New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on Northeast Report July 22, 2020.
Nice, nicely said, nicely said. Well, Governor, I see you are down, you know, down south. Where'd you go?
You like it down here?
It was hot. But it was hot in New York. It's a beautiful city. I worked there when I was the HUD Secretary.
Oh, yeah. No, it's a beautiful city. The- Oh yeah. The architecture of the homes is beautiful. They have beautiful tree lined boulevards. It's really beautiful.
You know what happened? Right? Of course, that the most famous thing they got rid of it. They- It used to be there, but it's not there anymore. Can you tell me? Here's the, here's the first quiz of the day. Can you tell me what the most famous thing there was?
I fail. *buzzer sound*
Yeah, *buzzer sound* It was the bench. What bench you ask? The bench that Forrest Gump sat on, telling his story to the ladies, as the bus, the queue whatever thing passed by, when he was going to see his son for the first time. That's Forrest Gump and there was a very famous bench. He sat there and they moved it into the, into the museum. That wasn't right.
That was not right. That was not right.
It wasn't. So, so, you go down there, you go down here to Georgia. And you're paying back a little bit, right? Isn't that part of it?
It is. It is a big part of it. Alan, you know, when we were in the midst of it here in New York. I, on one day, I asked for volunteer nurses and doctors from around the country to come help us. 30,000, 30,000 people, nurses, doctors, agreed to come here, into our emergency rooms when we were in the middle of hell. I mean, how beautiful a gesture? And plus I was getting all sorts of emails and calls from, American masks, cookies. I mean, just beautiful. And I said at that time, I said: "We will be there when you need us." and Look, I'm just a spokesperson for the people of this state. And I know New Yorkers. And we mean it. You did us a favor. You were there for us. We're going to be there for you. And I'm just representative of that.
So let's get down to some of the tough stuff of the week. Obviously, you've been holding out and saying we have to be- The states and localities have to get money. As I understand it, the Republicans and under Mitch McConnell, no friend of New York, have been saying, "No money for state and local governments." Is that right? Is that what you understand?
That is their position. They've been consistent: "No funding for state and local governments." It is totally repugnant to their whole concept, "We want to bring back the economy, bring back the economy." There's no economic recovery if you starve the states and locals. Every economist will tell you that, Chairman Powell says that, the Wall Street Journal says that. It is so hypocritical of them. "Well, we don't want to spend federal money." You don't want spend federal money? How come your state takes $30 billion more every year from the federal budget than it puts in? If you want to save federal money, how about this? How about you stop taking as much as you've been taking? It's just pure, ugly politics.
Why don't you get on a plane and go to go south to Kentucky and campaign against McConnell, who has apparently, you know, split? There's a split decision on whether he can maintain his office there or not. I'm going to recommend that to you. Why don't you go do that?
I'm tempted. I'm tempted. I'm trying to stay away from the politics now because, you know, it's important we stay unified. And we have Democrats, Republicans in this state, and I'm representing everyone and once you start on the politics, Alan, your credibility can go right down the toilet, right? I'm making tough judgments and I don't want anyone to think there's any politics at play.
Yeah. On the other hand, this guy's really been no friend in New York and you're always talking about how New York is your friend. You know, you're, "We have we have to pay back to people good to us," What about paying back to people have been bad to us?
Yeah, it's a little- Not the most sweet, loving charitable of all human emotions, but I understand.
I'm known for that. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So, so you went down to Georgia, and I understand they have a mayor down there who was a Brooklyn boy. I actually watched him on the television. He is extraordinarily brilliant and articulate, I thought.
He is. He's a really quality guy and a gutsy guy. He did the mask order in Savannah. When the governor was against the mask order. You know, this mask- When you think about the lunacy of what this country is done, that we are in this position four, five months after we learned about COVID. We're still trying to figure out how to do testing, how to do tracing. You have 8 day, 10 day wait for testing after all these months, and they were debating masks or no masks. When you have the, what's called the IHME, the Gates funded projection model, which is the White House model. They say 40,000 more Americans are going to die because we didn't have a mask policy. 40,000 people die because you're playing politics with a mask. I mean, it's amazing.
Well, it is amazing, and it's disgusting, and it's awful. The president resumed his COVID briefings on Tuesday and said for the first time, "that the virus is gonna get worse before it gets better." He also said for the first time that, "People should wear masks." What else should the President be doing right now on COVID? And what's more, isn't this the supreme chutzpah move of all after having costs all those people their lives? And I think that's what you just said, it's certainly what I'm saying, you know, tens of thousands of people are dead because he took so long to get there, and now he says "Everybody should wear a mask." I know you need the money and all the rest of it. But governor can't you, can't you just say, you know, "This is, this is, this just isn't right,"?
Well, look, I don't know that if we said it was the chutzpah move, they would know what we're talking about. We would know what we're talking about, but I don't know that they would-
It's a southern term.
It is a southern term. I heard it in Savannah. But they said 'cuh-huts-bah' in Savannah. But the, but- Look, I think the President finally understood that his policy of denial of this virus was not working and it was rejected by the people in this country. I think that's why he resumed the virus, that's why he had a much different tone yesterday. It's, it's- You're right, it’s months late. He said yesterday you should wear a mask. I've been asking him to say that every day for weeks and weeks. But the American people get it, and look, it's not just Democratic states anymore, it's Republican states. It's Florida. The key swing state of Florida. It's, it's Texas, it's Arizona. These are the states that he's counting on for November. And they're now in trouble. The Texas Governor is in trouble. I mean, it's- But it is a, it is a much different tone than he has taken from day one and I wish he had taken it on day one.
Governor, he said that he was gonna send troops into New York state as long, as, as well as some of these other places like Portland. It is my understanding, from my sources that that the, you talk him out of it, is that right?
Well, I- He did say he was going to send troops into cities across the country, named a few cities, named New York. He then said, "If Governor Cuomo won't handle New York City, I will. I will send in troops." That's the second statement. I spoke to the President yesterday. I said, "Look, I'm responsible for the cities in my state. The cities are a creature of state law. We create the cities. Yes, I understand the problem in New York City, and we do have a problem in New York City. But the state would step in and handle it if it needs to be handled, and I'm ready, willing and able to do that, and we don't need the federal government." And I think the federal involvement would be counterproductive. I think it would be inflammatory. So we had a good conversation. He agreed that he wouldn't do anything without talking. And yeah, I do believe he would have done it. But for the conversation, he announced today, I think, or he's about to announce that they're going to send troops into Chicago. So yeah, I have- And he did Portland. He had done Kansas City. They're now doing Chicago. I have no doubt- And look, it's consistent with what he's been saying about New York. Right?
So what would you do, governor, if he did? In other words, let's say he brought some put some black shirted guys and unmarked cars and they began to shut people into cars the way they did in Portland. What would you do about that? Is there any way to sort of shove his guys into cars?
Well, we could get into a shoving match. But I would do everything I could. The question is what can you do? The- I think it is legally questionable and legally challengeable. Where is the federal interest? The federal interest, he would have to say is "because there's a public safety emergency that was not being addressed. And then he would have to basically do a public emergency power. Or he would have to say federal assets were being jeopardized. He said that in Portland that the statues were being jeopardized, federal property. I don't think he has either of those grounds in New York City right now. And that's what I was saying, "If you have grounds, tell me, and I'll address it." But the, that would be the basis of a legal challenge. But once you get to a legal challenge, Alan, you're talking weeks-
Yeah, yeah, if not years, right.
So you're right about that. Now, obviously, the other side of this story is your relationship with the Mayor de Blasio. Now, if you were saying, "Okay, listen, President, if, if things get really bad here, I can handle it." And that means, as you as you said, "The city is a creation of the state." In fact, you can supersede anything de Blasio does. Would you be willing to do that?
Oh, yes. If I had to protect the people of the city of New York, I would. Yes, that's my constitutional obligation. Yeah, there is no doubt about that. I would do what the, my oath said that I would do. And look, New York City is having troubles, you put the COVID crisis, which caused all sorts of people to move out of New York City temporarily, we hope. You put COVID together with the looting that went on in New York City. And I said at that time with the looting, I said, "If this doesn't get under control, we have a serious problem. And I would take dramatic action." I mean, I can't tell you how that that petrified New Yorkers, that, the looting on TV, I mean-
It was just total chaos. You have graffiti all over buildings, you have worse, the homelessness is worse than it's been. They were just signs of decay and deterioration everywhere. And then we're going to go through an economic transformation, Alan. You're going to have a lot of businesses who were sent home for four months and are going to come back and say, "You know what, I found a new business model. I don't need to bring 200 people into an office anymore. Half of them can work at home, I can work at home." You're going to see a commercial real estate drop in these cities. And bringing back New York City. You don't have the restaurants you don't have the cultural institutions, you don't have Broadway, what is New York City without that? So it's a bad confluence of events. And then when, when New York City starts to look like it did back in the 80s, then people get nervous, and people are nervous.
And let me ask about the quarantine thing. People are coming in to New York from 31 states now must, they've must quarantine, they got a quarantine, is this gonna wreck what's left to the states summer tourism economy?
It could hurt tourism. I don't know what kind of tourist business we were doing anyway, I don't know what venues were open and how many people were actually coming in. But Alan, we cannot go back to where we were, you know, we what New Yorkers did is extraordinary. Look at us now. We have one of the lowest infection rates, we're looking at the rest of the nation. And our greatest fear is that our infection rates going to go up because the people from the other states are going to come to New York. I'm going to other states to help them yes, and, and pay forward, yes. But also pragmatically, selfishly, if you don't control the virus everywhere, you don't control the virus anywhere. And we are doing quarantine now. We have police at airports. But let's be honest, we don't do quarantine, states don't do border control. This is all new, and it's an imperfect system.
So how come it's staying down- So how come the rate is staying down, of infection?
Because we had the phased reopening, which was smart and worked- By the way, not just staying down. We had calculated that after the economic reopening, and all the regions are now reopened, that there would be an uptick, by definition because the activity would go up. We haven't even seen the uptick. We are doing better than the expectations because we are disciplined. And we have the systems in place. And we did testing and we did contact tracing, and we have the hospital surge capacity, and we're wearing masks. And when someone doesn't wear a mask, we chase them down the block and we hand them a mask, then we follow them I'm home. And then we call them and tell them, you know- We, we, New Yorkers are doing what they're supposed to be doing. Not perfectly, but that's why the numbers are down.
So is it possible some of this may have to do with the virus itself? And you know, we expected it. You kept saying, "It's going to come back, I promise you, it's going to come back. It's going to come back." It hasn't come back. Is it something unique to this virus? Which is once it's swept through, but California is the exact opposite, they had it, then Washington State, they had it, Oregon and it's back- I guess there's a question somewhere.
It's not about the virus. It's about what we do with the virus. You know, there's a great metaphor, a virus, the human body is attacked by dozens of viruses a week. It's not just the virus, it's more about the condition of the human body. It's when your immune system is down low. That's when you have a trouble. The American body politic is weak. We're divided, we're fragmented, we never unified to stop it. American government is weak. The federal government is weak. The confidence in government, the performance of government is weak around this country, and the government couldn't tool up fast enough. You know, they talk about testing. Testing, Alan, I had to set up 750 testing sites, I have to coordinate 250 private laboratories that is a massive undertaking. Government doesn't do something like that in years. And then you tell governments, they have to do it in weeks, supply chains going back to China. You have incompetent government, you have a divided nation. And that's why the virus has wreaked havoc. It's not the virus. It's what we did with the body's immune system, New Yorkers built up their immunity. We did the testing, we did the contact tracing, we did the social distancing, we did the masks, we did the close down. We did the phased reopening, we did what we had to do to control the virus. A place like California, to me, they made it there was a basic error when different counties were allowed to put in place different plans. Right? LA County does this, San Francisco does this, one set of rules here, one set of rules there. The virus walks across county lines. That's why New York, we were so insistent on saying one plan across the state, we operate by regions, you can't do this county by county. You still have states that have no testing in place that they take eight days to get back a testing result. What is their testing results? Eight days later, it's not telling you anything, from a data point of view. It's now eight days old, and eight days to tell a person that’s positive that gives them eight days to walk around and infect people.
What about public schools, you gonna open them up?
We're going to look at the numbers, August 1. If the virus is out of control, you open them up as the virus is not in control. And if it's going up, you don't open them up. Data plus common sense.
Sounds to me, if I was using that formula, you were gonna open them up. I mean, I don't want to push you on this, but the fact is, right? We're at very low reinfection rate. Things are going extremely well. Sounds to me like you're getting ready to open them up.
If nothing changes, you are right. It's a function of the numbers, if the numbers are where the numbers are today, you are right. What you would have to gamble is, are the numbers going to be what the numbers are today? Will the numbers change? And that's, that's the risk. But that's why we wait and we make the decision when we have to make the decision.
So California is going online, classes online. Are you studying that? Same thing? Do you know we're going online here in New York?
Well, we are in a much different situation in California right now. If we stay where we are, we can open schools.
That's right. SUNY says Empire State scholarships may be rolled back this year due to the pandemics' financial impacts. So when do people, parents, students find out that they can depend on the funding?
We're going to watch the situation in Washington. They were supposed to have a bill passed by the end of this month and now they're talking August, but they have to get a result by August but the truth is these guys cannot go home if they don't get something done. I mean, just think about the politics here. They have to run for election. Do you think that congressperson can come back or a senator can come back to the state and say, "There's, there are cuts to education? We're laying off public workers. We’re laying off aid two local government, the federal government did nothing. Please re-elect me." That's, that's not gonna work. So they have to get something done. And I think they'll get it done by the end of August.
All right. How do you exercise? I mean, you know, you have made the analogy before about exercise. How do you do your exercise?
I run and I hit the heavy bag. I won't tell you whose face is on the heavy bag.
Yeah, but I bet it has glasses.
I bet it's got glasses.
And some workouts are better than others, depending on the face.
So you run, where do you run? You run outside?
Treadmill, treadmill. When I go outside, I walk the dog a lot outside
You have to.
But I just spent time talking to people. I don't even walk I get about 10 steps. And then I start talking.
"I want to talk to you, governor."
Yeah. Oh, everybody, those are my best conversations. Because, because I'm alone. I'll give you a little point of information. Because I, I take walks, I don't bring the state police. I don't let them come, much to their dismay. But then it's just me and Captain, and people, and they're much more open and honest and comfortable. So I just have real conversations that are so important to me. You know, I'm very worried about the bubble effect, right? I saw my father, I saw Clinton, I saw Bloomberg. At one point, you're in this little bubble. You only hear what people want you to hear, that worries me. So my ability to walk into a hardware store or walk into a grocery store, take the dog for a walk. That's very important to me.
Yeah, but we just saw a federal judge, tragic son- Death of a son, wounding of a husband. You know, you're a public official, and there are a lot of disturbed people out there. Does that worry you?
That's why I hit the heavy bag.
No, but in all honestly, it's got to be somewhat daunting, doesn't it?
No, I didn't- Look, I'm not you know, I have to do the job. During this Coronavirus, they wanted me to be hermetically sealed, in a plastic bag. You know, I wanted to go around the state. I wanted to show up. I wanted to show people life went on. "Don't worry. I represent the people of the state. I have to be able to talk to the people of the state." State police make the point that you make by the way all the time. They think they'll be embarrassed if something happens to me, so I said, "I'll take care of that for you. I publicly will say that I- That you wanted to do this. And I said, 'It's not necessary.'" But I don't- I'm not. I can't do what I need to do otherwise. And the only thing that's important to me is being able to do the job the way it needs to be done.
Can you drive yourself? I mean, you know, I remember when your father came to give his now famous valedictory talk at the WAMC and he came up and he drove himself. And his driver, I think her name was Mary put her hand over her face because it was a screech across the street. Have you forgotten how to drive?
No, I drive all the time. I'll tell you something that happened that was somewhat advantageous. I get in the car one day, and they say to me, the trooper who was with you yesterday, the day before, tested positive for COVID.
I said, "Oh, now my security is at risk. I can't drive with any troopers anymore. I have to drive myself to protect my health." So now I drive alone all the time, wasn't that great?
Do you get tested at all?
Yeah, I get tested.
And how fast you get your returns back? Because you know, we hear, sometimes it's up to a week, eight days now. It's crazy.
Not in New York. Those are the other states. New York, we get our results to three days. I get it in two, three days.
But you're the governor.
No, no, wait, that's, that's the results from our labs. The, the tests that are taking a long time are because the other states are dependent on these national laboratories. We organized the 250 Labs in our own state to give us priority. The National Labs are slow, our state labs are not slow because we allocate the tests among the different labs to make sure when one gets backed up, we send a test to other labs.
Can we send you stuff from Massachusetts?
You're smart, smart.
Go send you- New York Smart and Tough- Can we send you some stuff from Massachusetts to get done a little faster?
No. You're on your own.
Oh, by the way, I, yes, I know that and by the way, I don't know what I'm talking about. We probably have very good stuff. Okay. Restaurants. We only got five minutes. To sell food, in order to sell alcoholic drinks. You know, I once, when I was a camp counselor, I went into this place called Larry's Hotel Copake, up in Copake, New York and every night, there was a there was a rule, there was a law you had to have food if you were going to sell booze, and the only thing that they sold to the Jewish campers who came in there was ham, ham, chuck ham sandwiches, ham salad sandwiches. So people have been getting away with that kind of stuff for years. "Okay, we got food, you can have a ham sandwich."
Well, that was not culturally sensitive. But-
This is, this is what happened in New York. Most States have a separate license for bars and a separate license for restaurants. We don't. We have one license for bars and restaurants. To be a licensed bar. You have to serve food, you have to serve soup, sandwiches, etc. That- So you can't be a bar without serving that. That's why they served the ham sandwich. You don't have to buy the ham sandwich but you have to serve the ham sandwich. We opened bars, restaurants for outdoor dining. That's what I said, "Outdoor dining." What the bars did was they turned outdoor dining into outdoor drinking. And that's what's building these big crowds in front of these bars. Where you getting 100, 200 young people just drinking
And all ordering ham salad sandwiches?
Well, they don't even have to order himself a ham sandwich. But the bar had to, by law, pre-existing have ham sandwiches, if you wanted to order them. But really they're a bar, that's what they are. They're a bar. You don't have to order the ham sandwich. And they made outdoor dining, outdoor drinking. I never said outdoor drinking. By the way, there's no concept of outdoor drinking, violates the open container law. And then the local governments have been slow, tardy, resistant to enforcing it. And this is where the virus spreads. So you look around the country. Even the President yesterday said to young people, "Stay out of packed bars.
Yeah, right. About time he said something. I told Assembly Minority leader Will Barkley I would ask you the question. Will you take his call and are you willing to talk about the Assembly Republicans, to the Assembly Republicans about the state budget? And you got one minute to answer.
I, of course, I will take his call. He's a good fellow, I know him. I've spoken with him.
You knew his dad, didn't you?
Yes, I said that we would go fishing. He's got a great spot to go fishing in his district. So yes, if he calls I will answer.
You saw, Tom DiNapoli, my very good friend, Tom DiNapoli, released a report last week showing state tax revenues down sharply from 219, about 17%. How is that impacting our current financial picture?
We're broke. How come you always say, Tom DiNapoli is your very good friend, and you say nothing before my name. You don't say enemy, which is good. You don't say, "Person who I've been highly critical of in the past,"
“Generally non-supportive. “
That's all true.
That's true. You don't say, "A person who I accused of being mean and heavy handed." I guess that's alright, I'll take nothing. I'll take nothing.
You remember, you remembered all of that.
I have it on, I have it on my on my desk. I have all those past columns.
I'm astounded. Governor, we loved having you on today. As always, and I don't know why keep coming back but you do and we love having you and thank you so much for doing it.
Masochism, thank you, Alan.