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Gov. Cuomo On WAMC's Northeast Report 6/1/20

File photo: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Pat Bradley
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on June 1, 2020.

Hello. Hello, Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

Oh, you’re not gonna do that again. Are you?

Oh yeah, I love that. I'm gonna use that for many weeks to come.

Oh boy. Oh, boy. Well, you know, I guess I gotta put up with it. You're the governor. I'm just a schlemiel.

No, you're a Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

Hey, I have some big business to discuss with you. The first of which is you were on a call with the president today, along with some other governors, I understand and Times got ahold of it. And we know that the governor suggested, that the president suggested governors respond with force to the protests that have sprung up around the country. What else did he say? And can you talk about whether or not you're accepting that you should respond with force?

I'll tell you the truth. Alan. I was only on for a short piece of the conversation because I went on to do my briefing that was already scheduled. Right. But I think there's some in the substances as reported the president was saying force should be used. But you know, I understand his point, but we're making the decisions that we think are right for New York. We had a number of protests across the state, upstate New York, most of the protests were done peacefully, the state police were very helpful. They worked with local police. We had some incidents in Albany the night before. Last night in New York City was a problem both nights and I spoke to the mayor. It's complex, what's happening. There are people who are using these protests. There are people who are just using it for criminal activity. You know, the looters are criminals, Alan. There are outside groups that are you seeing the protests. But then there are just protesters who looked at what happened to Mr. Floyd and they're outraged, and they should be, and I said, I stand with them. I'd like to see them actually convert the outrage into a specific message that could make this a moment of reform. You know, reform comes when people are outraged, but they then speak to a specific, right. Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire or Storm King. Okay, and what do you want to do about it? I think we need that transition here. What do you want to do about it? Mario Cuomo, Tale of Two Cities, there's institutionalized discrimination. There's two Americas, we want a real education funding formula, real affordable housing, stop chokeholds, real police investigation system for abuse that's an outside entity. I'd like to see that corner turned. Otherwise it's just outrage for the sake of outrage and it's yelling into the wind. We had outrage here after Sandy Hook, we focused it, we passed gun control. We had outrage over income inequality focus, it passed minimum wage, outrage over discrimination against the LGBTQ focused it, passed marriage equality. That's how you make real change. But in New York City, I spoke to the mayor, the there's going to be a curfew in New York City. That we think what could be helpful, and more importantly, there is going to be an increase in the force in New York City. They were about 4,000 officers on duty last night. There'll be double that tonight, about 8,000. It's not a question of needing more personnel in New York City. Some of the Upstate cities, they actually need personnel and we have the state police and we have the National Guard. But New York City, they have like 38,000 police officers. So it's not that they need more personnel. It's just utilizing them, and there'll be double the force tonight. And the police commissioner in New York City thinks that will be, that will handle it.

Do you think that police are naturally right-wingers, you know, or basically higher on the F scale, the fascist  scale, then then ordinary citizens are?

No, I think what happens to the police and I've been in that situation, by the way, and you know, you have people trying to hurt you. And there's an air of chaos and aggressiveness and yes you can have all sorts of training and be taught de-escalation. But people are throwing bricks at you. You see your colleagues getting hurt. There's chaos, there's violence. And you know the instinct is, you can get caught up in it. I do believe some of the actions of the NYPD that were captured on video are truly disturbing and troubling. You had a car just driving into a crowd. I understand the crowd may be unruly, but you're driving a vehicle into a crowd. You had a police officer on video pull down a mask so he could pepper spray somebody's face. You had a police officer knocking a woman to the ground. You know you have the mayor of Atlanta, saw a couple of her officers on video and just removed them. The point about Mr. Floyd and his killing, which obviously, it was a much, much different situation, but you had the videotape and the videotape nowadays, you know, people want to know what your response is. I think that some of those officers should be suspended. Those episodes of the driving the car. I think people are right, that they're outraged about what they saw. I think we should have a full review or have the attorney general doing one 30 days, so it's not going to be done internally by the police or even frankly, by city hall. Because that won't bring true credibility. The attorney general, independently elected official, will do the review. But in the meantime, I think you say to the people, yeah, I saw that action. And I want to hear the flip side, but in the meantime, they're suspended. And I think they should be and it's a way to say to the police don't do that. Yeah, I know the driving in the crowd, I know the extenuating circumstances, but you're gonna have 8000 police officers out there tonight. Don't do that the way you say don't do that is if you do it, you get suspended. That's how. But I don't think it's, I think it's more circumstantial than anything else.

So let me ask you a question. You mentioned in your last remarks that you've been in that situation, but what do you mean by that?

I mean, I've been in situations where there have been protests and it's at night and they are there's a violence and a chaos to it. And I don't think it's that the police officers don’t get trained to remain cool. But just you have to take into account the circumstances that they're in, and they are danger. They're in danger. They are in danger. So yeah, aggressiveness can get out of control. And you can lose your temper, even though you're trained not to lose your temper, right? So I think you have to understand the impossible situation we're putting police in just stand there and get hit, you know. But when you see egregious conduct, like you have on the videotape on some of these instances, yeah, I understand there's gonna be two sides. I understand we have to do a full review. I also understand you have a lot of people looking at that video saying this is outrageous. And by the way, it appears outrageous. So yes, go through the whole review. Don't take any finite action, but that doesn't mean you have them go out there again tonight.

So is there a point at which, I'm only asking you this question because I'm getting it after my remarks on the radio today, is there a point at which we have to think that somehow it's justified to go into somebody else's business be they black or brown or in the case of our next door neighbors on Central Avenue, Korean and wreck the place and I'm getting mail it says it's justified because you gotta fight fire with fire and that kind of stuff. What do you make of that?

I just disagree. Yeah, fight fire with fire, but make sure you have the fire focused on the right place and for a constructive purpose. Yes be outraged that Mr. Floyd's death, which is just one in a long series, and be outraged that Mario Cuomo spoke about tale of two cities in 1984. And you still have discrimination in the workplace and institutionalized poverty, and you still have racism in society, and you still have two education systems. All of that you should be outraged, but then have an agenda. And focus the fury at the elected officials. I think this is a national issue. You say, you’re all up for election in November, here's the agenda I want. And if you don't pass this, I'm going to vote you out. And where you have a presidential election, this is what I want. Congressional elections, Senate elections. Here's my agenda, equality of education, police abuse no choke holds, etc. And focus on that. To burn down businesses in your own community that we've been working so hard to create, to burn down, mom and pop businesses, minority businesses, to burn down your own house, you have to live in the ashes. How does that help?

There have been some people who suggest that the people who have infiltrated, there are people who have infiltrated you know these groups these protesters and have caused the trouble. They come from other places. They come from, you know, ANTIFA anti-fascist groups. They come from right wingers. Do you live any indication that any of that is so?

I believe there are people who exploit the moment. I believe there are people, I believe there are criminals who say, you know what? This is going to be a night of chaos. It's a great night to loot and steal. Is it a coincidence that the stores got that got looted in New York City, Alan, were all the high end stores? They loaded Chanel, they looted Rolex watches. No, this was not looting a hardware store. Right. So there's a criminal element. I believe there are extremist groups. The President will say they're lefty groups, other people will say they're right wing groups, but I believe there are extremist groups that say, here's a moment to sow anarchy. I believe that also, but then I believe there are people who are just protesting because what they saw was terrible with Mr. Floyd and disturbing, and you just had Ahmed Aubrey and you just had Brionna Taylor. They don't even go back as far as I go back, where I was sent to Los Angeles by President Clinton with secretary Ron Brown, God rest his soul after Rodney King to try to keep people calm. And Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo, and Eric Garner, you know how many times so yes, there's real outrage. But the people who use this moment, the criminals, the exploiters, that plays into the deniers’ hands. Who are the deniers? President Trump is a denier. He wants you thinking about the looting, as opposed to the killing of Mr. Floyd. And what the looters do, and the exploiters do is they play into the hands of the deniers because the deniers don't really want to talk about racism and discrimination and inequality. So now they're going to make this about the looters. Right. And that's what the President is saying, call out the militia, the military because these people are criminals.

And he's saying that the Joint Chiefs ought to be in charge of the response, what do you think of that?

Yes, because he wants to say, let's forget about that. It's not about Mr. Floyd's killing. They don't want to talk about that. They want to talk about the looting. That's where they want to go and this these are criminals and they should be a military response. Show of force. Lock them all up. And unfortunately, they will steal this moment. And I think this is a precious moment because I think it's these moments in which change comes. Let's be honest, we don't have leaders leading political movements anymore. We have people leading political movements. And the best the leader can do is seize the moment when their energy is up. You look at the big changes that have happened in history, the people went first. You look at all the big changes I made, the people went first. Now, I targeted it. I focused it. I gave them the agenda. I drafted the legislation, but I held the legislation of like a sail and the wind from the people's movement carried the legislation, right.

Yeah, let me ask you this. You’re, I know you'll take some umbrage at this, but you're brilliant political tactician, and I mean that in, you know, the best of senses. So you have an election coming up. Joe Biden, your friend, you've told us that a number of times, is leading in most of the contemporary polls. I haven't seen anything since than time, by like 10 or 11 points. That's a lot of space. Now, what are your expectations now that this is happening, that the president will make out like a bandit as a result of becoming a law and order guy?

Look, he is always going to be the law and order. Gosh, he's always going to be any progressive movement is diabolical and extremist. Right? He's saying these are all the left-wingers. This is happening in cities. You know who lives in cities Alan. The Democrats live in cities, those politically active people live in cities. So it's these are not his people to begin with. I don't think he scores any points. I think he's just as in the reinforcing business. You know, in many ways the president is still running in a Republican primary. Right. He's still catering to the far right. I don't even think he, he talks to the moderate Republicans, by the way. So I don't think his message changes.

But you think this is, I know, because I got so many other questions for you. But does this harm the Biden candidacy?

No, I think it can empower the Biden candidacy. I think it can present him with a real progressive agenda that people are excited about. You know, I think it gives Biden and the national Democrats an opportunity to say I heard you after Mr. Floyd's death, and here's the agenda. I think it gives them the opportunity that I had after Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook, people said enough is enough, this is terrible. You're killing young kids in the school with an assault weapon. I said yes. Here's the answer. Common sense gun control. SAFE Act, here are the 10 points. Let's go. Let's harness the power, harness the wind. I think it gives Joe Biden and the national Democrats an opportunity to say we heard your outrage. Here's the agenda. Five Points. Anti-poverty for children, funding equity in schools, because it is so disgusting, tale of two cities, 1984 we’re in 2020. Do you still fund poor schools less $13,000 a year per student compared to $36,000 in this state.

You think Scarsdale and Long Island are going to go away with your progressive idea about equality?

Well, I think the progressives will. And by the way…

Are there enough of them?

Alan, all these assembly men and senators stand up and say I'm for educational equity. They all say it, they all go to the rallies well to do it, then Scarsdale in some communities don't get as much money. Oh, well, we don't want to do that. You're gonna have to create more wind. How do you not have an independent investigation mechanism for police? How do you have the local DA do it? I'd say it's an apparent conflict of interest, even if it's not a real conflict of interest.

No we know it is. We know it is there's no question the DAs have to work hand in hand with police even here in little Great Barrington. We find DAs crapping out. But I want to ask you something. We do know we do know, governor, that you you're doing a curfew. What time does that curfew begin?

11 o'clock.

11 o'clock tonight, and how long does it go?

Don't worry. Won't affect you. You and I will be asleep.

That's true. But how long will this be, more than one day? What's the deal?

It's from 11 to 5 in the morning. It's tomorrow.

I just want to make a little news here.

Oh, you want to make news? That's how you get the Lifetime Achievement Award. Now I understand. See, I never think about that. It's 11 to 5 tonight, and then we'll see where we are tomorrow.

Right. And why did you have to do it? In other words, is assuming the good people of New York know what this is about, is it that we are so threatened we need a curfew?

Last night was a bad night in New York City. It's just New York City by the way. It's not upstate. Upstate, we had a bad night in Albany the night before last, but yesterday, last night was okay. All across upstate by the way we only had a handful of arrests in Buffalo. And many of these protests turned out peaceful and police officers took a knee as a gesture and many of them wound up joint with the police. It's New York City where I do believe they are a people who use the chaos of the moment. It's an opportunity. If you want to steal, that's the night to do it. If you are an extremist group and you want to preach anarchy, that's the night to do it.

Sure. I couldn't agree more. You said officials across upstate are furious with you and your office on Thursday night because you suggest on this show that phase two of reopening might not occur Friday, but then you announced phase two for several regions Friday afternoon. Was that a mistake on your part? Respectfully, Governor to delay the announcement?

No. Well, look, I think there was, you know, we're putting this system together. We're building the airplane as we fly it right. I said a number of times. Not that everybody can follow everything I say, even I can't. I said we're going to have global experts review the data. I introduced the global experts. I released their bios, because Alan, you have to know what you're talking about here. We have all this data, we have infection rate data, hospitalization rate data. We have data on hotspots. We have demographic data. You've had all sorts of countries that have blown this, states that have blown this. They close, they reopen, they get into trouble, they close again. I have great people in the State Department of Health, but they'll be the first ones to tell you they've never done this. County Executive say, I read I reviewed the data. I think it's fair and safe to open. Governor says I reviewed the data. I think it's fair and safe to open. I don't know what I'm talking about. A county executive doesn't know what he's talking about. Let me, I'll do the analysis of your blood work, Alan, and I'll tell you what shape you're in. No, I don't know what I'm talking about. So I want the experts to look at the data to give us the green light. So it was a semantics or technical issue. We had the 14 days. We finished the 14 days, we gave the data to the experts. The county people were saying we should automatically have opened on the 15th day. I said no, I said we'll do it in phases, and then we'll review the data. So it was the you review the data the night of the 14th when you have 14 days of data, or do you do 13 days and have the experts review 13 days of data, and then open on the 15th day, that's what it comes down to.

So just so, you believe you've made it clear, that we've done pretty well here in terms of the numbers going down on the rest? Do we get credit for that? Does New York get credit for it? Or is it just something that happened?

Oh, no. New Yorkers are going to get the Lifetime Achievement Award when they look back. We are in the midst of it now, Alan. But even you're gonna have to say at my eulogy….

I doubt it's gonna work that way.

Oh, it's gonna work that way.

Maybe the other way around. Go ahead.

Oh, no, no, no, this job is gonna kill me. We went from the worst situation in the nation, the worst situation on the globe, because we had this virus come from Europe where nobody told us. We had the highest number of cases. We were losing 800 people a day. We're down to 50s today. In 90 days, we turned around this whole epidemic. In 50 days, we went from the highest number of cases to the lowest number of cases. All the experts told me it was impossible by the way. They all told me it was impossible to increase the hospital capacity the way we did, to marshal the equipment the way we did. They told me it was impossible that people would accept the social distancing the way they did, and the mask wearing the way they did. And it is an unbelievable success story that saved lives. I mean, hundreds of thousands of lives by the projections, and it's all because the people of this state united, and got smart, and got discipline. That New York tough. I can't tell you how many people come up to me on the street and say, I heard you. You gave me the facts. We did it. We did it, Alan, 90 days, 19 million people, stay home, close your business, don't come out. Make sure your kids don't come out. If you do come out, wear a mask and don't get within six feet of anybody else. Who would believe 19 million people would listen with such a discipline that you averted the whole crisis in 93 days. Now you can say 193 days is a long time. In look, it was hell going through it. But 93 days is a blink of an eye. 1918 pandemic was three waves. Other states, they closed, they made a mistake. They reopened. They had to close again.

Governor, I'm sorry to cut you off. Because you're making a great deal of sense, but I wanted to ask about this. Do you think the state police should release their internal personnel records voluntarily? Should other departments do it? You know, I mean, it seems to me that if police are, you know, if somebody has been suspected of something we should know a little bit about who that person is? No?

I think if a person, if a police officer is being investigated for abuse, you should release the disciplinary record, because I think it will be valuable either way. Either it's going to say there were no disciplinary proceedings for this on this basis before. That exonerates. Or it's gonna say, yeah, this is the third time we had an issue with this police officer on this topic, in which case it is evidence. I believe that it's not release the disciplinary records just for kicks. There is an accusation and an investigation and prior behavior is relevant. Now, it's closed 50A, the state law. The state law does not prohibit release. Right now it doesn't. New York City used to release it. The police don't like it when you release it. So New York City changed their position and said, oh, the law disallows it. How does it disallow it? New York City used to do it. And I gave them a governor's council opinion saying the law doesn't disallow it. You can release it if you want. I think this is the moment using the moment and that's why I said right away, I said, reform 50A, which is the shorthand for this law.

OK, so are you gonna sign the bill? If you get it?

Yes, yes.

Okay, well, that makes sense. Let me go back to COVID. We see anything spikes in cases of COVID in regions that have begun the reopening process?


Well, that's a short answer. For a short guy.

Well, who’s the short guy?

I’m the short guy.

Me or you?

You know who the short guy is. The New York State Republican Party is calling for immediate reopening of houses of worship from coronavirus shut down statewide. So when do you think we'll be able to start those meetings with more than 10 people? And we only have two minutes.

I think, look I am I am 100% sympathetic, right. And I think houses of worship could be a tremendous sanctuary for many, many people. This has been a stressful terrible time and to be able to worship, to see your priest or your imam, or your rabbi, I think could be tremendously helpful right now. But not that we're spreading the virus. It goes in phases. It depends on what region in the state. And I have a group of clerical advisors. If we can find a way to do it and socially distance, and we can expedite that I would, and we're looking for a way to do that.

Governor, we really appreciate as always, your coming on spending time with WAMC and when you said before that this job is gonna kill you. I do worry about that. Be very, very careful. And please, governor, be safe.

Just don't forget make notes for the eulogy. And you better credit me on this COVID handling. On behalf of all New Yorkers. I'll accept the eulogy on behalf of all New York.

I'll bet I go first.


Thank you, Governor.

Thanks my friend. Bye.

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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