New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on June 24, 2020.
This is WAMC's Northeast Report. I'm Jim Levulis. We turn things over to WAMC's Alan Chartock and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Gentlemen, good afternoon.
Chartock: Who said we were gentlemen?
Cuomo: Neither of us.
Where, where? As the old saying goes. Anyway, thank you for being with us governor. It's always wonderful to talk to you and we're very flattered that you come on and talk to us. Now this morning, you and the governors in New Jersey and Connecticut announced a 14 day quarantine from visitors in New York- To New York. I'm so, sorry- From states that have high Coronavirus rates. Why are you doing this?
You couldn't make this stuff up, doctor. If you did it as a screenplay, they would reject it as incredible. Our infection rate was the highest in the nation, as you know, you know, because we had the virus come over from Europe, which the federal government failed to note at the time, which is scary and scary looking forward. So we had the worst case scenario in the nation, we now have one of the lowest infection rates in the United States. We did a total 180. And you have 27 states where the infection rate is on an increase. We are worried, we want to keep our infection rate down, I'm pushing the local governments very hard to make sure they stay up with compliance, I'm pushing citizens to make sure they stay disciplined. But we don't want people flying in here and bringing the virus back to New York. You know, all you need is one or two super spreaders. We had one person in New Rochelle, the first hotspot on the United States. So, you have states like Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, their numbers are going through the roof. And by the way, they didn't even have to flatten the curve that we had to do in New York, they just had to stop an increase. We had to turn around and increase, but we don't want them flying in here, increasing the viral transmission rate. So what we're asking is when they come to New York, they have to quarantine for 14 days to make sure they don't have the virus.
So, you know, I'm a political scientist of sorts, over the years. And I just wondered about something. Do you have the power to do that? Can one governor, say "you" to another state "You can't come here"?
Ah, good question. Now, we went through this. When early on, people didn't even realize this. The federal government threatened to blockade New York. Blockade means you deny admission to other states, if you're a resident of one state. So they wanted to blockade New York, meaning they would not allow New Yorkers to leave New York, they will considering maybe New York adding New Jersey. But you would not be allowed to leave New York and nobody would be allowed to enter New York. This was federal government. I said to them, "You will start a civil war. It is illegal. It is unconstitutional." Other states threatened to close their borders to New Yorkers. I said, "That is illegal and unconstitutional." However, a state does have the right to say, as a matter of public health, "You can come in here, but you can't endanger my public health." And therefore we have rules that protect our public health. So you're welcome to come, but you have to abide by the rules to protect public health, and that's quarantine. And that is legal. And that's all we're saying, "You can come. But if you're coming from a state that has a high infection rate," and we have a formula for high infection, "You have to quarantine." That is legal.
So what do you do? I mean, you stay at the airports? You know, when the planes are coming from one state to another, and you check their documentation, and if they don't pass, you tell them, "You have to do this or that?"
Well, some states actually brought in the National Guard in the airports. Because other states have done this to New Yorkers, earlier on in the crisis. And they brought in the National Guard at the airports and they took your name and number and then they, uh, theoretically checked up on you. I don't know that will need that kind of enforcement provision here. You land, you're in informed that you have to quarantine for 14 days. We know you landed here because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has all the flight manifests. We know you landed, you have to quarantine for 14 days. We can follow up and check on you. Or somebody could file a complaint on you. Or you're pulled over by a police officer who asks you. But if you come you have to quarantine for 14 days. So you're going to- If you're coming, you're staying in someone's home, you stay in the house for 14 days. If you're in a hotel, you have to stay in the hotel for 14 days. So that's- And if you don't and you get caught, there's then a mandatory quarantine and you can be fined on top of it.
Now how exactly are you going to enforce this? First of all you got the planes then you also have people coming up to New Jersey Turnpike or, you know, the New York State Thruway. How do you how do you enforce it?
Well, we- Again, the other states did this to us early on. Some have more elaborate enforcement mechanisms, some have less elaborate enforcement mechanisms. We can have, you know, it's a, it's your hand is on a knob, you can go more aggressive, less aggressive. I don't, I don't believe at this time, we're going to have a massive non-compliance issue. I think people will by and large comply. But we'll be checking on people because we have the manifest. Driving is harder to find a person, if they drive but most people from the states you know, it's Florida, it's Arizona. They tend to be southern states, Southwestern states. It's a long drive from Arizona. I actually did it once but it's a long drive. They'll come in on planes primarily.
But there are a lot of people who are going to be flying. I mean, a lot of flights from Florida to New York, New York to Florida, right? So you get the manifest from the flight. And you're telling me you're going to check on all those people?
No, we'll check on some. I think if you violate it, I think the odds are very high. Somebody's going to blow the whistle on you. You know, we got 25,000 complaints for businesses violating the rules. People are worried about compliance. I think you fly from Florida, you go to a business meeting. And they say, "Did you fly in yesterday?" And you say, "Yeah." They say, "Aren't you supposed to be on quarantine.” And you say, "Yeah, but you know, forget that." I think they're going to- What did they used to say? 'Drop a dime'. Nobody says it anymore, because it's not a dime.
But yeah, I think they'll drop a dime on you.
So, so will you let me know when you fine the first person $600?
Well, I'd say yeah, it could be more. Its thousands, but yes.
Okay, okay. So, the governor of Massachusetts was asked today about quarantine on visitors from states like Florida. And he said, "It's impossible to enforce". Isn't this just the reverse of what Rhode Island tried to do New Yorkers at the beginning of the pandemic, which you opposed?
No, blockades. Let's separate again, blockades are illegal. Saying New Yorkers can't go into Rhode Island, they're going to be turned back: that's a blockade, that's illegal. It's not impossible to enforce. States all across the country have been doing this for months. People, New Yorkers who would go to their state. It is hard to get 100% enforcement, you can't track down everyone who comes from these states. But that's not what enforcement either, is either. You know, you never enforce every law 100%, you don't follow every driver to make sure they don't speed. But if people know you are enforcing the law, then they don't want to break the law for fear that they will get caught. Right? And the people flying up from the states are not that large a universe. So it's, 100% enforcement is always very difficult, but we never really do 100% enforcement
You know, it's no secret that you and the governor of Florida haven't been getting along. Frankly, you I like, him I don't. But a lot of New Yorkers go to Florida and vice versa. Is it fair for the governors of these closely linked states to be fighting?
I don't have a problem with the governor of Florida. I don't even, I don't think I've ever even met him, I've never met him. Look, it's a, and it's not geared towards Florida, It's any state with a high infection rate. So the states can come in, and the states can go out, just dependent on their infection rate. You know, Alan, we went through hell. We did what no society has been asked to do before, and we did it. And we did it better than anyone expected. We saved tens of thousands of lives, literally. But we paid a high price. We close down businesses, we closed down schools. We're now at the enviable place in the United States. We're better than California. We're better than all these states. We don't want to lose that. Because people fly in, which is exactly how we got here in the first place. Because people flew in from Europe, and we didn't know they were bringing the virus. And by the time we realized that they were flying from Europe, Atlantic to JFK, and staying in the metro region. It was too late. Why would we ever make the same mistake twice?
Now that you mention Europe. Well, I've curious about this to watching Dr. Fauci and the rest of it. Why are the Europeans doing so much better than so many of these states in the United States now?
Well, why is New York doing better than so many of these other states? Same answer. Because dealing with the virus required science and metrics and data. It was not a political issue. The states that handed it, handled it as a political issue. The states, frankly, that listened to the political rhetoric of our president. They have a problem. "There is no virus, it's just a flu. It's going to go away. It's going to disappear. It's all overstated. Just reopened the economy and everything will be fine." No, this was not a political issue. It was a public health issue. And I said, from day one, "you want to treat this as a political issue, you're going to jeopardize people's lives and it devalues public health. And it's not going to help the economy. It's going to hurt the economy, because the virus is going to continue to grow and that's going to hurt the economy." And Alan, that is just what has happened. Those states, you now see 27 states going up. Europe is going down. New York is going down. 27 states are going up. Because they just reopened as a political process, people flooded out, no social distancing, no masks, none of this was real. And now you see the virus going up. You more people getting sick. You see their hospitals getting overwhelmed. "Well, it helped the economy." No it didn't. You saw the Dow Jones. Every time the virus goes up, the Dow Jones goes down. Then I talk to you about having to close again, after they reopened. It was never public health strategy or an economic strategy. It was always both, or was neither. And that's what we did right New York, and that's what some countries did right in Europe.
Now on Saturday, you announced that the Yankees and the Mets would move spring training to their home stadiums in New York City. Now Major League Baseball has a deal to hold a shortened season, why would the baseball players are coming North for training be held the same 14-day quarantine as other travelers from Florida?
Only you and your provocative-
Oh I am, I am.
Yes. First of all, how happy is Mario Cuomo that the Yankees and the Mets are coming here for spring training and they're not in Florida? How happy-
You're close to- Go ahead.
How happy are all New Yorkers? It's a beautiful thing. I announced it last week, I announced it before the quarantine
The New Deal.
When I announced it, I talked to the Yankees and the Mets about this. And I said that New York's Health Commissioner would develop a protocol with them to bring up their players. This was last week. And we have been doing that the Health Commission has been working with the Yankees and the Mets. They have a protocol that when the players come up, they're going to get tested and saliva tested, and nasal swab tested, etc. They have a whole protocol which predates the quarantine.
Well, nevertheless, it may predate the quarantine but it makes a special class out of them. I know that you think I'm a provocateur. But isn't that true? Is the logic lost on me?
No. First it was, it predated the quarantine, if you want to get technical.
But if they're coming up now?
Well, you could say, yes. You could- Let me provoke back, just for kicks. I could say, I renege on the agreement I made with you. I know you made an agreement with the governor of the state, and the Health Department of the state, but we're just on a whim. Now we're going to change because we came up with a quarantine. But even in the quarantine, the health commissioner has authority to deal with special circumstances because you're going to have people who come up. For example, we have residents who are coming back to hospitals from across the country. So the health commissioner has authority to handle certain classes. And look better than a quarantine, by the way, I'd rather a person get tested immediately upon landing. That's, that's the best way to make sure nobody's spreading an infection.
Now Central New York, the Mohawk Valley, the North Country, Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier is, are expected to be in Phase Four of reopening on Friday. New Yorkers have been waiting for guidance on when places like gyms and movie theaters will reopen. What can you tell us?
Have you not gone to the gym because of this?
No, I don't go to the gym anymore because the gym is closed.
Okay, but you were going to the gym before this?
Yes, of course. I live in Massachusetts, which is a different state than the one you rule.
That's true. Forget it. Yeah, I withdraw the question sir. The- We are looking at this COVID virus is a, an evolving topic. And we're learning more every day. There's been some data on malls and air conditioning systems and movie theaters, which is contradictory. Some information says that air conditioning systems can take, the filter out the virus. Some information is that air conditioning systems actually circulate the virus and make it worse. It's an indoor environment, and the air conditioning system just circulates the virus and you're getting increased numbers of infections in those situations. We are trying to get to the bottom of that, and the health department is working on it right now. And as soon as we get more information, we'll make informed decision. We did have them in Phase Four. That is true, we got this information late- We didn't get it late, it just developed as a lot of this information is just developing. And Department of Health is reviewing it now and as soon as they have a decision, we'll announce it.
So let me ask you this late in the game. Congressman Eliot Engel of the 16th district was apparently lost this week's Democratic primary, you endorsed them. Did you know this was coming in? Is that why you did it?
I I knew that the congressman had a difficult situation. I endorsed him, a lot of people endorsed him. Senator Schumer endorsed him, I think Senator Hillary Clinton endorsed him, a lot of people endorsed him. The- I knew he had a very difficult race. Yes. But you know, seniority is very important in Congress. And we need all the power and clout we can get in Congress, we need federal funding. This federal government has declared war on the state of New York. I mean, it's its SALT, it's no funding, funding for the New York City subway system, Second Avenue, it's no approval of the AirTrain, or approval of congestion pricing, won't approve the Cross-Hudson tunnels. I mean, they've been really aggressively negative towards the state. So having a strong congressional delegation is very important, and seniority is very important in the congressional delegation, and Eliot Engel had seniority.
Okay, so that's true. Nevertheless, he seems to have lost.
And, do you feel bad about that? I mean, you know, you put you put your tail on the line. You said, "Okay, I'm going to endorse you." Who came to you did somebody come to you, did Hillary come to you, or did he come to you, or-? How did you decide to, how does one decide to?
I spoke the congressman. I spoke to the congressman. I know he was- Had a difficult race. He had a couple of mistakes during the campaign itself that were already evident. But there were many times that I had called him and asked him for help during my term as as governor. And many times when I asked him to, "look out for New York, watch in New York, he or watch New York here, do this for New York." And he was always there for New York. And to me, if someone is there for New York- And when I call, Alan, I'm calling on behalf of New Yorkers, you know. And he was always there and always fought, and when he delivered whenever he could, so that's how I deal with life.
No, I get it. So what's it all about? Life? No, what's it all about? In other words, now that you, now that he sort of lost I'm thinking about why does a district change? Is it the demo- When the demographics change? I worked for a man named Frank Thompson years ago, he said "when the Democratic- demographics change in my district, I'm out of here." Is that true?
I think that is true. If you look at the demographics of a district, they normally are reflected by the representative, right? Not as much as the old days. In the old days, you could see the Italian community had an Italian, African American had an African American, Latino had a Latino, Irish community had an Irish, right? Representative. Not as much, but yeah, when the demographics change, it can it can change the representative. I also think you have a lot of sensitivity and activism post George Floyd's murder, which I think is good. I think we have to make sure it amounts to change as opposed to just energy and get traction for the energy. So you actually have change. But yes, I think you're right, the basic premises is right.
So now when you endorse somebody and your somebody loses, do you risk politically, Governor, having the guy- Hates you, who hates your guts forever. The winner of the primary?
Well, I see a situation like this. First of all, that's how somebody reacted they wouldn't be in politics law. If that was their attitude, but the most of the people who worked with Eliot Engel over the years, supported Elliot Engel, that's relationships in life. I don't think that's surprising. And normally when a person gets elected, they want to develop relations and they want to be able to work with local governments and state governments so they can actually do their job. Even if a person who gets elected is is smart about it, that's what they did. You know, when I won office-
And if they're dumb about it? If they're dumb about it?
Then, they get replaced the next cycle.
You know, I want to ask your father, I said to him, "So, so you know, you get to appoint all these judges and everybody owes you something." He said, "No, what you do is you get 1,000 people hate your guts because you didn't endorse, endorse them. And you get one guy who's an ingrate."
Yeah, that's exactly right.
I love that. One of my one of my favorite. So, so there's, so there's that. Now, what about voting by mail? People are yelling that they never got their ballots, and then they wrote to me and say, "Ask the governor where my ballot is!" So there it is.
It's in the mail!
The ballot is in the mail.
Look mail-in, and these have been extraordinary circumstances because of the numbers. But you don't want people showing up at the polls any more than they have to, given the COVID crisis. Mail-in voting works. They had a tremendously high volume that they had to deal with in these boards of elections. And yes, I'm sure it didn't work perfectly, never does with the Board of Elections, it's a massive logistical operation. But by and large, it worked. And it was better than having hours long lines at polls all across the state.
So why is the president so, you know, opposed to, you know, mail-in ballots? Is that he knows it'll expand the franchise, therefore he's more likely to lose? Is that what it is?
Yeah, he doesn't want, he does not want to make it easy to vote, because then more Democrats vote. I believe that is the factual case. And I believe that's what he believes. If I had to make you a wager today, I would wager you that he loses the election in November.
I believe he then tries to mount a legal challenge. Challenging the mail-in ballots as fraudulent. His problem will be, he'll only want to challenge the mail-in ballots in the states that he lost, but they'll also be mail-in ballots in the states that he won. So it won't go anywhere. But I think that might be a factor in the equation also.
Do you think he will go quietly if he loses his election? You know, Joe Biden has already said, he thinks that Trump has "some plans to rig the election." So, do you agree with that?
I think that, I do not think he will go quietly into the good night. That's not who he is, Donald Trump. He hasn't done anything quietly. I think he will lose, and I think he will try to raise a legal argument using the mail-in ballots. I think he's already planted that seed and rationale. I don't think he'll be man enough- Or big enough, a big enough person to say, "Yes, I lost." He'll try to find a scapegoat, which is what he always does. And the scapegoat will be "I was defrauded."
What if he just doesn't go? I mean, I don't want to push this too hard. But what if he just doesn't go, and says, "I'm not going. The election was rigged, and therefore, I'm not leaving. I'm still the president."
Well, that's the Al Gore election scenario, you contest the election, it goes to the courts. It goes up through the courts. What is frightening on this situation, is it winds up at the Supreme Court, which although it has shown some judgment over the past couple of weeks, it's basically a court that he controls. And we learned what happens with that with the Al Gore election. But I don't think he's going to have any credible colorable legal argument.
I don't even, I don't even think it's going to be close. I'll tell you the truth.
I believe that's the truth. And I believe you're correct. I've been saying that for quite a while. Okay, so, so you got Carolyn Maloney, also on the East Side. We don't know. This is a terrible thing that we don't know the day after the election, who's winning and who's losing, right?
Yes, it is far from ideal.
Far from, say again?
Ideal. Okay. So, do you believe that the Conference of Mayors, who Tweeted this week that "many cities of New York are about to face cuts in state aid to municipal funding?" The Senate has not come up with a COVID relief bill. What's your advice to the cities that are now actively making cuts and slashing services? It's a long question and you have two minutes to answer it.
We have- I don't need two minutes, I'm gonna do it for you in 47 seconds. The federal government has to fund state governments and local governments, if they don't, this economy will be worse than it is today. And this is a president who is obsessively focused on the economy to the exclusion of all things. Leadership, public health and COVID, race relations unity with the George Floyd murder. So he's totally focused on the economy. He thinks that is going to be the indicator of his reelection. And there is no economic analysis that says you can starve state and local governments, create all these layoffs, loss of services and see an economic rebound. So I believe there will be funding for state and local governments at the end of the day, whether it's enough or whether it's fairly distributed is another question, but I believe there will be funding.
But you have to believe it, right? Because you're not making alternative plans. Are you? Yes or no? We got a second or two.
I love having Governor Andrew Cuomo on with us. Governor, thank you so much for being with us. It was great fun as always. Thanks again.
Thank you, Alan. Thanks, bye. Thanks. Bye.