New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on The Roundtable on Thursday, May 14, 2020.
Good morning. Good morning, Governor.
Good morning, doctor. Is there a doctor in the house?
Yeah. Well, I have a psychiatrist friend, he said he, I called you, sir, on one of these things. And he said he thought that was too servile, and I shouldn't call you, sir. But I think your position entitles you to be called sir. And you know, I think I think there's something to that. It's interesting.
I think he's overthinking I think, sir. Just a basic, respectful greeting. Hello, sir, is a common, a common greeting.
Well, he said I was older than you were. And so therefore, it wasn't a good idea. But I love the guy and I think he's being somewhat protective, but a little bit overprotective. Let me go to the first question I have for you, Governor and that is, how are you doing? I mean, personally, how are you personally doing? Forget about everything else. I want to know how you're doing.
I am i doing fine. I'm doing what I need to do. I think I feel good about my professional accountability, responsibility. This is personally very taxing. It's personally very, it's, firstly, the workload is very high. So it's exhausting on that level, but it's emotionally exhausting. Between the heartbreak that people are going through the number of deaths, the anxiety of not knowing the facts, they keep changing the facts on you here, doctor. And they give you one basis of information and then that changes right? And that creates anxiety and frustration at the same time and then you have to weigh every decision you're making with this variable. Maybe they'll change the facts on you, right? The virus was supposed to come from China but then it didn't come from China, it came from Europe. If you have the antibodies, your immune you can go back to work. No, never mind, we're not sure that that's right. Now we have this situation children aren't affected. All hold on children may be affected. So you put all that together. It's just a lot. And then you have all the operational work, hospital system has to be recreated while you're flying the airplane. The good news is, and I didn't appreciate this at a time, having my daughter's here wound up such a comfort because when I do get back home they're there and it just changes the whole energy. You know, normally I just come home and I go right back on the telephone, it doesn't really matter where I am. It's just always the same. But with them, it just changes the energy, and that's a psychic emotional relief that I didn't appreciate at the time, but that's an escape valve.
Are they in the mansion or are they down in Westchester?
They’re in the mansion.
That's a big old place that mansion isn’t it?
It is a big old place. You know there must be, I haven't counted them but there must be eight bedrooms when you put it all together. So it's a real luxury now frankly because they can come, and they have a room and you know, I don't have to worry about logistics and where do they sleep and all that stuff.
How about ghosts? Do you think there are ghosts in the mansion?
They think there are ghosts. I just had this conversation with them. Well, people who work at the mansion for a long period of time, you know, there's the people who work at the mansion. They've been here since some of them been here since Governor Carey.
I was gonna say I was gonna mention him.
Yeah, so they say there are ghosts. And they told the kids and my girls that.
Those ghosts spoke to the girls, right?
No, the staff told the girls that there are ghosts, and the ghosts have been seen and they told them where they are. So now the girls have in their head that there are ghosts.
Now the ghosts, you, Carey, and your father didn't do that well together, as I remember it.
Yeah, fair statement. So maybe was a ghost of Hugh Carey who, he is dead right, as I remember it?
Yes, he passed away.
He may he may be walking around, you know causing a certain amount of trouble for you and for them.
I have never felt a ghost, seen a ghost, detected a ghost at all. But they, a couple of people on staff say there are ghosts. And by the way, that was always the staff always said they were ghosts. Even I remember as a kid when my father was here. There was one woman in particular who wouldn't go to the third floor, because of a ghost.
Oh boy. Listen, I've been hearing from a lot of people, you know, for some reason they think I know you. And therefore, they write to me or they asked me to ask you. Ask the governor, ask the governor about the nursing homes. I can't see my 97 year old mother. I used to go every day at five o'clock now I can't go in there. She's bereft. I'm bereft. Ask him why this is necessary.
Yeah, look, there is the nursing homes. We know it from day one, Just there is no answer. We knew the first case was Seattle, was a nursing home. We knew they were the vulnerable population in the vulnerable place. We are taking hyper precautions there. There's a lot of pushback now because I just did a new regulation, nursing home staff must be tested twice a week. And the nursing homes are not happy about that. And but look, we have to be able to say, Alan, when this is over, that we did everything we could to protect people. Every day 160 people, 170 people pass away. How do you live with that? The only way you live with that, I think, is to be able to say, there's nothing else we could have done. We had the hospitals, we had the nurses, we had the doctors, we had the equipment, we took precautions, and still it happened. That's what we have to say with the nursing homes. I know people want to visit their mother. By the way, forget the nursing home. I haven't seen my mother. Why? Because I'm out there a lot. I'm exposed to people. And I could get it, which wouldn't be great, but I could give it to her, which would be terrible. So she's not even in a nursing home. I haven't seen her. I haven't even seen her from six feet, 10 feet with masks. You know, I haven't seen her since this started. So I'm in the same position. I get it's worse in a nursing home. But God forbid you go into a nursing home and you infect the person who you're trying to protect. I mean, that's what the precaution is about. And I know it's harsh, frankly, I didn't want to do it. But my health commissioner and all the health experts I talked to said you have to, because a person will go out of love, and can wind up really hurting the person who they're there to cherish. So I know it's, as soon as we can end it, we will end it, but I know it's miserable.
It is. It is. And, you know, I have tremendous respect for the fact that you're making these very hard decisions, which I think protect people, protect lives. Okay, let's talk about the schools. When are they opening up? If they're opening up? What can you tell us?
We canceled K to 12 through this academic year. We still are open on summer schools. The big question now is how about college in the fall. California has said they're going to close colleges in the fall. I am not there yet. Alan, this thing changes so fast. We're in May you want me to make decisions about September. Every two weeks the situation changes. How can I make a decision about September now? I've told the schools to come up with plans for September. How do you socially distance in a school, which by the way is a real feat? Right? You can't be more than 10 feet. How do you have a classroom? How do you have a cafeteria? How many more classrooms would you need? If you now needed three, four times the number of space between students? So I told them come up with plans but I don't know yet is the truthful answer. Again, the situation changes. Children were not infected. Yeah, now we’re looking at 103 cases where these children are developing inflammatory syndrome, like Kawasaki disease, which I hadn't heard of either, and it affects their heart. And I think those numbers are going to increase. You tell parents that children may be vulnerable, parents are going to have a very different attitude about schools. So I we canceled them for the school year. We haven't made a decision on summer school and September. I told the schools get ready, but I'm not prepared to say.
Let me ask you this. You've been traveling the state. You've been doing these, you know, taking questions from reporters in various areas. How different is what you're getting in each of these areas of the state? Are people more reactive to being closed down in upstate areas then in the metropolitan area, for example?
It’s night and day difference between New York City and the rest of the state really when you get north of Rockland it's night and day. New York City as much more of a sensitivity to the virus, then upstate, and that's a function of the numbers. And just a life experience. If you're in New York City, about 20% of the population has been infected. So chances are, you know, someone who's been infected or someone who's died. And many people in the New York City area know someone who has been hospitalized or died. You get upstate, it's a total different reality because it is on the numbers. It's much more like the Midwest. They're sensitive to it, but not as sensitive as New York City, and they're much more eager to reopen and on the facts, they are much closer to reopening upstate than downstate,
So, so will you start to open things? I think we all know the answer to that is yes, in upstate regions.
Yes. This Friday with the most intelligent data driven plan, I believe in the country. We've studied all the plans. We've studied other countries reopening plans, because there's been a lot of missteps, right? You can learn a lot by just the missteps of others, Alan. So we have factual data, monitoring data, you look at the hospitalization rate or the testing grade, look at the antibody testing rate, look at the infection rate, and then make a decision on the facts. No politics, no emotion, no partisanship, just make a decision on the facts. We have 10 regions in the state. You'll see regions upstate on Friday opening up.
And when you let them open up, what are you also saying to them, but be careful.
And not only say be careful, I say you will have a daily dashboard of all the relevant criteria and you watch it and monitor it daily. If we're talking about a human body, you watch your heart rate, cholesterol rate, blood pressure every morning. And based on what those numbers say is what you do that day. And that's going to be a function for the regional management. We have these regional management teams, but the local management, the county executive, the mayors, they have to watch this data every morning and calibrate their actions to that data.
Speaking of which, do you do yours? I mean, I take my temperature a couple of times a day. I have an oximeter, you know how much oxygen in me. Some people think I'm a little paranoid but the question is what do you do you personally? Look at your own numbers of a blood pressure for example.
No, I am not. I don't have that gene. My father was very careful about his health. I'm a little cavalier about it. And non-justifiably so. But everybody takes temperatures all the time. Everybody now has a temperature, one of those new electronic temperature gauges where they just…and so, yeah, people do that. And do that to me in the office. But I don't do blood pressure or anything like that.
Yeah, that's interesting. Do you know a little bit irresponsible and do you wear a mask?
Oh, I wear a mask. I wear a mask and I make a big point. About the mask. The kids don't want to go for a walk with me anymore. Because I, I spread the gospel of the mask when I go out with the girls and walk the dog. But I really believe it's just disrespectful for people not to wear a mask. I mean, it takes so little. And it's so gratuitous. Wear the mask, it's a sign of respect. It's a sign of respect for individual rights. It's a sign of respect for the nurses and doctors who, who literally killed themselves to reduce the infection rate. You can't even wear a mask? So I'll go take a walk whenever I can, with one of the girls and the dog and you know, 99% of the people are great and responsible. But then you get a few who just you know, they're gonna do it their way. One gentleman says to me, look around. Do you see the virus in the air? I don't see the virus. So that was a whole discussion
Well, do people recognize you even with the mask on i mean do they say governor, I’d know you anywhere.
yeah in Albany they do, in Albany they do because they see a lot of me in Albany, right? Well I really only walk around Albany, but even in New York City, especially now because I've had so much exposure with these with briefings and interviews and stuff and I got that big nose that I walk around with you know.
New York Times, the New York Times just did a very interesting piece on Melissa DeRosa, your top aide. Basically, I think reading the article one got the idea that she was kind of tough. If she personally tough with you? I mean, do you countenance people who are around you telling you that they think maybe you make a mistake in a particular place.
Oh, I welcome it. I asked for it. You know, I am very aware of the bubble. You know, I worked with Bill Clinton, I worked with Al Gore, worked with my father. I am too aware of how people tend to tell you what you want to hear when you're in a position of power. They don't want to differ with you. They don't want to tell you bad news. I've seen it. It scares me. So I go the other way. I solicit criticism and bad news. Actively solicit it. I will say, I’ll say to people all day long, don't tell me what I did right. Tell me what I did wrong. Tell me what I should have done better. Tell me the possible problems. So I actively do that. Melissa is just a superstar. She is super bright. She has a natural aptitude. You know, she's worked in a lot of different positions. She grew up with it, in some ways. So she has a natural aptitude. But then she's highly educated. She works very hard. She knows the facts. And my team, my team has an ethic. You know, people have never really captured this, Alan, I push people hard. I don't push them hard. I don't have to push them at all. They push themselves. And the team has an ethic that pushes itself. They believe they are the best team that has functioned in state government. By the way, I agree with that, and I've worked with every team, you know, for the past 40 years, and they want to be the best. And you take that ethic and you put it in this situation where they're talking about life and death and government hasn't had to perform this way in two generations. And they are the national leader on this effort. That brings up their performance level and their accountability. So it's more of a culture among the team itself. And Melissa represents that. She's been here for about six, seven years, or something like that. And so she is, she's very much from that culture. She's greatly respected by the team. She's the first female secretary in history.
Is that right?
Oh, yeah. So and we have probably a higher percentage of senior women on the team than ever before. But no, she's, I've worked with all of them. I'm mean, she is just phenomenal at what she does, I mean you have to see her in these briefings.
She knows the facts, the facts.
She doesn't take, she doesn't take any garbage. Put another way, crap. She's pretty good. Let me ask you this. You've been fighting obviously for money from the federal government, otherwise, you're gonna have to fire a lot of teachers. You won't have to do it, but you cut boards of education 20% they're gonna have to fire teachers, cops and everybody else. How's that going? Are we gonna get the money?
I don't have a lot of faith in Washington and this crazy politics that's now going on and how partisanship has eclipsed performance. But even having said that, I cannot believe that Washington doesn't understand that they have to provide funding. I mean, they did corporate bailouts. They did business bailouts. How do they not? How do they not work funding for police and firefighters and nurses and teachers? I mean, I can't believe it.
Well, you say they. You really mean he don't you?
I mean, you know, mean they because they are running for reelection. And I don't believe Republican or Democrat. I don't believe a senator or a congressperson can go home and run for reelection, having savaged education, police, and fire, and that's why I keep making it clear. My budget is a function of what they do in Washington. Now, Speaker Pelosi just put a bill on the table that does make a tremendous difference. It funds $500 billion for state and local governments. It repeals SALT, by the way. Amen as the biggest benefit in the bill for New York. So I can't believe that any responsible elected official or concerned political official doesn't realize that they're going to have to provide funding because I look at, all governors have said the same thing. By the way, this is not a Democratic governor, Republican governor, every governor, we did a joint statement from the National Governors Association. Republican chairman, Governor Hogan from Maryland and myself, saying they have to provide funding or you're going to cut teachers, police and firefighters and nurses and doctors. Do you really want to do that? I don't believe they do.
Wow, so advocates for repealing the stock transfer tax break say they could save up the state up to $15 billion a year at a time when every penny counts. What do you think of that idea?
Yeah, I say better than possibly hurting our specific economy in New York at a time when we're dealing with a New York specific problem of the highest coronavirus death toll in the country. Let Washington provide the funding. You know, when they talk about tax increases in the state, what they leave out is, when one state increases its tax rate, it puts itself at a competitive disadvantage. When you raise it nationally, every state is in the same situation. Why should I hurt my competitiveness to get the available funding? Let's get it from Washington, which doesn't put us at a competitive loss.
Well, what if they don't? What if it comes down to, you know, push and shove and Speaker Heastie comes to you and says, we've got to raise the taxes in New York State and the Democrats in the Senate, which are less likely to do it because they won under adverse conditions, I believe, say, okay, we'll raise the taxes. Do you sign it?
See, I don't want to, I don't want to go there. Because it's my first point. The Congress has to deliver the funding. This is on Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, Speaker Pelosi, our congresspeople. They have to deliver federal funding.
Are they working hard enough to do it?
I'm sure they're all working hard enough. But to me, this is like, when we have to get a state budget done, right. The budget is done, or it's not done. Nobody said, when the budget’s late, well, are you working hard enough? Yeah, everybody's working. Everybody's locked in rooms. But it's not done. This is binary. It’s either done or not done. Either. The state of New York gets a check, we have a $61 billion hole. And I've said 11 times either we get a check for $61 billion, or I have to cut, and it's on Washington, on Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, Speaker Pelosi, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, etc. They have to deliver, and I want to leave it there, Alan, because clarity is helpful and accountability is helpful.
Let's talk about SUNY. One more time. I know you mentioned it but the California State College system says it won't open for in person classes for the fall semester. Should the SUNYs follow that?
SUNY should do plans to prepare to open and then let's make the decision when we must. Tell me what the drop dead date is. For them to send out notices and bring students back and let's make a final decision the day before with the best information available. Even then, the facts may change the next week, right? Who would be shocked if they said oh by the way, we just found out the Coronavirus affects The 22 year olds. We're now looking at between less than one year old and 21 year olds for this Kawasaki-like disease. But the facts are going to change. Make the decision when you have to, but with the best facts at the time, and we may here, and we're talking about September? This whole thing has only been 70 days. Look how many times it’s changed in 70 days. Who knows where we're going to be in July.
All true. As you look back on the last two months, is there anything you wish, come on now no fooling around, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish this world knew back in November, December what we know now, but given what we have, given what we knew when we knew it, I, and look, nobody is harsher on me than me. But I don't know what, I would have engaged Washington and funding earlier maybe. But otherwise, you know, but it's not really me. It's the team and the operation. Look, we did things. Jim Dwyer’s got a piece today that, Jim Dwyer is a Pulitzer Prize winner. He wrote the book on 9/11. He looks at this situation, actually through the lens of 9/11. Which is fascinating when you think about it, because 9/11 was the last real government emergency crisis, right? We talk all the time, but who really cares about government, you know, unless you're a real political savant, you know, live your life, except when government becomes extraordinarily urgent and necessary. And war time, when did the great leaders emerge? When government is really called on and the question is did they step up to the plate? Well, like when, like 9/11 was the last time where government had to operate. Well, what happened? Dwyer has a piece he wrote the book on little 9/11, Dwyer, one of the books. How did government operate here visa v. Stepping up and foreseeing a problem and overcoming a problem. By that analysis, we're going to do very, very well. Our real crisis here was the healthcare system, right? That was the real crisis. You're gonna overwhelm the health care system, people are gonna die in the hallway like in Italy. That was my nightmare. And it's still a nightmare, right? We did the impossible.
Yes, you did. But there's still issues and we have to go unfortunately, I know you have to get on a plane. I don't want, I don't want to do anything to impede your moving around. But governor we’ll talk I hope again. And I still can't believe you're doing this because you know, little old us compared to The Tonight Show, The Morning Show, The Day Show. It's incredible and we really thank you for it.
Thank you very much, Doctor wear a mask. Thank you, sir. Thank you, sir.
Thank you, sir.