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Gov. Andrew Cuomo On WAMC's Northeast Report 4/27/20

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on April 27, 2020.

Levulis: This is WAMC Northeast Report. We turn things over now to WAMC’s Alan Chartock and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Gentlemen, good afternoon.

Chartock: Good afternoon.

Cuomo: Gentlemen. Who's he talking to? I thought he was talking to us.

Chartock: Well, it's clearly not me, that’s for sure. I think you qualify, sir. I know why you qualify, because you have 78% in the polls approval rating. That's unheard of. Now, I know your father used to tell me well, I don't look at the polls. And I'm sure you're gonna say the same thing. But you know, you've got to know that you have 78% approval rating. That's unbelievable.

Cuomo: Well, I'll tell you why I feel good about it. I've been doing these briefings seems like forever every day. I go home, my daughters cringe and say you have to stop doing those dad jokes. I said, ‘What do you mean dad jokes?’ What they'll do is they put dad in front of any word and it's automatically an insult. Dad jokes, dad clothes, dad expression. People hate your dad jokes. I said, ‘Oh, really?’ So I'm going to go home and say what statistical data do you have to backup that they hate dad jokes.

Chartock: Right? I have 78%. What do you have? That is just - that is just amazing. And of course, Trump now seems to be off the air at least for a little while. I'm sure he may change his mind. So will you continue?

Cuomo: Well, I don't know if he's off the air because I just heard that he's doing a five o'clock press conference.

Chartock: I guess that didn't last too long.

Cuomo: It changes every hour, every hour.

Chartock: Yeah, well, now that I'm on the subject, he is either putting his face up there or he is doing something else like tweeting. And here's a good one. “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois as example) and cities, in all cases Democratic run, and manage when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help. I am open to discussing anything but just asking?”

Cuomo: Yeah, look, this is an important topic and first, you know, I said last week when they were about to pass the bill that only helps small businesses. I said, make sure state and local governments are in that bill because they know local governments or police, fire, school teachers, healthcare workers, and everyone said, don't worry about it. Don't worry about it. We'll do it in the next bill. As soon as they pass the bill Alan, then Senator McConnell says, I don't know why we should do the states. We should let them go bankrupt. First, at this moment where we have a moment of solidarity and community in this country where we're facing a national crisis, we're coming together. 60,000 people say they want to come help New York in the middle of this. In just a tremendous outpouring of love. For anyone to raise this divisive partisan tone, I think is wholly incongruous with the moment, and if they want to talk about bailing out and money, they couldn't be more wrong on the numbers. New York is the number one donor state in the United States. Second donor state New Jersey, then Massachusetts, then Connecticut and California. The states that take more than anyone else: Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Alabama, Florida. And that's every year. If they just gave us back, Alan, the money that we paid in that we didn't get back, the money we put into the federal coffers that we didn't get back for the past five years, $116 billion. Just give us back the past five years’ $116 billion. So look, it's a divisive tone. Now's not the time, but on the numbers, on the merits - It's not even true.

Chartock: Let me ask you this. Now today, there was a little bit of news. The Sanders presidential campaign is pushing to keep him on June 23 primary ballot in New York rather than just cancel the Primary, which the Board of Elections did today, as I understand it. The Sanders campaign said not holding the primary is bad for party unity. I think there's a little threat there and it says New York should lose its delegates to the convention. And it called the decision an outrage. What do you think?

Cuomo: Well, the Board of Elections made the decision. If you hold an election now, it obviously raises public health concerns. You know, we all saw the video of the lines in Wisconsin and their reasoning is there is no election. You can't vote for Bernie Sanders. So on the Democratic side, you only have really, Joe Biden. On the Republican side, I think they may have even canceled that already. I don't know if there's anyone running against Trump in the primary. So I think the reasoning is, if you don't have an election, why would you bring people out to the polls, but it's up to them. Alan, and I understand both sides of the issue, but it's up to the board of elections.

Chartock: Okay, let's assume you have no influence with the board of elections, which I suspect you do, right? I mean, it's unlikely that they're gonna go ahead and do anything that, you know -

Cuomo: Well I could have weighed in. I didn't weigh in, you know, I am. I've been doing a lot with elections to reduce people going to polling places. Even the workers don't want to do that. So I've done basically absentee ballots for no cause. In other words, everyone would qualify for an absentee ballot. So I get the problem about going to the polls. But I didn't weigh in on this decision.

Chartock: Now I take it that you know, you don't like to I know you, you don't like to ascribe motivation to people, but I do. So here's my question. Bernie Sanders pulled out. He said he endorsed Biden, Joe Biden. And now they're all ticked off that somehow the New York primary where he might have done well, no matter what Sanders might have done well, isn't gonna get held. So what's Sanders up to here?

Cuomo: I don't even understand the issue to tell you the truth. I don't understand why his campaign would be upset if he's not running. So I don't even - I haven't explored it either. But I don't understand the issue, Alan.

Chartock: Well, you look, you're one of the smartest guys I know. So it would seem to me that it was pretty obvious that they thought they’d do okay. The Sanders people thought they would do okay. And somehow new life might be injected into what they're doing or even just vindication that there are so many people who liked him. And we, you know, we can suspect that the Democrats desperately need the Bernie voters because if the Bernie voters don't come out, you could lose the election, the presidential election. So therefore, you gotta handle this with kid gloves. No?

Cuomo: I would, I would think so. I just don't understand the mechanics of if you're not on the ballot, why would you have an election? But I know as far as reaching out across the party, I know the Biden campaign is working at that feverishly. Also, I believe that Democrats are going to come together because there's a larger issue at stake, which is beating President Trump. And I think that's going to unify Democrats like you've never seen Democrats unified before.

Chartock: Okay, let's go on to some other stuff you said today, as I understand it, that the state PAUSE that's P-A-U-S-E, not Captain's paws, P-A-W-S. The state PAUSE will be extended past May 15. But some regions can start opening next month. Where exactly will it be safe to reopen?

Cuomo: Well, I released the study that we did, which is about 7,000 people across the state, on the infection rate. You have very different situations you have 20%, even more in New York City, and you get to some parts of upstate, you have literally 1, 2, 3%. You know, the way this country has very different situation state to state. Within our state, we have different situations. People say New York, everybody thinks New York City, but, you know, upstate has a totally different situation. So we work in regions in New York, economic development regions. Western New York, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Capital District, Hudson Valley. So the numbers vary widely. The CDC guideline is an area can reopen if they've had a decline over 14 days in the hospitalization rate and the death rate. When we get to May 15, I suspect you will have a couple of regions in upstate New York where the numbers will meet the CDC guidelines, which means they have had the climbing death rate and hospitalization rate for 14 days. And what I want to say to them is, if that's what you're thinking about, then let's have a real reopening plan that we think through before you get there. And I want to put that plan on the table now, because it's not as simple as just okay, we reopen tomorrow. It has to be done right. God forbid that infection rate goes up again. So that's what I'm laying out. We won't know until you get to May 15, and you see what's happening with the infection rate. Because right now it's on the decline all across the state, but it has to be watched, Alan, and that can come right back and bite you in the tuchus as the Italians would say.

Chartock: Yeah, it’s an Italian word. So, so okay. But you, Sir, have talked about this on a number of occasions, that people will go from one place to another. And that's not always a good thing. So let's say you open a beach in the Adirondacks and everybody from New York City goes running up there. Isn't there a potential problem there?

Cuomo: Yes. Yes. So I said any regional reopening - you couldn't have any attractive nuisances, different use of the term attractive nuisance from the legal context. But exactly what you said you can’t open up an attraction that could bring people from outside the state or within the state. We went through this where Connecticut had certain attractions that were open, and New Yorkers were all going to Connecticut so I spoke with Ned Lamont, who’s a good man, and we're working together just for that purpose. So we all know what the other person is doing. But you couldn't, you'd have the same issue in upstate New York. You already have that issue, by the way. You have places in the North Country where New Yorkers are going up to the Adirondacks who want to hike, right? Because people are just looking for things to do. So whatever regional opening you did, you'd have to caveat that category. And also, we're talking about reopening, first, the construction and manufacturing sector. So that is really indigenous to that region, right. If you're doing construction and manufacturing, there's not a lot of opportunities for people to go up and participate in those activities.

Chartock: Well, interesting, fascinating as a matter of fact. So if your beach was on Long Island Beach - Very, very important, aren't they? And you never know. Okay, so let's go here.

Cuomo: I'm sorry, one second Alan. Downstate is only one region. Nassau, Suffolk, New York City, Westchester for this purpose is one region. And I have said 57 times, we're not doing anything in that region that is not wholly coordinated in that region. So Nassau, by law, by the way, they can't do anything. It's state law that governs. I don't even want the confusion or chaos of a local town saying, ‘I'm opening our beaches.’ And then I have to say, ‘No, you're not opening your beaches, right?’ I want people to have confidence in government. I want them to see that it's coordinated. So I've said a town cannot make those decisions. The county cannot make those decisions. That is because you would have that. You open a beach in Nassau today. You'll see people from all over downstate New York headed for that beach. That I can guarantee you.

Chartock: This poll I was talking about before has shown support among New Yorkers for mask wearing and for social distancing measures. It is also shown that the guys who are running around honking their horns have very little popularity. But on the other things like mask wearing and social distancing, should we have done those things earlier?

Cuomo: You know, mask wearing should we have done it earlier? You know, if you look at pictures of people in China, they've been wearing masks for years, right? Yeah, pollution etc. You now have doctors who say you have to be out of your mind to shake hands ever period because it's such a transmission vehicle. So look. You can look at all of these things. Masks we did as soon as the CDC recommended them. If you remember even how masks started, the CDC wasn't even sure that masks were beneficial, their first advice. I said I err on the side of safety when it first started. I said look, it couldn't hurt, right? So if it if it couldn't hurt, why wouldn't you do it? The CDC then came out with guidance that said they actually thinks it's a positive. But that question and the poll is interesting because 92% support the order that they have to wear masks if you can't social distance. That's, that was astounding to me. I don't think I've ever seen 92 in a poll and that is an intrusive thing, you know?

Chartock: So there are these guys going around there in front of the Capitol, you know that, and the governor's mansion, and they're honking their horns. I have a question I think a lot of people do. Who put them up to it?

Cuomo: (singing) Bum Bum, bum, bum, bum bum bum - is this a game show? Who put them up there? I don't, I do not know with certainty, sir.

Chartock: But you have an idea. In any case, you talk to the president today, right. Did you talk to him today?

Cuomo: Yes I did, sir.

Chartock: And my question to you is, how'd that go? Did anything interesting come up?

Cuomo: We talked specifically about medical facilities that the Army Corps of Engineers built to add capacity. And I said, my two cents is I'd rather keep the facilities up because they're now talking about the flu season, and they're worried about the flu season. They think there may be some subsiding of the coronavirus in the summer. But when you get to the fall, they're afraid of a convergence of the flu and COVID. It will stress our testing system, because the testing system is relatively quiet now, but it gets very busy in the flu season. So now you have to test COVID and flu with the same testing season. And they're afraid that people will be more anxious about the flu because they won't know if it's COVID or not without a test. And the hospitalization rate goes up in the fall anyway. So I said, let's keep the medical facilities that we built up, just in case we need them for the fall and we have another capacity scramble. And the President was cooperative and agreed.

Chartock: Interesting. Now let's go to the school district so everybody wants to know if their kid’s going to school. Should school district start planning for summer school if the states start reopening in May or June, when kids need to go somewhere? You tie the two issues together schools and businesses, but that won't line up with the normal end of the school year in June. There’s a question there somewhere.

Cuomo: I'm talking to New Jersey and Connecticut - Governor Murphy, Governor Lamont - we want to do that together and we're going to have a decision by the end of this week. There's actually two decisions. Will the school reopen before the end of the normal school year? Second question, how about summer school? There are many school districts that have suggested they would like to do summer school to make up for some of the lost time so it's a two-part decision. I'd like to make it in concert with New Jersey and Connecticut. But I'd like to make it at the end of this week.

Chartock: Can you give us a hint of where you’re going?

Cuomo: I literally had a conversation with the other states this morning. And it's there's no definitive answer. And the summer school is a tricky question. You know, even if you say, well, the rest of the school year, well, how about summer school? And does that have to be statewide? We have very different numbers in upstate New York. But on the other hand, you wind up with a patchwork quilt of what different regions of the state are doing that doesn't make sense either. So these decisions tend to get more nuanced. So no, I don't have a definitive idea yet.

Chartock: Okay, now, we talked about your 77, 78% in the polls. That's incredible. Now, that's a lot of political capital. We also know that you have a huge budget deficit to worry about. Now, it does appear that there's some guilt on the part of the president and the Republicans to pass another bill. And then certainly the Congress, the House of Representatives to pass another bill, which will do what you've been asking for all the time, to give the state some money. But couldn't you use your huge, you know, wonderful numbers to push through a millionaire's tax before the end of the session in June, considering the precarious place the state’s in?

Cuomo: Before I go to my people and say we should pay more, I want to say that the federal government, I have a $10 billion hole. Why are you making me give you $30 billion more this year than you're going to give me back this year? I will give them $30 billion more than I get back. I mean, just think about that. I have a $10 billion gap. Yes. Maybe more like $30 but let's take $10 I give them $30. Why should I give them $30 more if I have 10 billion dollar gap? I mean, it makes no sense. And we do have a congressional delegation that controls the house Democrats. In the house, we do have Senators Schumer and Gillabrand that can refuse to do a unanimous consent vote. You know, it's not like we are totally without offense here. It just makes no sense.

Chartock: Now, do you talk to Schumer about this, on a regular basis?

Cuomo: Yes. Yes. I've had many conversations with our senators.

Chartock: And how are you getting along?

Cuomo: Wow. They said on the last vote, I did have a disagreement with them. I said, before you do small businesses, you should insist that the state local funding is in that bill, because that's police and fire, and school teachers, and health care workers and I have a $10 billion deficit. The Washington belief was that Mitch McConnell and the House would agree to state and local after they passed the small business bill. I was more skeptical and cynical about Mitch McConnell. I said, No, they want a small business bill. And I don't trust them that after the small business bill, they are going to actually do state and local. And by the way before the ink was dry, Mitch McConnell said, I'm not doing it.

Chartock: Yeah, I'm not doing it. But you would appear to be softening or am I just wrong about that?

Cuomo: Softening on what?

Chartock: Softening on having another bill and the states getting the money, states and localities getting something…

Cuomo: I see it, look, it's not even a partisan issue. I talk to Republican governors all day long. You know, I'm the vice chairman of this group called the National Governors Association. It’s all states. I don't know what states they’re talking about that don't have a deficit. I'm sure there were a few that had mild effect of the virus. But I talked to many, many Republican governors who say the same thing.

Chartock: Let me ask you a question. I've been thinking a lot about how the coronavirus got started. I'm getting mail with all kinds of theories. You know, but there's one prominent theory around that this thing started in a Chinese lab, that they were working on it and it got away. Should we just ignore that kind of talk right now? Or is there a reason for us to start thinking about it?

Cuomo: Oh, no, I think we have to think about it. I think we have to know what happened in China. Why didn't they give out more information sooner? And then Alan, and what happened to the entire safety net of global health experts? I mean, when you think about it in retrospect, I'm not a medical doctor, as you know. I have no experience in the field. But November, December you hear about a virus in China. And it's spreading, it's spreading. Well, China says they have it under control. January, February, nobody really does anything. We then do a China ban. And later in March, a Europe ban, but the virus started November, December. Why didn't somebody say the virus is in China November, December, that virus just got on a plane and flew to Italy, and got on the plane and flew to Germany and maybe flew to the United States. And even if we don't know for sure that the virus got on the plane, you had to assume that it got on a plane. I mean, everyone talks about the global interconnection. This is November and December. One whole month, nobody got on a plane with a virus. I mean, who would believe that? So, you know, all these national international organizations, nobody said, by the way, the virus is in China, you should assume that it lands in your country tomorrow. And what did we find out now? Now the experts say, oh, what happened was it was in China November, December. It then got on a plane and went to Italy and Europe, because you have a big connection between parts of Italy and China on manufacturing. And then it went from Europe to New York. See, the China cases went to California. The European cases came to New York. And that makes all the sense in the world. We had over two million European passengers in January and February. That’s where the virus came from. It came from Europe. But in retrospect, of course it was going to come. And, of course it was going to come before March. And you know, all these international health organizations. Nobody blew the whistle?

Chartock: Were they dumb or was it a reason for not blowing the whistle?

Cuomo: I do not know why. I don't think there was any political conspiracy to it. Now, you could say, well, China's said it's under control. But what does that mean? I have the virus under control. Does it mean one person didn't get on a plane? Because that's all it takes with this virus, is one person. So yeah, all these experts now they all do an op-ed, you know. Now we're in with the New York Times. They’re all great in retrospect, where was the op-ed in the New York Times in December? And where was it in January? And where was it in February? Right? Now everybody's a genius.

Chartock: I only got a couple of seconds now, but I wanted to ask you this. It's your new budget book. A new look at the budget says the localities will be cut by $8 billion. You're getting any pushback?

Cuomo: Oh, no, but yes. You know, you always get pushback, because everybody says I need more. You know, it's everybody's favorite word, more. I do, right. Yeah, everybody needs more. I need more. But it's a function of what the federal government does. And I don't think anyone believes that the federal government can be totally tone deaf to states and cities. You have Republican states that need help. No state could create this problem, you know, our finances were great. Our government spending rate was very low year to year. Our job rate was up. So we didn't do anything wrong. This coronavirus fell from the sky. Right. And this country has a great history of when there's an emergency, normally they put politics aside, right when they would do a supplemental appropriation for Hurricane Katrina, you know, the Midwest floods, or Superstorm Sandy, where the federal government was very helpful to the communities that were hit. This is different that even in an emergency, they wave the partisan banner. It really is. Just more evidence of the total polarization because we were better than this. At an emergency even those people in Washington said, now's not the time to play politics. This was just an emergency. It was a crisis. We're one nation, we're there for one another.

Chartock: So let me ask you a question. You're getting along with the President. That's clear. You know, he picks on other people. He's not really picking on you more than one would expect, just sort of as a plaything. What's your secret?

Cuomo: What do you mean he's not picking on me? He’d tweeted last week something nasty. I forget what it was. No, it's you know, it's day-to-day but he has not been, he's tweeted bad things about me.

Chartock: I don't think so. I think I think he's, for some reason you talk to him on the phone. You go down to Washington. You know, he invites you. There is something that makes him tolerate you in a way he doesn't tolerate everybody else. You know what that is that you're popular? What is it?

Cuomo: My wit? My charm? My dad jokes. I think it's my dad jokes.

Chartock: It could be could be your dad jokes. In any case. It's a great relief and a great pleasure to have you with us today. Governor, always love to do it. And we are, I know I'm not supposed to say this, but we're very honored to have you and we thank you so much for being here. Thanks again.

Cuomo: Well, I'm honored to be with you. And I'm not supposed to say that either. So thanks. Have a good day.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.
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