New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on June 18, 2020.
Well, hello, Governor, how are you?
Well, hello, Alan, how are you?
You had quite a morning this morning. It was an amazing press conference. You have one more to go right? And then you're off, you're off. You're not going to be doing that anymore. Is that correct?
I'm not going to be doing it daily. You know, I've done it every day, seven days a week. I'm not going to be doing it daily. I'll do, I'll do the press conferences as necessary during the week, but it won't be daily on COVID. You know, we have we've made tremendous progress. And we are setting starting to get back to normal. And it's not the same emergency situation we were in and I want to signal that also. Also, it just takes a tremendous amount of time and I have a lot to do now. And I can't just take every morning frankly, to be doing the briefing.
Well, it's an amazing effort. Has it cost you physically?
Well, the dealing with this COVID crisis is probably the single most difficult thing that I've had to do. I don't know that government has had a bigger challenge in our lifetime, tell you the truth.
It was life and death. It was long. Nobody knew what they were doing. We were on our own. There was no help. It was dealing with science. It wasn't even a natural kind of disaster. So it was unlike anything I have dealt with. 59 million people tuned in to my briefings. 59 million. How incredible is that?
Yeah, that's extraordinary. It's enough to make your head grow large.
Yeah, well, it's obviously not enough to make your hair grow.
OK, I you know, I've been thinking a lot about you lately. As you know, I shared a very nice relationship with your dad. And I had, I had one thing that sticks in my mind. And maybe you can set me straight on it because you were in the Clinton administration. I remember a conversation with him, very specifically, in which he said that all the talk about the Supreme Court was nonsense, that they weren't going to do it. That, you know, it was a big phony thing. And then shortly after we had that conversation, he sent a letter to them saying he wasn't interested, take them off the list. Can you send me straight on that? Do you think it's Stephanopoulos who wrote a whole book about you know, the big headline was why Cuomo didn't take what we were offering him? Do you think, do you think, and I know you'll be as straightforward with me as you always are, do you think it was a bunch of baloney that it was, you know, something that was designed to keep everybody happy, but not really happen?
No, you know my father. We all see things through our own eyes, right? I was in the middle of that. So I know exactly what happened. I know, because I was working for Clinton and I was having the conversations. We all hear things the way we want to hear them. I believe if my father would have taken the position, President Clinton was sincere in wanting him. My father's choice was he had two years left on his governorship, and he was then anticipating on running again, which he did, and that would have given him six more years as governor. And he would have preferred six more years as governor to the Supreme Court. As it turned out, he didn't have six more years. He ran and he lost. So it was only two years.
Now, when he was making that decision, he was assuming he was going to run and win. And the environment was different. You know, the politics changes so fast even back then. But that was his calculus. He was not really, he kept saying, the Supreme Court, I can't speak. And he kept getting stuck on that I can't speak because you can't speak about an issue that may come before the Court. And as you know, my father's, what he valued most was his ability to articulate and communicate on issues of the time. So that was what bothered him about the position. And he loved being governor, and six more years as governor, I think he would have traded just about anything for including the Supreme Court.
So were you privy to his preparation of the letter saying please don't nominate me?
Interesting. Interesting. OK. So that leads me to the next question, which I'm sure being far brighter than I am, you could anticipate. You know, there are many of us who have watched the relationship with your passed father. And how important he was to you and you're doing some things that he might not do. You're running for fourth term, he ran for fourth term but didn't win, as you said. So he didn't go on the Supreme Court. Now, let me ask you this. How about you? Wouldn't it be something if your pal Joe Biden gets to be the president? Now you're gonna say no, not till I'm offered and all the rest of it, but, you know, wouldn't you like to be on the Supreme Court?
I have not thought about anything else other than what I am doing, you know.
Never ever? Never ever? You know a little flash in the in the mind a little something. Never ever? It's hard to believe. I'm not calling you a liar, sir. But it's hard to believe.
Well the people assume that politicians, they're all, what they all want to take the next step on the ladder, this is about them and their ego, and their ego is insatiable. They have to take the next step and this number three is trying to become number two and number two is trying to become number one. That doesn't necessarily have to be true. You know, if I was a typical politician, I would have run for president.
I still think you are gonna run for president. It’ll be four more years…
I would have done it. I would have done it this time. Or the time before. I mean, I could have run. Look at all the people who ran you know. It sometimes it you know, it means something to me that I put out my hand and I looked at people of the state in the eye, and I said, I'm going to do this, and that's all I'm going to do. And that trust means more to me than any of this stuff.
You'll run in two thousand…I know you will. You'll run in 2024. Biden will have a vice president. You'll have to be in the primary with that person. But you'll certainly run I have no doubt about it.
All right. Well as long as you figured out the future, I don't have to worry about it. So I’ll just worry about this coronavirus.
You don't governor. So, so that's definitive. If you're offered a space on the Supreme Court, by the Biden administration, you won't take it?
I'm staying here.
Okay. Well, that's the right thing to say, right? I mean, you have to say that. You don't go to the dance until somebody actually asks you. But anyway…
If I was motivated the way you are suggesting, I would have run for president.
Well, now you could win. But then I don't know. It was a different time, different circumstances. Okay. I want to ask you something. Let's get into the meat of it. This is a very important question. Baseball is coming back for shorter season this year, and the National League will reportedly have a designated hitter, making the end of pitchers batting. What's your reaction to that?
I don't have an issue with that. I understand that debate. But I don't have an issue with that. You know, a pitchers pitch. That's what they do. You want to be careful with a pitcher. You don't want them getting hurt. You don't want them giving somebody an opportunity for a cheap shot. You don't even it's not what they excel at. It's not what they're practicing. I don't have a problem with that.
Okay. Now, of course, you know, I'm gonna ask you this, but there was big news out of the Supreme Court today, which ruled five to four, thanks to Justice Roberts, to uphold DACA. Were you as astounded by so many other observers?
Astounded. But you know what it says that even the extraordinarily conservative judges that Trump placed on the Court, rejected his extreme conservative measures. I mean think about it. He picked the most conservative judges he can find. And he said that, he was proud of it. Even they think he is too extreme in his conservative actions. That’s what this says.
I have a different take. Not that, you know, not that you care, but my take is only one of them, and that was Roberts. And the other four, were on the side one would have expected them to. So Roberts becomes a rather remarkable guy in all of this, doesn't he?
Well, I don't know. I don't know. But DACA what he did on DACA was purely political. It was shameless. There was no legal justification for it. But I think that's what it is. I think he was too conservative and extreme. I don't know, if he was just conservative, I think Roberts would have gone with him. This was an extreme and blatantly political, everything is blatantly political.
And how so? How was it political?
Well, because he, his framing of it, it was in the campaign, it was just a campaign promise. It was just to feed the extremists, feed the racism in this country and the isolationism in this country.
Oh I’m sorry, Governor. I thought you were talking about Roberts, not about the president.
No, no. No.
What about Roberts? What was his motivation?
I think it was too extreme a position for Roberts to endorse.
Much like what he did with health care?
So then, let me let me ask you this. Top House Democrats introduced their latest infrastructure package today. What would you like to see them do?
Pass anything, just pass anything at this point. Every President has talked about it. Bush one, Bush two, President Clinton. Joe Biden has been talking about it. Barack Obama talked about it, Trump was going to do a $2 or $3 trillion infrastructure program because he was the builder developer. Just pass whatever they can. If there's ever a time to do infrastructure, and stimulate the economy, it's now. it just makes no sense. Just pass it, give it to the states give it to whoever you want to give it to, but just provide the funding. I mean, look at what we've done in this state. We're building more than any state in the country, all on our own. Imagine what we could do if we had funding. I'm doing the Upstate airports. Here, we redid the Albany airport, LaGuardia Airport, JFK Airport, we're building bridges. Can you imagine if there was a federal stimulus, what we could do?
You decided the last minute to make Juneteenth, tomorrow, a holiday for state workers. How come?
First in the nation. I think it's appropriate at this time with the division that we have in this country to recognize some of the seminal moments that have created difficulty in this nation that we're still trying to overcome. And Juneteenth as a representative of recognizing the ending of slavery, I think is appropriate. And I think it's appropriate that New York does it first.
Okay, so it joins a list of other holidays, other state holidays, does it? How about how about getting a day's work out of everybody who works?
Yeah, that's, you know, any holiday, you have that issue. But I think it's important to take a moment to punctuate it, to celebrate it, to symbolize it, to pray about it, to think about it. We do that with fallen heroes, and I think understanding what this nation did with slavery and ramifications that we're still living with, with everything that's going on in this nation today, Alan, I think it's appropriate.
And what about your position on Columbus Day? I mean, after all, the Native Americans really got it badly, were treated abysmally. What about a holiday for them? And you, sir, I believe I don't want to misquote you. But you had issues about, you know, Columbus Circle and not honoring Columbus.
Yeah, I think the indigenous people do deserve recognition. I think they deserve much more than they got from this country. When I was HUD Secretary, I visited many Native American reservations. HUD did the housing on Native American reservations. And Alan it's always the same story. The reservations were the leftover land, the land that was unsalable. You couldn't farm it, you couldn't develop it. And that's what we left them, the scraps from the table. There's been terrible poverty. I spent time on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Highest unemployment in the United States, highest fetal alcohol syndrome is just a tragedy all across the board. So I would fully support recognition of the indigenous people.
But Columbus, he was terrible to the Native Americans. He's also become a symbol for, you know, proud Italian Americans and you seem to be siding on the Italian American side. Am I wrong?
The Columbus Day and the Columbus statue was enacted at a time when the Italian people in this country were being harassed and discriminated against. One of the largest lynchings in this country was done in New Orleans where there had been a trial. They accused Italians of killings in New Orleans of a police chief. The people were exonerated. A crowd, a gang, then took them and lynched them. Eleven were lynched. And the stories at the time said, you know, these are Italian. Some of them were Sicilians. They're born criminals. It was some of the most vile language. And the Columbus Day celebration was, in part a recognition of the discrimination against the Italians. So it wasn't just about Columbus, it was about understanding the discrimination that was rampant against the Italians at that time, and was symbolic of that. That's why the Italians feel so strongly about the Christopher Columbus statue. It's not just about Christopher Columbus. It was the recognition, the first recognition for Italians and the discrimination against the Italians. And that's why I support it.
Okay. You gave quite a remarkable talk this morning thanking the press for sticking with you for all of these days, showing up every day asking pointed questions. And obviously, this is in contradistinction to a president of the United States, who is now talking about, you know, executing journalists. You know, you had to be thinking about that, when you went all the way out of your way to thank the people who were there. Am I being too cynical?
Yeah, you're being too cynical. Look, what the president says about the press. You know, what's, where's the news? What's his novel and like, what are you what do we really care? He's been saying that from day one, fake new, etc. Except his Fox and Murdoch. Murdoch, that's not news. Because it's not news, right? Fox, when you follow the president's ideology, then that's good coverage and good news. When if you disagree, then that's bad. That's been from day one. No, I wasn't. It was just I, you know, during this briefing period, which was really extraordinary in so many ways, I’m trying to get my head around it, but thousands and thousands of tweets and emails and so it was interesting to hear what people were saying, because people watched it nationally and internationally. And their reaction to the press was one of the themes. They were taken by sort of the, the nice way I would say the directness of some of the press, you know, some of them had pejorative comments about that, the New York press corps. But I appreciated the dialogue and the directness of the dialogue with the press. Because I would do the briefing, you know, I go through the facts, and then I'd give my opinion, and then they would challenge it, starkly, brusquely. And that was a very important part of the communication because it became, I lay out my case, and then they attack the case. And people listen to the attack of the case and see how well I defend it and if it makes sense against the attack, and when it does then…But also on a personal level, remember, I grew up in a house with Mario Cuomo, Jack Newfield, Jimmy Breslin, talking to Pete Hamill all the time, talking to Wayne Barrett all the time. And the dynamic between good government and good journalists and one playing against the other, you know in the game of tennis, you're only as good as the person on the other side of the net. The provocation of journalism, I think that's why Chris went into journalism. That was a big part of it. And I respect it, and I appreciate it. And on a personal level, they were there Alan, every day, seven days a week, you couldn't get a break. In the middle of this terrible situation, you're afraid to go out. And a lot of them just showed up. Just showing up was a big deal and I respect it.
Did you ever change your mind, Governor, about anything based on what these reporters were saying? For example, I think about the nursing home situation. You got a lot of criticism from them. They asked one question after another. Is there anything you could point to in which you say okay, they really sort of have convinced me that I'm on the wrong track here?
No. The nursing home is an unfortunate situation on two levels. Number one, people in nursing homes died. The virus attacks the old and we knew that from day one. That was the first place where the virus attack in Seattle was a nursing home. That was on the merits on the facts. The nursing home is just pure politics. The Republicans in Congress, they think there's a vulnerability. The Republicans in Congress just sent letters just to Democratic states about the nursing homes. New York State is number 35 in the nation, in per capita deaths in nursing homes. 35. And even though we had the worst situation, and we were dealing with the most. No it's all politics, it's well and that's what makes it terrible, because you're talking about death and people who are suffering with the death of a loved one. And then you want to politicize this at this time, please. And it's not even on the facts, because I've spoken to all sorts of people about it all over the country. On the facts, it's just so wrong, what they're saying on so many levels, and they’re just capitalizing on people's grief in a lot of ways. But no, the nursing home thing, it's just all politics and it's, frankly, the “New York Post” and it's Goodwin who pro-Trump and this is their way of defending Trump. It's the McManuses of the world. It's Rupert Murdoch and pro-Trump propaganda. They don't want to talk about what the federal government did on the COVID so they want to attack the Democrats for nursing home deaths. The same ammo just distract, you know, create a shiny object to take attention off what they don't want you to focus on. They don't want to talk about the federal government's response or lack of response. The fact that we have the cases we have Alan, look at the federal government. They said it was coming from China. It didn't come from China. It came from Europe. January, February, March, we had 3 million Europeans come in. Nobody said anything. They didn't do the European travel ban till March 16th. We had the worst case in the United States, because the federal government had no idea what was going on. President then blames the World Health Organization, by the way, even though it was the World Health Organization, you hired them. And where was the CDC, and where was the NIH? And where was everybody? And if these World Health Organization was not credible, then why do you have them as the main monitor of public health for the United States of America? What you just figured out this conspiracy theory that the World Health Organization was too close to China? I mean, that's what they don't want to talk about.
But what they do want to talk about, Governor, what this president does want to talk about is executing the press. I mean, I know that you have to be careful about what you say. But of all the things he said that's really at the top of the disgusting list, isn't it?
Oh, it's at the top of the list, but it's a long list. Yeah.
That's absolutely true. Eliot Engel of the 16th district, fight of his career, Tuesday's primary. You're sticking with him, How come?
Seniority matters, and we need help from the federal government. And we needed desperately somebody has to fight for us on the state and local taxes. We have a president who's going out of his way to hurt New York whenever he can. Trusted traveler program solved. No subway funding for Manhattan. Nowhere train approval, no congestion pricing approval. I mean, he literally couldn't do more damage if he tried. Ford told New York to drop dead. Trump is trying to kill us. So we need a Congress who can stand up. It's all about the House. And Eliot Engel knows what he's doing. He has seniority. And we need the power and the representation right now.
Let's talk about contact tracing, big announcement that we were going to do it, how's it going?
It's going okay. It's going well, statewide. It's then a function that's basically provided by local governments without supervision. Mike Bloomberg has been very helpful in helping us set it up. But it's a mix of state employees, state training, and then local health departments. And there's a spectrum of competence of local governments, just like there's a spectrum of everything and a spectrum of competence on state governments across the country. So it depends where but it's basically good, I would say.
You would say it's good. But also you have reservations about how well it's working. Am I hearing that correctly?
It's new, it's never been done before. It's very labor intensive. And we just were designing and building the plane while we’re flying the plane,
And is it hard to do that? We're almost out of time. Is it hard to do that and reopen the state at the same time?
Well, the reopening decisions are up to me. And I'm very careful. You know, these mayors, the county executives, they say this, they say that, they have no local authority. It's not up to them to open or close. It's all on me. And that's what the law says. And that's fine. It allowed us to coordinate but I take it very seriously. So I have global experts that I won't open anything until they sign off. We're going to open New York City Monday. I'm still waiting for their sign off. And then we'll announce it tomorrow. So I, I have total authority. With that comes responsibility. And I do not open a region unless the global experts sign off and then we monitor it, and if the local governments are not during the compliance, and the infection rate increases, we'll close it.
Well, good luck on all of those decisions. Governor, I'll be looking forward to seeing you on the Supreme Court and seeing you run for president. And we thank you for putting up with all of this and coming on the WAMC. It's really wonderful of you to do it. Thank you so much.
Good to talk to you Alan. Thank you.