New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on June 15, 2020.
The following transcript was provided by the governor’s office.
Alan Chartock: Good afternoon to you, Governor, I've been thinking about you today because this is the anniversary, your father's anniversary and I know everybody in the family has been feeling it, I've been reading messages last night, today. And it must be very difficult for you to think about him long-gone now.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, no you're exactly right, Alan, but I'll tell you - I just confront it. I don't deny it. I don't play games with myself. I went down today, I did an event at the Mario Cuomo Bridge, we opened up the pedestrian plaza, which is going to be magnificent by the way. It's a shared-bike path, 3.6 miles, goes along the bridge. I think people are going to love it. But I talked about him, I talked about what I heard him say to me during these past 106 God-awful days, what his advice would have been. You know, when you have a stronger personality, as positive a personality as my father, the everlasting life can take a lot of forms, but I can think about him and apply his thinking to a situation and pretty much know what his advice would be. You know he did that book on if Lincoln could be applied to today's problems, what would Lincoln say? So, you basically know what Mario Cuomo would say about what's going on.
Alan Chartock: I know that every once in a while, I talk to my father - do you talk to him? Do you literally talk to him or do you just know what he would say?
Governor Cuomo: I said there are many nights during this situation where I would lay in bed and just stare the ceiling, and I would ask myself what he would say if he were there and I could have the conversation. You get to a point where you know the person so well and you know their principles, you basically know what they would say. And that's, they're alive today. You know what they would say. Their presence is felt. And I feel that about my father, well you know as well as anyone, he had basic principles that he always applied. It's not that the principles changed, the facts, the circumstances changed but the principles stayed the same. So, he was fairly predictable in his advice and I thought about that a lot, especially over these past 106 days.
Alan Chartock: Well he was an amazing man, no question about it and he had such great insights into the way things were. Listen, the Supreme Court today, 6 to 3, transgender and gay employees cannot face workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of '64. Big surprise - did you react?
Governor Cuomo: I did tweet or I will tweet but good for them. I was surprised, but pleasantly surprised for a change. Maybe they're actually listening to society, maybe they're actually gauging the feeling and the time and the historic shift that's going on but that was great.
Alan Chartock: You don't think that what goes on in the streets is considered by the Supreme Court? Now I'm assuming that this decision came down before a lot of what was happening in the streets now. Nevertheless, they can't be unaware that there's a big change happening in this country.
Governor Cuomo: I think that's right - I don't know if it was, I think you're right. This decision probably predated that but the court is interpreting rules, laws at a different time, understanding the context for the original law and then trying to apply that to the context today. There's not an absolute definition of every law, some have relative definitions. And I think that's right. I'm suspect about this court, but today was a good day - Second Amendment decisions also.
Alan Chartock: Now when you say you're suspect, it's because you think they may have given one to the liberal side of the court and decided that the next one, "Watch out."
Governor Cuomo: I think there's no doubt the court is decidedly conservative and I think this president has picked people who he believed were going to carry forward that ideology, so I'm always very guarded when this court acts.
Alan Chartock: Okay, so the Supreme Court along those lines is expected to rule on the Trump administration's attempt to end DACA as soon as this Thursday. What will New York do about its Dreamers if the court upholds ending DACA?
Governor Cuomo: We'll do whatever we can do - if they make a final decision, it depends what they say. If they allow any possibility for state's rights, we'll charge through whatever opening they give us. But we have to see what they actually say.
Alan Chartock: So, let me ask you this - you signed more police reform laws today, one piece requires police officers to disclose within six hours when they shoot their weapons, one piece requires courts to collect racial and other demographic data about low-level offenses and one piece requires police officers to provide mental health attention and medical attention to people in custody. How can you enforce those?
Governor Cuomo: Well these laws can be enforced, but I'll tell you what we really did that's can be a transformative moment, and it's so big I don't think people got their heads around it yet. I did an executive order called the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative by executive order. Every local police department has to come up with a reform reinvention plan, in a collaborative, with the community, community activists in nine months where they rewrite, redesign what they want from their police force in the context of today and what the aftermath of Mr. Floyd's murder. That is taking the moment and seizing it for real change. Carpe momentum, seize the moment. You know the laws we passed are good, I'm proud of them, but the change here has to be basic. And the protestors are right, there has to be a fundamental rethinking of what kind of police department you want in 2020. And what do you mean, demilitarize the police? What do you mean, defund the police? What do you mean, use of force policy? What do you mean bias in the police department? How do you fix it? What complaint review process do you want? That is how you get real change. And there is a moment for change and people have stood up and they have said it. But the art form is seizing that moment and institutionalizing it through government so you actually change things, right? It's not protest for the sake of protest. It is protest for the sake of change. And what we said, think about it Alan, it is transformative. Every police department in the state, reinvent, reform, do it in nine months. If you don't do it in nine months and pass a law you don't get any state funding. That is now going to force a concrete discussion between the police and the mayor and the city council about how you should actually change your police department. And it is going to be a difficult conversation because you will have different opinions, but I believe you are going to see police fundamentally reformed and I think we are going to be the first state that does it. And that is how you take all this energy that is out there, there is good energy, positive energy, on the Mr. Floyd murder, and convert it to action.
Alan Chartock: Will you be the decider as to whether they have done what you asked them to do? In other words, you know, there have been plenty of times where people meet and they get into a room, they say "we have to come up with a reform plan," and they come up with a plan. But you don't like it or it really amounts to nothing. How do we know that it is not just a phony baloney thing?
Governor Cuomo: Because we say to the local governments, you have to do this, you have to come up with a plan, you then have to pass it through your local legislative body. What that does is it can't just be a series of meetings, it can't be, "We'll meet and then we'll meet again," it can't be a rapport, it can't be a commission. Come up with a redesign plan, pass it through your city council, and if those protestors who are at the table are not happy, you're not going to see it pass, the power of the people. That's what's going to make it work: Democracy. I'm not going to tell them how to redesign their police because I believe the police in Albany are different than the police in New York City and Erie, so let every community design its own police force, they pay for it, but you have to come up with a redesign plan with everybody at the table, you have to pass it through a legislative, so it's not a dictatorial exercise, and it has to be done in nine months. I mean, think about it— it's really a fascinating way to make fundamental change. And then restore the trust between the community and the police. Because right now, the police can't do their jobs. If you don't respect and you don't have trust, then it doesn't work. You can't say to the community, "You're going to pay for a police force that you don't respect and you don't trust and you don't support. But you have to pay for it." No!
Alan Chartock: What if they say, you know, we do trust them, and we do love our police? We are a little implicitly racist here? You know, so they pass a plan. How do we know that it means anything at all?
Governor Cuomo: How do you get away with that? Look at this, look at how widespread these protests are. How widespread the outrage is. You show me a local legislative body that can pass a plan that says, "Yes, we're biased. Yes, we're racist, but we like it that way and we're not making any changes." I don't think that government exists in this state.
Alan Chartock: OK. Now, how about the package that you did— the repeal of 50-a, for example? This is a major piece of legislation, yes?
Governor Cuomo: Yes. 50-a — disciplinary records is major. Institutionalizing the Attorney General as a special prosecutor is major. Banning a chokehold. All good, major, specific initiatives. I like, the most of all— redesign the whole darn function. But they are all very strong, positive initiatives and I don't believe any state has passed a more comprehensive agenda.
Alan Chartock: Have you talked to your Attorney General specifically about what her plans are, how she's going to do this?
Governor Cuomo: Yeah. You have to remember, I did an Executive Order —
Well, you don't have to remember but — I did an Executive Order five years ago that gave the Attorney General special prosecutor status when police killed an unarmed person. So, I already, I understand the Attorney General's Office — you know, I was the former Attorney General. And I thought this was a good move five years ago.
Alan Chartock: And did she have any reaction that we should all know about? In other words. Okay, Governor, I'm on board? I am a constitutionally-separate officer, but I accept what you're asking me to do? And I'm going to do it? Or did she raise any reservations with you?
Governor Cuomo: No, she supported it always. She supported it in her campaign. It does make sense; you know, we've talked about the inherent conflict of interest—perceived if not real— between a local DA doing controversial case where the police shoot an unarmed person. And I did it with the Executive Order right after there were a number of deaths, you know. Fascinating point on the Mr. Floyd murder: why now, Alan? Rodney King was 30 years ago. Abner Louima was brutalized 20 years ago. Eric Garner: chokehold in New York City six years ago. Why now? There were many cases that people were outraged. I think it went to a new level with Mr. Floyd's murder, but this is not our first situation dealing with this. So, I had done the Executive Order previously. But Mr. Floyd's murder just exploded the tension with the populous— not just across the country. I mean it's been international. It really is striking how people have risen up.
Alan Chartock: So why now? Answer your own question. So why now? I mean, with all these young people out on the streets, people who are white and black and you know, every color, there. What changed? Is there something in our young people that all of the sudden got ignited? Could it be the result of COVID, staying home? I don't know.
Governor Cuomo: Well, it's funny you say that. I just said to a reporter— I think there's a connection between COVID and the outrage over the George Floyd murder. I think COVID— people understood the collective and the responsibility one for another: Wear a mask, because you have to protect me, I have to protect you. Social distance. We're all in this together. We're mutually-dependent, right? I shared my father's quote, "We're family; sharing benefits and burdens," COVID said that, Alan. COVID said, "We're not alone. We are mutually dependent. We can infect each other or we can help each other." That community, that unity is very much present in the George Floyd murder and outrage. "You killed my brother. I saw it on video. You killed a member of my community." Forget that it's a different state. Forget that it's a different city. We are one. We're an American community and I saw the killing and I'm outraged and I'm going to let you know. I think it's a beautiful thing.
Alan Chartock: You are now requiring police officers to provide mental health and medical attention to people in custody. How do you do?
Governor Cuomo: Well, it'll be a disciplinary action if they don't. It's- again commonsense, how could you not? You have a person who you believe is mentally ill, get the right help. A person needs medical attention, either they did before or did the because of the encounter, but getting the medical attention they need and that will be a rule for every police department.
Alan Chartock: I studied mental health back in my graduate career and I know it's one thing to say it but it's a long distance to make it happen. You know that and I know that and there's got to be some mechanism that you can apply to make sure it's happening. And, I tell you, right now I've seen a lot of disappointments when it comes to mental health.
Governor Cuomo: There's no doubt that it begs the question of the mental health resources and the mental health bureaucracy but right now there are many cases where a person gets arrested in the question is, "Is the person mentally capable or is the person in a position where they could endanger their own life or the life of others," right? So, we know how to make the connections. Your point is a more profound point of, "Do we really have as a society, the commitment to mental health to provide the level and the scope and the volume that we need." That frankly is a more profound question and in a longer-range question. But we know how to make the connection between the police officer and the service.
Alan Chartock: Governor, the police unions- we knew they were going to be happy with what you were doing- especially Patrick Lynch of the New York City PBA- have been furious with laws you signed over the last week. Lynch says, they will make cops job harder to do. Is that wrong?
Governor Cuomo: I respect the police union. Anytime you try to make changes the union is there to protect the workers and the workers' interest. I understand that. Teachers union- when you go to make changes in education, [inaudible] teachers union yes, they care about the student but they care first about the workers. It's called the teachers union, not the students union. Public employees the same, private sector you see the same. I disagree. I think if you don't reform and you don't restore the trust, a police officer can't do their job. It's the relationship that needs to be repaired and the police department cannot do its job despite the community. That is not going to work. The community is not going to pay taxes to support a police agency that they believe doesn't do justice and doesn't represent them. It's not going to work so to say, "Well I think it's going to make it harder to be a police officer." I think if you don't have the trust of the community- it's impossible to be your police officer. You can't say, "I'm here to protect you," if the other person says, "No, you're not." And that's where we are you. Look at those protests - it's at a volume where it disrupts the relationship so you have to fix the relationship. Now you could say, "Look, I don't want to be a police officer if this is how you define the job," but the community has the right to define the job. They're paying for it. And that's why this collaborative over nine months is going to be so important and so difficult because the premise is, "Well, the police department the way it is, is the way it should be." No. No, the Police Department is not defined in the Old Testament. The Police Department is the department that that community wants, Alan. And the community is saying I want the Police Department changed. I want the premises changes. I want the behavior changed. And they win because it's their department
Alan Chartock: Then what happens? What if they say, well we like it the way it is. We want to be protected. We want to make sure the people who don't, quote, fit in to our community shouldn't be here. What makes you think that the community is going to be so forward in its thinking?
Governor Cuomo: First of all, the community always wins because the community pays. The community hires the police and they have the service that they want. I don't believe you're going to have communities at this time in this environment who are not more progressive about their police. Name a community, I mean this is very widespread. Look at Buffalo. Look at Rochester. Look at Syracuse. Look at Ithaca. Look at Utica. Look at New York City. Look at Nassau. Look at Suffolk. It's all across the state, Alan.
Alan Chartock: Yeah, we interviewed the New York State Trooper commander on WAMC. He says any decision about the implementation of body cameras from State Police are coming from the top. That means you so when will this actually begin?
Governor Cuomo: As soon as practical. You have to buy them, you have to train, you have to get the equipped, you have to download. It's an expensive undertaking also which is the last thing we needed at this point but we'll do it as fast as we can do it.
Alan Chartock: But you don't have a due date.
Governor Cuomo: No, I don't. They may have one that I don't know about but there is certain logistical steps. You know, you need the cameras, you need the software, you need the computer space, so that's what they're putting together.
Alan Chartock: Okay, let me go to, you've been threatening to shut down Manhattan and the Hamptons again if people in businesses are not abiding by social distancing guidelines so where do things stand on that issue right now?
Governor Cuomo: Our state has been remarkable in what it accomplished - remarkable. They don't want to say it now, they don't want to see it now, but we went from the worst infection rate in the country to the best infection rate in the country. 106 days, Alan. We went from the highest rate to one of the lowest rates of infection. Why? Because a lot of people worked very hard and were united and do the masks and do the social distancing, et cetera. You now have people who are less responsible and who are acting in a way that could actually spread the virus. New Yorkers won't have it. We've gotten over 25,000 complaints of people, think about that—
Alan Chartock: That's a lot of complaints and yet there are bars, there are beaches, there are people who are getting together and not being quite as decent about the whole thing as you make out.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, and that's why the local governments have to do their job and enforce it. They have a local Department of Health. Tax payers pay for it. They have a local Police Department. Enforce the compliance on these rules because a handful of people don't have the right to infect a society that has spent 100 days, billions of dollars in loss, to bring the virus infection down, and now because a handful of people want to act recklessly everybody should suffer. We have a plan that has been working unbelievably well. We're watching in the nation 23 states see an increase in the virus and we're going down. Local government, do your job. I don't care that it's unpopular. They say to me, the local officials, well you don't understand, you know, they're young people, they haven't had a drink. I do understand. I get it. You think that the decisions I made were popular. I made all the tough decisions frankly. I said to the local governments, I'll shoulder the burden of telling people they have to close this and close this and close this and close this. That was all on me. And I did it. I said today at the Mario Cuomo Bridge, one of the pieces of advice my father gave me was take responsibility. Own it. I did that from day one, Alan. I didn't say well I did concert with the local governments, we're going to close the businesses. I said it's on me. You want to blame someone, blame me.
Local governments have the job of doing the enforcement and they have to do it. I don't have enough police or enough Department of Health investigators to police the whole state. They have to do their job.
Alan Chartock: Okay. Are you doing any endorsements, Governor? There's some primaries and such of that kind. DA's and congressional primaries. Are you endorsing anybody or are you staying out of this one?
Governor Cuomo: I'll do a handful and I'm evaluating it now.
Alan Chartock: Which ones?
Governor Cuomo: I'm not there yet. No decisions yet.
Alan Chartock: Okay. Your health commissioner says that summer sleep away camps will not be able to open this year. Why was that conclusion reached? A lot of people really need to have a little time off, parents.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, I get that, but look, I have always said I'm going to differ to the public health officials when it comes to a medical decision. The question on summer camps is how high is the risk that children could infect other children and there could be a problem. We're just now learning about this Kawasaki-like syndrome - which is frightening frankly.
These are children who were infected by the COVID virus up to 18-years-old who survived COVID, but then some period of time afterwards have an inflammatory syndrome where their blood vessels and heart get inflamed. Children have died and nobody understands what this is.
This COVID - it's one thing to survive the virus. Nobody knows what the virus does longer term and this Kawasaki-like syndrome is the first glimpse that we're seeing that could affect children. The health commissioner understood how difficult it was. I explained, other people explained how important summer camps are from a social point of view and an economic point of view. The Commissioner, Dr. Zucker, spoke to many, many people in the field all across the nation. He felt quite strongly that this was a significant risk.
Alan Chartock: Should - I'm sorry but I'm out of time, so I want to ask you real quick - should Philip Schuyler's statue come out from the front of City Hall? Taken down?
Governor Cuomo: I think I may not be up to date. I think the mayor said she was taking down the statue.
Alan Chartock: Right. So, is it a good idea?
Governor Cuomo: If Albany thinks it's a good Idea, it's a good idea.
Alan Chartock: You've done a briefing now for 107 straight days after sometimes going weeks without doing a press conference in the past. How long are you going to keep that streak going? You have exactly one minute to keep it going.
Governor Cuomo: It was very important to me to do it every day when I was asking people to sacrifice every day. It was very important to me to keep that emotional connection, that trust connection, more than just the informational. It was about trust and the emotional issues that we were dealing with. We're at a different place now. We can keep this infection rate down as low as it is now. As long as it doesn't tick up, we are on the other side of the mountain. We went up the mountain, in 42 days we came down the mountain, in 64 days we climbed the highest mountain of our lifetime. So, I don't see the need going forward. When I have something to say, I'll say it. I still have - we're not there yet - but as soon as we're on the other side of the mountain then I'll just end the daily briefings and go to the normal briefing schedule.
Alan Chartock: Governor, I can't tell you how grateful we are you come on and talk to us here - it means a great deal to us, and I hope you'll give us another chance. It's always fun.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you, Alan. Good to be with you.