New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on June 4, 2020.
This transcript was provided by the govenor's office.
Alan Chartock: How are you doing, Gov?
Governor Cuomo: How are you doing, good Doctor?
Alan Chartock: Oh, you know taking care of things. We just got over here. We have some security cameras at our house and a guy was over here putting them up and he got stung by a bee, by a wasp. That could be very painful and very dangerous. Have you ever been stung?
Governor Cuomo: I get stung every day, not by bees. But I get stung, not wasps. Now you're gonna get sued.
Alan Chartock: Okay, that's probably true. I have a feeling you get sued more than I do. But you never know.
Governor Cuomo: If I don't get sued twice a day it's a smooth day, Alan.
Alan Chartock: You're right, right. Who does all this stuff? I mean when you get sued you turn it over to your lawyers, right? And they take care of it.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, it employs many lawyers on behalf of the State of New York.
Alan Chartock: Let's sue the Governor today. I am sitting at home. I have nothing to do. Maybe I'll sue the Governor. Speaking of crazy things, last night was another crazy night in New York City. There was real trouble. Now, you have let the Mayor know in no uncertain terms that he has to protect people and property and, if I am not putting words in your mouth, that if you don't do that you could actually take over. You know, run the city, throw him out. Is that true?
Governor Cuomo: Look, there was a night of looting in New York City that was terrible. It was all over. It was on the video. I can't tell you how many people were panicked. This is on top of New York City already shaken with COVID, right? And a lot of people have left and they're questioning when to go back. And you have this looting on top of it. And it is a question of the management of the police force. It was a question of the management and the deployment. The cops agree. But you have to deploy the right number. You have to give them the ability to police, and otherwise, you know, the City in chaos, Alan. You are right on the line. So, there were more police sent out. I think the police did a better job. They had a better plan. The closed bridges, etc. And the past two nights have been much better. But we have to keep it up, you know, because we have gone through these situations. You know, I went through Crown Heights. And it is hard when you have political pressure in the middle of a police-protestor situation. But is much better than it was.
Alan Chartock: Would you really take - Would you do that? In the city here, we all know in political science, I don't know about law, but the city is a creature of the state. You have the power, would you ever just say, "Okay, Mayor, you're not doing your job, so I'm taking over."
Governor Cuomo: Theoretically, legally yeah, you could do that. Practically, I think it would be highly disruptive. I don't think there's any need for it. And we see that it worked out. They increased the number of police. The police were better deployed. The police did a better job. They were allowed to do a better job. So it's always - you know, the police in New York City have handled this type of situation many times, Alan.
This is not the first time there's been this type of issue. But the management has to allow the police to do it and it's never about the officers. It's never about the quality of the police members themselves. It's always a question of the management.
Alan Chartock: Did you have to apologize? They may have taken umbrage at some of the things you said about their performance?
Governor Cuomo: No. I never apologized because I didn't say anything about the line. But what the managers tried to say is, "Oh, the Governor is saying that the cops don't know and they're to blame." I have never said the cops are to blame. I've been very close to the NYPD from day one. I said it's the management. It's the management and that's who it is. It's the management who's responsible for the deployment and the orders they give to the police. It's never the police. And no, I never apologized because I never said anything about the officers except that they're the best police force in the United States.
I also said on the first day that I don't believe they need the National Guard. The National Guard is 13,000 people all in. The NYPD is 36,000 people and they're trained to do just this. So it's not the officers themselves, it's the management. It's the management.
Alan Chartock: I hear you. You and I agree on one thing and that is when someone is at the grocery store and somebody messes up the grocery store and throws a rock through the window or burns it down, that that's not okay. I've had letters from a couple people, not a lot, but a couple of people who say, "don't you understand that this is a time of great frustration that people have experienced?" It's understandable that they've analyzed that. How do you react to that?
Governor Cuomo: Here's the challenge of the time: There are multiple truths and people only want to hear their own truth, but there are multiple truths. Yes, protestors have a right to protest and they should be righteously indignant about the murder of Mr. Floyd. They should be upset and I love to see those young people out there, African-Americans, whites saying we're not going to take this anymore. We want reform. That's a truth.
Second truth: Looters looting is criminal. Destroying private property, destroying stores in distressed communities, frankly that are relying on them is criminal. We can't allow it. The DA's have to prosecute it. The DA's can't play politics. That's a truth. There's another truth that the police have to be able to do their job and protect property and arrest criminals. They have to be able to do that. That's a truth. The police deserve respect. That's a truth.
The police must not abuse people and must not abuse their office and abuse their badge. That's a truth. I have the Attorney General investigating the police actions as they're ongoing. All these videos showing police abuse. The AG's investigating them in real time. First time ever and she has to finish the report in 30 days. That's a desecration of the badge. It's reprehensible - any police abuse. And it's a truth that it's not just about Mr. Floyd's murder. It's Amadou Diallo, it's Abner Louima, it's Eric Garner. It goes back to Rodney King. It goes back to Martin Luther King and we need systemic reform and Washington has to hear that.
Those are all true statements but people only want to hear their own truth because they're so passionate, they're so frustrated they know their truth. The police know their truth and how they feel. The protestors know how they feel. The looting, they just see an opportunity. This is great, the police are watching the protestors, let me go steal.
The mom and pop's, they are small business owners who are in the Bronx, who are in Brooklyn, Fordham Road who say they wiped me out. I can't reopen. I should have been protected. Why bother a store that serves poor people? That's a truth. But in all this political heat, Alan, people just want to hear their own truth. You can be right in your truth, but there are other truths that exist at the same time in life.
That is a nuance, an openness that when people are emotional, fight or flight - they don't want to hear. They just want affirmation of their truth.
Alan Chartock: Let me talk to you a little bit about General Mattis. He comes out - I announced this morning that I was going to be head of the General Mattis fan club. Some of my fellow panelists on the radio said, wait a second. He served for two years under this guy, why didn't he quit earlier? He's no great hero because he's saying the truth now. As long as we're talking about truth, what do you think about that?
Governor Cuomo: Well, look, General Mattis - a public servant. They're in office, they're in office to serve the public. I don't know that a lot of public servants, career servants, I'm sure they have chief executives who they could take or leave, but they're doing their job. There is that mentality. I went to HUD as secretary and you had career civil servants who stayed there under all these terrible administrators who went to jail, et cetera, and I said that question to them, I said, you did 15 years, you were here with these people who were just stealing everything. Why didn't you leave? And they said, because I believe in what I'm doing and I try to make a difference in my own way. But look, what General Mattis said now was true and gutsy. The man seeks to divide and that's what he does. Thar's how he knows to win, to conquer, to dominate, his words, by dividing. Divide and conquer. It's the oldest military strategy in the world and that's what he does. He divides. He's done it from day one. He now sees an opportunity to do it again with the murder of Mr. Floyd. He could have been a great unifier. By the way, he could have been a leader that he's never been. He could have stepped up and said what happened to Mr. Floyd was terrible, it was a murder, it was reprehensible, it was unfair to the African American community, it represents decades and centuries of racism and I'm going to stop it and we're going to have systemic reform. He could have done that. And by the way, I think it would have been brilliant leadership and brilliant politics. He went the exact opposite way. That's always his instinct. Divide, divide racially, divide politically, divide geographically, divide ideologically, divide red and blue, black and white, Democrat and Republican, urban and rural, Northeast versus everybody else. Coastal versus middle of the country. He'll put in a wedge wherever he sees a crack.
Alan Chartock: To what end? He keeps playing to the base but I don't get that. How many people are in the base and he keeps losing more and more in the polls?
Governor Cuomo: Well, I agree with you on that. I think that he is still running a Republican. I think he's still running a Republican primary for president. They gave him that original script when he sat down in a chair five years ago and said, you want to be President, you want to win a Republican primary, this is what you have to say, and he appealed to the base and the heat of the base and he's never stopped. I mean you're right, politically I don't know who's advising him because it's always infirming that intense base. It's 30 percent. Okay, you have your 30 percent. How about the whole middle vote that you need? But he never does it. I don't know if he's just stuck on the initial political script. I don't know if it's become who he is but you're right he just keeps throwing red meat to the base. I'm going to bring out the military and then hold up a Bible. It's God and country. It's church and military, and by the way, I'm going to kick out the protestors so I can make that photo opportunity and I'm going to bring out the military. What I don't get Alan, he's using the military for political purposes. How do the conservatives not go crazy? I mean how do the conservatives, limited government, the man has co-oped the military for political purposes. He is using them as campaign operatives.
Alan Chartock: How dangerous is it? The idea that the military which is supposed to be kept out of politics, how dangerous is it? Does this portend that he could do something much, much worse come election time if he's losing?
Governor Cuomo: Look, people speculated that he could do anything for political purposes, right? You had some pundits saying they wouldn't be surprised if he provoked a war. In some ways, he has. It's a domestic war. But it is a fundamental conflict. This is along racial lines. He is using the military and again I don't have to repeat myself but where are the conservatives, Alan? This is using the military for political purposes, limited federal government, state's rights. What happened to basic conservative ideology? I mean I just don't get it.
Alan Chartock: Well I do, it's political prostitution. They know that they lose. They don't want to lose the Senate. They know he'll come after them and so its so simple, they don't want to take him on. No matter what. No matter how right and I believe you're right in what you're saying, but they don't give a damn.
Governor Cuomo: Also, one it's so obvious this ploy. I said it's the fireman who sets the fire so he can look like a hero in coming to put the fire out. He started the fire. He's burning down the house. And then he's going to call out the military to put out the flames? You started the fire, Mr. President. You're burning down the house.
Alan Chartock: And what did you think when you saw those kids, those wonderful kids, the protestors, I know you feel that way about them, being pelted with you know, all kinds of stuff, rubber bullets, and everything else as he pushed everybody out of the way so he could walk. As it was said to Senator McCarthy, have you no shame? That's about as bad as it gets, isn't it?
Governor Cuomo: It was a shocking and disgusting as anything I've seen. And I think it's devastating to the Presidency. You have the Attorney General out there like an advance man, looking at the crowd, directing the military to move the crowd so they can have their photo-op. Even the crowd itself. The President is trying to portray this as these are thugs and I have to bring law and order back. And I'll keep you safe against these urban thugs, code, code, code, code. Except the crowd, you had all these young, white, suburban looking kids, right. And you had African Americans, and you had Asians, and you had Latinos. It looked like a beautiful face of America, that crowd. That was not a scary crowd. They were young people who were genuinely offended at watching a reprehensible sight of a murder of Mr. Floyd. No, it was just so disturbing on a fundamental level.
Alan Chartock: You know, you're a former Attorney General, a long-time governor. Is there anything you would or should've done differently over your time in public office to address the incidence we're seeing in the streets now?
Governor Cuomo: Look, I did things on my own that I could get the Legislature to pass. They're all talking about independent prosecutor now for the State Police. I did that five years ago by executive order. I couldn't even get the law passed. I appointed the Attorney General, the independent investigator anytime a police officer kills an unarmed person. I did that, Alan. We had legislation five years ago. It's New York, we have always been more progressive and ahead of it. We're going to 50-a now. The chokehold is already the policy of the NYPD, banning chokeholds.
So, New York is ahead of it, but I did the executive order on the prosecution. 50-a, I don't believe it's really about 50-a by the way. We used to release disciplinary records in New York City, the mayor chose to stop. But if changing the law reverses that, then fine.
Alan Chartock: Why did he choose to stop? Why shouldn't we know if somebody did something really bad? Why would the mayor stop that?
Governor Cuomo: The police are very much against it. They're against it, they have a number of arguments. But, just because you are accused of wrong doing, doesn't mean you did anything wrong. And publicizing accusations can unfairly tarnish a person in the middle of a dispute. They said this would be guard-rails if you're exonerated it shouldn't be included. If it was unsubstantiated, it shouldn't be included. There's a right privacy. Their home address shouldn't be disclosed. The police are very much against it. And obviously this mayor found that persuasive because he changed the policy. They were released, he then stopped the release, said it was because of 50-a, I said well, hold it, it can't be 50-a because 50-a was the law when the city was releasing them.
Alan Chartock: Is he scared of them?
Governor Cuomo: I'm sorry?
Alan Chartock: Is he scared of them? In other words, he came when he bit of a police reformer, they got mad at him, and then he stopped being a police reformer. The question is now, is he scared of the police and that's my question.
Governor Cuomo: Well look, the scared, you know, who knows what's in a person's soul. He, in fairness to the Mayor of the City of New York, the Mayor of the City of New York needs a functioning police force, and for the police force to function, they have to know that they have the support of City Hall. That's a truth. At the same time, the protestors are truthful in their righteous indignation, and they have the right to protest, and they should not be abused, and there should not be undue force, and they shouldn't get hit with a baton for no reason, and, by the way, no self-respecting cop would defend any of that. That's a truth, and at the same time, he has looters which were ravaging the city who are just opportunists, extortive individuals, who you should arrest and the DAs have to step up and charge, and not be afraid of the political ramifications of, well you charged people who might, may or may not be of a certain race or a certain demographic. So, these are all truths as they said originally, and the mayor gets it from all sides, just about now.
Alan Chartock: Okay, so your SUNY chancellor has resigned, she's going, I believe, to Ohio. So what does this say about the SUNY system, where I taught for all of those years, is it weaker than other state universities, therefore we lose people like this?
Governor Cuomo: No, I don't think so. I don't know what the personal calculus was, but, you know, very often people just move on to move on, you know. I don't know what the personal incentive package was, but people have their own careers, and sometimes they make decisions for their own reasons.
Alan Chartock: Okay. Are you going to be eating out? I mean, you know, you're in that big old mansion, you want to eat some good food, I'm sure you got some people who cook for you and it's very nice, but, you know, with everything that we know about the virus, are you going to go out and eat in a restaurant?
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, you want to buy me a meal? We're do some outdoor dining? You'll pay?
Alan Chartock: I would. I'd take you. Do you have a favorite restaurant in Albany, do you?
Governor Cuomo: Well let's find an outdoor dining venue, we'd need an outdoor dining venue. But I'm easy, as long as you're paying. Let's get a good one.
Alan Chartock: We can bring my dog Murray, and your dog Captain. I'm sure they'd get along well together. Yeah. Now the Hudson Valley is opening tomorrow, and downstate New York was the original trouble area for the coronavirus in the state. How do you make sure there isn't a new round of spikes in these functions, and by the way, when I see all those kids standing out there next ot each other, I get nervous for them, don't you?
Governor Cuomo: Oh, I talked about that today. That's a problem. You can't win for losing. We made such progress on the COVID virus, and I'll tell you the truth, even in retrospect, we've been so smart every step of the way. We went through the numbers today, the infection rate from yesterday's tests, because we test every day, about 50,000 tests per day, were two percent tested positive. In Western New York it was 15, 16 percent. 2 percent in New york City was 26 percent just six weeks ago, and it's now down to 2 percent. And in the middle of this, they do these protests, 30,000 people estimated statewide, many had masks, many didn't, they're with the police, everybody's on top of each other. I am very afraid that this has spread the virus. I said today we made testing available to everyone who was in a protest. I said go get tested, when you go home, assume you have been exposed to the virus, and even if you're 25 years old and you consider yourself a superhero, tell your 50-year-old and 60-year-old relatives— "assume I'm positive for COVID and act that way." Because, yes. The public health people are very worried that we've created a spike. And you won't know that in the numbers— Alan— for a week-to-two weeks. And we open New York City next Monday and we would— everything was going great and I just hope this doesn't wind up being a negative, which it could be.
Alan Chartock: Well, I hope that it doesn't happen, but it certainly seemed to me that it was a possibility. You know, Governor. I owe you an apology and I want to make it publicly. You know, you may not know this but there is something called the Broadcasting God and the Broadcasting God takes care of people like me. So, I get the Governor of New York on the phone with me and I'm thrilled that you do it, and I love it. And everything happens at the same time: guys come to fix the cameras, the lawnmower guy comes and runs around, the machine I use to talk to you— busts. Now, what do you make of that?
Governor Cuomo: Look, this is compounding crises. Compounding crises. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. Pandemics, civil unrest, video of police with batons bashing protestors. Anything that has gone wrong has gone wrong. If we can survive this and learn from it, we can survive anything.
Alan Chartock: Yeah, but it doesn't seem right, that an older fellow like me has to deal with these kinds of crises when I have the ability to talk to the Governor. Don't you see what I'm saying here?
Governor Cuomo: I see what you're saying but it all comes down the practicalities of life.
Alan Chartock: Does it?
Governor Cuomo: It's all the practicalities. Yeah, it does nowadays.
Alan Chartock: So, I do want to ask you one more question— and that is, how's Captain doing? Captain the dog.
Governor Cuomo: Captain is a little on edge. You know, I have a full house now. And I think it has disturbed his concept of the pack and pack leadership. And like, where does he fit in vis a vis my daughters, who's the main daughter. It's just gotten him shaken up. He's not himself.
Alan Chartock: Which one of them is the main daughter?
Governor Cuomo: Well, I have twins who are the first and the second and then a younger one. But Captain is trying to figure it out. First of all, they were never around like this. They were just visiting. Now he knows they're part of the pack and he has to figure it out— you know. Where is he? Is he on the bottom? And he doesn't want to be on the bottom, you know. It was just me and him and I was like number one but he was like number two. And now he thinks he's may be, number four or number five. And he doesn't like it!
Alan Chartock: Is that true? Is he number 4 or 5? That doesn't seem right that this poor dog who was on top of the world now has to be down at the bottom. That doesn't seem right. We'd never do that to Murray the dog. Anyway, Governor, as usual, it's terrific you're here. I'm sorry that the Broadcasting Gods got on my case. Here they come again. We'll hope that next time, all will be well— if there is a next time. And I hope there is.
Governor Cuomo: There's always a next time. There's always a next time. Multiple truths. Let's fix this and if we get through this, we're going to be stronger than ever. If we figure this out, we're going to be more united, we're going to be smarter, we're going to be more disciplined than we've ever been. That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Remember that, doctor.
Alan Chartock: You are so right. Thank you, Governor, and be well. Be healthy.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you. You too.