a snow storm, I'm there. If there's a rainstorm, I'm there. If there's flooding on Lake Ontario, I'm there. If there's Superstorm Sandy, I'm there. Whatever- you have not seen a more hands on governor, ever, ever. You ever see my father go out there for flooding snowstorm six feet of snow out there? Six feet of snow in Buffalo, no. Pataki didn't do it. They didn't do it. I do the job in a different way than they did. Because I came from a different place. You know, when I was at HUD, I did all the emergency management. Plus, we have a lot more emergencies than we ever had before. You know, my father, you didn't have floods and earthquakes and super storms. The environment was different than literally.
Do you take any personal responsibility for that? I mean, after all, look at the way this is working. Your father didn't have it. Pataki didn't have it. All of a sudden you get to be the governor and all of a sudden, all this stuff is happening. You must feel bad about that in some way. You know, is there is there some reason for all of it happening on your, on your watch?
You want to blame me for global warming too? For global pandemics and global warming? "Where was Governor of New York, where was he?"
Sure, why not?
OK, so, so, so, so let me get, let me get this, let me get this straight. Now. You're running for fourth term, how much time do you spend thinking about that? About the actual running for a fourth term.
Who has any time to think about anything besides cleaning drains, closing schools, opening schools, moving ventilators, buying gowns, buying masks. There's no other time.
So, so somebody's got to think about that you must have somebody on board who does that thinking for you if you can't do it, right?
What is there to think about? If I get to re-election, I say "Hello, my name is Andrew Cuomo, I've been your governor. I think I've done a good job. If you think I've done a good job, please rehire me for another term." That's the campaign.
Makes it- makes a certain amount of sense to me. OK, so. So, we've covered a lot of substantive areas here. So I want to ask you this. Is there is there something that keeps you up at night other than the whole idea of- I mean, you don't sleep very much that we all know already. So, so. So is there some, one particular thing that says says to you, "Oh, brother, if this happens, I'm a goner."
No. What keeps me up at night is the death toll I'm going to see the next morning. I, I feel good about everything we've done and where we are. I have anxiety about what tomorrow will bring, you know, today you read the second wave maybe worse than this, the second wave may come back in the fall like the 1918 pandemic. So I have that anxiety that- what tomorrow may bring, but more than anything, the pain is the death toll. And every hospital is doing everything they can, and we can't get that damn death toll down.
So, so when you have all this kind of anxiety, which is unbelievable, what do you, what do you do? Do you do- Is there anybody you can talk to, one person you can talk to and go to and say, "I got to talk to you about this, I'm in trouble."
Nah, you know, my kids are the best at understanding me. And trying to help and trying to give me a little therapy in their own way. They think I don't know that they're doing it. But you know, they try to put it into context and perspective. And "It's not up to you, Dad, you can't do any more. It had nothing to do with you." So they try in their way. But that's it because there's no- nobody can answer this question for you. You know, I've been in a lot of positions. I've worked with a lot of people, Alan. I bring a lot of the different perspectives. Nobody can answer it for me, I know what it is. And I also know when I'm being irrational, but doesn't mean you-
What do you mean by that, "when you're being irrational"? What do you know? I mean, the other day, the other day, you took on- we only have two minutes left- but you took on a whole bunch of people who you said were responsible in some way, in some way for this mess. And among others, you named The New York Times. Now, I gotta tell you, I've had my own issues with them. But um, but it seems to me it's in politics, it's almost suicidal, because they won't rest.
Oh, yeah, you're right. Don't argue with people who- bite the barrel and I get it. And you're right about them. There's no doubt about that. You just look at the history, you look at what my father went through with them. But look, speak truth to power, right? The American people deserve an answer. And sometimes you have to raise a question that makes the the powerful, uncomfortable, and they have to shift in this seat. We need an answer to the question. How did this happen back in November and December? There was a virus in China. Everybody knew there was a virus in China. Everybody knows that their airplanes- Where was November? Where was December? Where was January? They get to last month and they tell us this virus came from Europe, it didn't even come from China. It had left China by the time we did the China ban, and went to Europe, and then it came from Europe. 2 million passengers came from Europe. Nobody said anything. And then we wind up with it here in New York, New Jersey, because he got off a plane. How did it happen? President says its World Health Organization. I don't know if that's right. I don't know if it's wrong. Is it the NIH? Is it CDC? Is it the federal government? Who is it? Governors don't do global pandemics. But they're now talking about a possible second wave. How do we make sure this doesn't happen again? I closed down the New York-
-editorial- The New York Times editorial board, wrote an editorial after I closed down New York saying "you should close down New York for the first time." I closed down the schools, they had just written, "we're not sure closing down schools makes any sense". So everybody has to look in the mirror here and be honest about it. And I don't do international, global pandemics, and no governor does. But we have to make sure there's an early warning system. So this doesn't happen again.
Governor Cuomo, thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate it. I always do. WAMC listeners are flattered. They tell me that all the time- that you take the time to come to, to speak with us and we so thank you, and we'll see you hopefully in the future. Thanks again.
Thank you, doctor. Thank you. Have a good day.