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Gov. Cuomo On WAMC's Northeast Report 5/28/20

File: Governor Andrew Cuomo at Norsk Titanium in Plattsburgh
Pat Bradley/WAMC
File: Governor Andrew Cuomo at Norsk Titanium in Plattsburgh

WAMC's Alan Chartock interviews New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, May 28, 2020.

Congratulations to you, Doctor, on the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Associated Press.

Will use you stop it. I mean, that's very nice but, but it really was all of the people at WAMC who got that award.

Oh, I know. Yeah, I know. I know and how come it’s called Alan Chartock award?

Well because they made a mistake.

Congratulations. That's a beauty. Congratulations. You deserve it.

Now listen. In terms of making mistakes, you went down to the White House. How can you do that? Have you looked that guy in the eye? I mean, you know, what a mouth, what a head. I mean, he's awful. How can you do that?

Since when in life, do we have the luxury of only dealing with the people we want to deal with, Doctor?

Well, I suppose that's right.

Have to interview people you like them, you don't like them, who cares? You interview them, you do the job. I’m governor of the state of New York, he's president of the United States, we need the federal government to be responsive. And by the way, what I am saying about the federal government is I'm sure not what they want me to be saying about the federal government, right? The people of the state gave me a microphone and I'm using it to advocate for them, and to advocate, frankly, for states across the country. And I did a briefing at the National Press Club afterwards, where I think you're going to be hard-pressed to find a more candid call to Congress on a direction and actions that are necessary, and a more blunt assessment of what they're doing. So I feel good about the message I'm delivering it and the way I'm delivering it.

Well, does he have bad breath I mean, what's the deal? How close did you get to him? Did you wear a mask?

Wear a mask? I'm Mr. Mask, have you not heard? That's all I do every day is talk about wearing the mask.

But when you're sitting there with him, were you wearing a mask, right?

Not in the Oval Office, I didn't wear a mask. You know, they test you before you go in so they know that you're negative. But I speak to him frequently through the situation, as you know. And you also know that before this pandemic situation, we had a very contentious relationship, I think it's fair to say, but during this pandemic, we need the federal government to deliver. We're not going to get out of this crisis without a lot of pain unless the federal government steps up. That's not just true for New York. That's true for every state. If they don't pass an intelligent piece of legislation and they're down to the final strokes. If they don’t do state and local funding we have a major problem in this state. If they're smart, they do state and local funding and also a stimulus in a reinvigoration program for the economy. I'd love to see them finally do infrastructure. But at a minimum, you need a state and local funding component. Otherwise, it's really going to be a serious situation for this country and the state.

What do I get out of talking to you? Pleasure. I think maybe we both like to be needled and provoked by the President. I need help for the state of New York during the pandemic. He did deliver. He sent the National Guard Javits Center, we had hundreds of beds built, we were panicked about the hospital capacity. Now we're getting FEMA funding, and we need a piece of legislation that has state and local funding, which is very important to us. There's also no doubt that up until the pandemic, I do believe you're exactly right, that part of the President's attacks on New York, attacks on me personally, were part of his overall juxtaposition politically. New York is the blue state, is the Democratic state, I am the liberal governor you know, so I think there was a juxtaposition politically. But now he has to look, his responsibility is and probably coincident with his political interest, he has to govern. And it's not just enough to do political slogans you have to deliver and people are going to know whether or not you deliver. You know this.

He doesn't care about New York New York's not gonna vote for him no matter what New York will not vote for him. My state of Massachusetts, which happens to also have a Republican governor is not going to vote for him either. So what does he get?

Well, yeah, except the difference is what he does to New York has national ramifications, right? I do those briefings every morning. They're carried nationwide. So it's not just what he does to New York. It's how responsive the president is to the epicenter of this crisis, and how well he works with other governors who are very clearly in charge of what's going on. And I said to him, the President, on day one, look, when you're helpful, I’ll say you're helpful. And if you're not I’ll say you're not. And I've been very straightforward about that. But again, it's not just New York, it’s not just New York in this situation. It's the epicenter. And what we do and how it happens, is played out on a national scene. I think that's a fair assessment.

New York City wants to borrow some money to get by here. It is no secret that you and the mayor have not always been best of friends. So now, my understanding I may be wrong, as I often am, that you basically are saying to the saying to the city, no, don't borrow this money. You don't need to borrow this money. Am I wrong?

Well, if you were usually wrong, I don't think you'd win that very prestigious lifetime achievement award that you that you're won today. On the borrowing, the first question is the city may have a financial problem the state may have a financial problem, Nassau may have a financial problem, Erie may have a financial problem. First, you have to find out what funding do we get from the federal government. And if we don't get that state and local funding in the bill, you're going to see a state problem. You're going to see in Erie, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, New York City problem. If we get there, the question is going to be how do we handle the shortfall? And that's going to be a question for the state and for every local government. Now, the local governments are a creature of the state. So when the local governments get into financial trouble, the state steps in. Right we have an Erie Financial Control Board, Nassau Financial Control Board, Yonkers Financial Control Board. We have a New York City Financial Control Board. So the state has to approve the city's borrowing. And it's not some money. The city's requested $7 billion in operating expense. Now operating expense, to borrow against operating, all the watchdog financial credit watch flags go up. Because this is a precarious activity in general, borrowing against operating, and $7 billion is a very large number. I didn't have any serious conversation with the legislature about it. In the assembly, they're basically from New York City. Predominantly. They have a majority of members from New York City. They tend to say yes to New York City, whatever it is. The Senate, which has more representatives statewide, are very aware of what it would mean if the state had to step in and bail out the city, like we did in the 70s. So I just think they felt it was premature, and it would require a real serious discussion. Because if there is a shortfall, this is why the state and local funding is so important. Let's say the state has a shortfall. What do we do about it? And when do you think the revenues will come back? That's the $64,000 question. Pardon the pun, if it is a pun. Are the revenues going to come back in six months, or nine months, or a year? Is it going to take until a vaccine comes back? You have people in New York City who have left. Now did they leave temporarily? Are they coming back? When do the restaurants open? When does the theater open? You know, what makes New York City New York City until you have the restaurants in the theater and the big dinners? You know, these are very big questions, Alan. So when you get to the question of do we borrow? How much? And how do you think you pay it back?

There is that but just to be clear, you're putting full pressure on the president to come up with the help you need. And Mitch McConnell, as well as the Congress. If you will allow the mayor to borrow the money doesn't that take some of the heat off of the off of the president so that, you know, we'll let them borrow it. Then we don't have to give them money.

Yes, you could construe that the President, if he was paying that close attention. Now the local funding frankly, they haven't really been talking about. They focus more on the state funding, right? Because the relationship and the tension is federal, state.

But the city is a part of the state.

Yes. But theoretically, yes, they could say well see every city should do that, every state should do that just borrow and then figure it out. Because they would love to see, it is coincidental. But the states that have the biggest problem happened to be the Democratic states. We are the states that have the biggest COVID problem. Is there a political element in Washington that would love to say to the Democratic states, yeah, borrow, and then cut your funding and deal with the impending financial crisis, which is their story, by the way, right? What they're saying is we're not going to bail out those states who've had years of financial mismanagement. That's their party line. The states are Democratic states. Democrats don't know how to run a government. They spent too much money. They give all the money to the unions. And now let them pay their own bills. That is their line.

Right. Okay. I don't want you to take too much time on this because I got so many questions to ask you. So, you know, try to avoid a filibuster if you possibly can or not. I'll try my best. OK, phase two opening. You know, I wouldn't want your job. You're between a rock and a hard place. I mean, you got to keep people safe. That's number one. But also, you know, you can't go on forever without opening things up. So now very slowly, you're opening things up. How's that going?

Very well. I'm not between a rock and a hard place. I'm between a rock and the right place, and I chose the right place. We have metrics. We have numbers that are the smartest data based reopening plan in the country. I believe we have international experts who go through it and will follow the data reopening in the first five regions. And tomorrow when the reopening of phase one ends, we'll give the experts all the data. It's posted on the web, but let them analyze it. And if they say we should move forward, we move forward.

What are you looking at? Are you looking at how many people are getting sick?

How many people are getting sick? What's the infection rate? What's the transmission rate? What's the hospitalization rate? What's the contact tracing rate? What's the testing rate? All the data points and we analyze it, and then we give it to the international expert, and we're gonna ask them to analyze it. And when if they sign off and say go to phase two, andiamo.

OK, let's talk a little bit, sir. I'm not supposed to say that, right, about nursing homes. And, you know, I know that that's a place you've had some people yelling at you about. So I have a question for you, which I haven't understood from the beginning. We had the Javits Center opened up, right. We had the boat, the ship, in port. We had stuff in Central Park. And, and but you said to them, and this is the thing I have not understood, you said to them, to the hospitals and to the nursing homes, you've got to take the people the hospitals are sending, even if they are positive for COVID. And you got beaten up for that. We know that. And it turns out that it was not an easy time for you. Why did you do that? Well, were you being pushed to tell the nursing homes to take these patients?

Yeah. What this is Alan is first is a little bit of truth and then a lot of politics. The little bit of truth is many of the deaths of this virus happened in nursing homes. That's true all across the country. That's true all across the globe. The nursing homes is where this virus ravaged people. Everywhere. You look at our number of deaths, proportionately we're number 34 in the nation, okay, even though we had the worst time. Number 34 in the nation.

Just to be clear 34 in what now?

In number of deaths as a percentage in nursing homes. We’re number 34. So the first question could be what are you talking about New York that had the worst case, they’re number 34. Go talk to the other 33 states, but nursing homes were something close to 20% of the deaths and nursing homes did have a terrible time. Number two, nobody said you must take COVID patients. Nobody said that. That's just untrue. The CDC guidance, and this is basically a Republican argument and they want to skip over this point. The CDC guidance said a nursing home cannot discriminate on the basis of COVID. Our guidance said you can't discriminate on the basis of COVID. But the way it works with a nursing home is do not take the patient unless you have the facility staff and equipment to do it, period. That's the rule. If a nursing home could not take a COVID positive person, because they couldn't isolate them, they couldn't quarantine them, they didn't have the staff, they're not allowed to take them. They're not allowed to accept a patient they can't treat effectively. So what they would have said is, we can't treat this person. Okay, then we'll put them in Javits, or somewhere else. The nursing homes never said we can't treat them. Literally like two nursing homes said we can't take COVID positive people. Those are the facts of the situation. Not discriminating. Yeah, you can't discriminate. But you can say I can't treat this person. That's not discrimination. Discrimination is illegal. You can just say, I can't treat this person. And then we refer the person to a place that can. We always had available beds. Yes, we were careful about the hospital capacity. But we always had, we were always ahead in terms of beds, so any nursing home that couldn't treat the person all they had to do was say that

Period. Punto. Final.

Yes, it's…

OK, OK. And at the time, you don't want to say that there was a little bit of nuance in your voice when you said, you know, you basically were putting the onus on them to take those patients. Now, you sound very reasonable, I must say, were you just as reasonable then?

We were just as reasonable then. As a matter of fact, the state code says nursing homes can only accept or retain a person for whom they can provide the right care. They can't even keep a person if they're not equipped to care for the person. It's called title 10. Now, the drill down question is, did nursing homes keep people who they shouldn't have kept? Or did they accept patients that they shouldn't have accepted? That's the real question and that's the question that Department of Health is investigating with the attorney general, because remember, a nursing home is, most of them are for profit entities. And you get paid, you operate on the number of beds filled, right? Same as a hospital. They want the beds filled, they want elective surgery. That's the revenue stream. I get it. But the state law is and the operating agreement is you're only taking and keeping people who you can adequately and fairly treat. And that's the drill down question here.

OK, OK. Now, I want to go to your very good friend, the presumed presidential nominee Joe Biden, who the other day during an interview on CNN called the guy you're trying to get along with because you have to, I get that, a fool, because he had said, you know, he said some terrible things. He called him a fool. Do you think he shouldn't have said that?

I think he should say whatever he thinks. He's in a campaign he's running. He should speak from the heart. He should speak freely. This is not a time for overly nuanced discussions. This is the most grave period we've had. Government is more important than it has been in our lifetime. I know you won the Lifetime Achievement Award in our lifetime. Government has not been this important. Think about it. So yes, let's have a real honest conversation about competence, about plans, about performance. Because it's a different day, Alan. This is no longer the politics of the past 10 years. You tweet this, you Tweet that. Who’s handsome, who’s not handsome. People want government to work. It's about competence. It's about skill. It's about leadership. It's about experience, you know what you're doing, by the way, you know, almost like every other profession. Like being a plumber or a cab driver or a lawyer, you actually have to know what you're doing. Okay. Now you have to know what you're doing to be in government. Right. So yeah, have a full fair conversation.

Not necessarily. You think Mitch McConnell knows what he's doing?

I mean, oh, I think he knows what he's doing. He's taking as much money as he can for his state. That's what he's doing.

Let me let me ask you about just a follow up question on that. Do you think the president was being a fool when he talked that way about people who wear masks? Since you wear mask and since you've been trying to get all of us to wear them, don't you think that he was a fool?

I think the president's wrong in his opinion on masks. I think he should be leading on masks, encouraging masks and wearing a mask. I'm not in characterization mode right now.

OK. Did you talk to Trump about the fall election at all? November election?

No. No.

Not even nuance, not even around the corner?


Nothing, nothing like that. You know, and he didn't ask you for anything, did he? What did he want from you?

Nothing, you know, he just he we were talking about infrastructure. We're talking about state and local funding. I told him what it could do for New York what the needs were for New York. But you know, that was it.

But this is a guy who id always thinking about what's in it for me. I mean, that's quite clear from everything we've seen. So it seems to me if he lets you let you in and wanted to have a conversation with a blue state governor, albeit one that he may get along with relatively, he's gonna want something doesn’t he?

Not that he mentioned, though, you know, what can I do for him? What could he ask me for? No, I think look, I do I think he's aware of New York and where we are and our national profile. And that it’s a national question how New York does here and it's something I speak to candidly, every day for a very long period of time. Yes. And it's also his responsibility, you know, so, but besides that, no.

You mentioned my congressman, a guy I love, frankly. You know you and I, I’m always honest with you about who I love. Richie Neal, my congressman, he's a terrific guy. And you mentioned him by name yesterday in Washington. You said representatives who are running for reelection this year don't want to hit the trail without something to show for it. Was that a shot?

No, that was a factual comment. I know Congressman Neal. I worked with him when I was down there at HUD. I like him. But this is about performance and delivery now. Right? This is not about I really tried hard. I like you. This is about performance. They have a House bill. It's a good bill. They have to stand tall in the negotiation with the Senate. And okay, McConnell doesn't want to provide state and local funding, too bad. It takes two to tango. That house has to approve this bill or there is no bill. They gave McConnell everything he wanted in the last bill. They did the small business loans, they gave $500 million to the Treasury to distribute as the Treasury believed appropriate. I said to them on the last bill, don't do it without state and local. They said don't worry, don't worry. We'll do it in the next one. Well, this is the next one. And by the way, this is the last one. So they have to get it done. And they have to get the SALT repeal done. And that is Richie Neal. And that is Nita Lowey. And that is Nancy Pelosi, who got who got hurt and assaulted by SALT, California, Massachusetts, New York, Congressman Neal, Massachusetts. Nita Lowey New York, Nancy Pelosi, California. Remember who voted for you and who you represent.

So you’re trying to give them a little zetz, right to get them going here to make sure that they're doing what you need to get the state funding?

I want them to know how important state and local is. And by the way, Governor Baker says the same thing. Governor Newsom says the same thing. We've all supported it but governors all across the nation supported and we have the SALT repeal, which you want to help the COVID states which happened to be coincident with the states that you hurt with SALT, repeal SALT and if Richie Neal. And Nita Lowey say I'm not signing off on a bill without the SALT repeal on state and local, we'll get it. Forte, forte, forte! Strong!

We have three minutes and I want to make them count. State lawmakers are back in Albany. You've said this week that there's not much lawmakers can do because the state is broke. What do you want them to do, sit there and twiddle their fingers?

There is more to life than just saying we need more money, more money, more money. I know legislature power the purse, but the purse is kind of empty. Smart policy, smart laws, smart programs.

Like what?

They have like 20 bills or something that we're working on together. So there's more to life than money. There's intelligence, there’s good program, and there's love. There's love Alan,

Do you want them to legislate love? I mean, I'm having a little bit of a problem here. You know, they're back. I want to know what you want them to do. And when you say vaguely, and very vaguely, you know, policy, this kind of thing. No policy it comes down to specifics. So what's the specific? What do you want to see done?

I don't, I don't want anything. I want them to do what they want to do. I'm just in a loose mood.

Are you kidding? No, I know I know nothing of this sort. I know you're a guy who likes to call in the plays, the coach sitting down on the sideline and saying do this, do that. That's what you do.

No, that's not me.

What do you mean no?

You got me wrong. This is Andrew Cuomo.


They're a separate branch of government. They do whatever they want to do. And then they send me the bill and we talk about it.

Oh, really? So who is more of a pain in your neck? The leader of the assembly or the leader of the senate?


Well, that's fair. I mean, I think that's fair. I think that's fair. I interviewed the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association just before you. He says even if schools reopen, there will be new COVID-19 associated costs like buildings increasing cleaning, more medical staff, testing if schools are supposed to plan for the spring. How can they cover these additional costs knowing that the state aid is in line for a 20% cut? Twenty percent! Whoa!

Whoa! Twenty percent if the federal government doesn't give us any funding, and then they should call Chuck Schumer and Nita Lowey and their congressman and their senator. I want to keep the accountability and the focus on them. And that's where it should be because if they pass the right federal bill, we don't wind up here. The schools say they need more money. You know what the school say every year, Alan, I need more money. You know what the local government says every year, I need more money.

But this is different. This is different. This is 20%. That's a lot of money. Usually, there's a lot of nonsense that goes on. You give them the money, in the end. You give them a little bit more. But this year, this is different. And you only got one minute to answer.

That's what would happen if the federal government doesn't provide us funding and nobody wants to go there. So call your congressman, call Chuck Schumer. Gillibrand, Senator Gillibrand, and say, you better not fail us now. Richie Neal. Favorite congressmen of Lifetime Achievement Award Alan Chartock.

Well, governor, thank you again. One of the great perplexing things in my mind is why you keep showing up but you do and we appreciate it. And we thank you so much for being with us today.

I hope Richie Neal does his job. Otherwise there's a 20% cut to schools. Come on, Congressman Neal, forte! Thank you, Alan.

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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