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Gov. Cuomo On WAMC's Northeast Report 7/31/20

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

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on WAMC's Northeast Report on July 31, 2020.

This is WAMC's Northeast Report. I'm Jim Levulis. We're joined now by WAMCs Alan Chartock and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Good afternoon to you both.

Good afternoon Jim, I'm glad you're with us.

Me too. Me too.

You think so too, Governor?

But is he with us? He's not really- He was with us. He's not really with us now, is he?

Well, I bet he's listening just in case you make some big news, then you'll see it on the news programs that come, you know, pretty regularly after this. So you better believe he's listening to it, that's for sure.

Okay. I believe.

That's what they do around here. Okay, so let's get started. This is real important. You know, you've been talking about state and local governments getting help from the federal government. You've insisted on it. You have said you're not going to talk about any other plans, because- But now it's getting a little close. So do you have any, do you have a secret plans about how you intend to proceed if you don't get the help you're looking for?

Yeah, you want to say, what's my plan, if, based upon failure of our efforts?


Yeah. Yeah, I don't I don't plan on failure. Let's plan on success. Let's plan on having the federal government do what is right and responsible and provide the necessary assistance to this state and other states. I mean, I talk to governors all across the country. I'm going to become the chair of this something called the National Governors Association a couple of weeks. Every state is in the same circumstance, you cannot have a national recovery without a federal aid package for state and local governments. Every economist has said that. Chairman Powell has said that, Chairman Bernanke's said that. So they have to provide a fair package that actually helps the economy and helps the states. Uh, that's what has to happen here. If that doesn't happen, well, then all is lost anyway, Alan. Because then the economy is not going to come back. We're going to have a protracted situation. And we're going to be looking at an entirely different landscape. I sent a letter to our congressional members, laying out exactly what we need in New York: the House Bill repeals SALT, which would be a tremendous advantage for New York, and your state, Massachusetts. We need, we need $30 billion over the next two years for our deficit. We need 12 billion for the MTA, so fares and tolls don't go up. We need 4 billion so we can build at the Port Authority, our new airports. And that's how the economy will recover. And that's what I'm going to push very hard on. I'm talking to individual members. I'm talking to Speaker Pelosi, I spoke to Senator Schumer. That's what we have to get done.

Now you apparently told Schumer and Gillibrand, Senators- I should say, respectfully. That is, you know, if it wasn't included, if this extra money wasn't included, they shouldn't vote for the bill. Is that right?

Yeah, look, if you don't- If the bill is not good, and they pass a bill, that is not good. You're going to see this economy suffer for years, for years. That's what will happen. This is not a short term measure they're dealing with. This is really the last piece of legislation they're going to pass, and then they're going to go home and everybody's going to run for election. This is it. We know from the last financial crisis, that if you don't help the state and local governments, you're going to protract the economic pain, and you will protract the economic pain for years. So this is not like the past situations. You know, we went through all these federal bills. They passed the CARES act, one CARES act, two CARES act- After, each one of them was flawed. And they always said, "Well, we'll fix it next time. We'll fix it next time." Well, there are no more next times, this is it.

So let me ask you this. One of the ways to raise money that has been suggested is a billionaires’ tax. Uh, Governor, from the little I can ascertain from what you've said in the past, is that you're not for that. You think that there is some real problems with that, is that right?

What I've said is: "Look, you want to pass the billionaire's tax, congressional people have suggested it, pass it on the federal level, because then you don't pit New York against any other state." You know, billionaires are the most mobile people on the globe. You raise taxes too high, they can just go to one of their other homes. They don't even have to buy another home. They have them, they'll just establish residence in another state. You want a billionaires’ tax. Pass it federally. The Democrats control the House, pass it federally, so you don't ask a state to cut its nose to spite his face. That's what I said.

I understand that there's a new plan around, which is, which will allow people to basically vote from anywhere by computer. So in other words, if you're in New York State, "You can say but I'm really a resident of Florida or of Alabama," and do it that way. Have you heard that one?

I've heard, I've not heard that specific. I've heard that suggested on the state level also. I think that's dangerous. You know, residency is important because you then have a vested interest in that community. And the theory is, whatever happens you're going to be subject to that election also. You elect a leader, that person is your leader. If you don't have a vested stake, I think it gets very tricky, very quickly.

Okay, let's go through some of the, uh, present things that have been attracting an awful lot of attention. One is the president comes along and says, "Let's postpone the election." You know, now that's, that's really, gets into very dangerous territory. What do you think?

I think when you want to move the election, you're probably worried about it. That's what I think. When you feel confident you say, "Let's move it up. Let's do the election tomorrow." You say, "Move it back," Alan? That signals, that you're not really feeling that good about the election. Beyond that, I don't think it has any relevance. It's up to Congress, they're not going to pass a bill that does that.

Nah. Well, what about the Republicans? Seems to me that they're in pretty bad shape right now. I don't want you to give necessarily to give advice to them. But if they follow the President on any of this- Well, for want of a better word, ‘insanity’, you know, then they alienate an awful lot of people. And I've seen some of these Republicans when somebody puts a microphone in front of them, they say, "Well, I haven't had a chance to hear the proposal," or do you hear this- I mean, from a political point of view, forget about right or wrong. Where are these guys, are they in bad trouble?

You're saying besides this, nor the- The, uh, this thing about the, uh, moving the Election Day- They, they're, they're in deep trouble. They're in deep trouble. I'll go further, they're going to lose. The Republicans are going to lose the Senate today. If you could move up the election and the election next week, they lose. Why? Because the issue was leadership and competence on handling the COVID crisis, and they failed. Period. End of story.

Is there anything they could do to win? In other words, right now they're losing, they're behind this candidate who keeps saying inanities and the rest of it, is there anything they could do to change their fortunes? Assuming they had hired you as a political consultant?


Will you- Yeah.

Do a 180 degree turn, stand up and say, "We've mishandled COVID, we were wrong. It's not going away. It's not going away by Easter, passed. It's not going away when it's warm. It's not going to go away magically."- It's another great quote. "We rushed the re-openings we were wrong. We're now going to be responsible and follow the science on COVID. What happened in Texas and Florida and Arizona was terrible. And we're going to fix it. And we're going to treat this responsibly, not politically. And we're going to have a real competent government response. We saw what happened in New York, which is a glaring example, in opposition to things happening all across the country? And we realize, by the data, that we were wrong. And it's an inescapable conclusion, how did New York go from the highest infection rate to the lowest? And how did they do an economic reopening that is now over two months old, and the infection rate is still down. We're going to do that in the other states. We're not handling it politically. We're going to be responsible when it comes to COVID because people are dying. And we're not here to allow people to die." That's it.

And then Governor, if they say, "We were wrong," they lose. Because why wouldn't you vote for their opponent? If the, if the person who was saying "We were wrong," is now on the spot? I mean, what are they getting from that?

You have nothing to lose, because everybody knows you were wrong. Everybody knows it, everybody who has a television or a computer and sees those numbers on the nightly news, new record death, new record death, new record death, they know you were wrong. So it costs you nothing.

And yet the 36% or whatever it is, stay there. They're not moving.

That's right. And you- But you know what? 36% is not 50%. And that's your problem.

Now, look, you said the beginning of August, you're gonna talk on the- It's the end of July, beginning of August really. And you said you're gonna talk about the opening of schools. Reopening, yes or no? You know, this has been fiercely debated on every television program, everything else. And everybody sits or standing there with, you know, holding their breath waiting for you to tell them what's going to be in New York State. Now some people say- I think de Blasio said, under 3% infection rate. I think last time we looked, it was 1% in New York State. So does that mean you're gonna open the schools?

Well, you are. I understand you're being provocative. I understand you think-

You think so?

That if you provoke me you can get a response.


Because you remember me is a much younger person when I would rise to the bait on occasion, I am now older and wiser, and I will not rise to the bait. However, I will respond. Not that I'm rising to the bait, but I-

No, no. Only rats rise to the bait.

The, uh- I said that I'll make the determination, the week of August, 1-7, because I wanted to get the last data, right? You make a decision when you have to, but you make a decision on the best data you have. And with this virus, it goes up and down, right? We're playing yo-yo here, not so much in New York, but we have the national problem. We have the young people issue, bars and restaurants, etc. Yes, if things stay where they are today, we're going to open schools. If you see a shift between now and the first week in August, then it would be different. The first week in August was a drop dead date. And because that's when the schools needed to know so they could start to get ready for the end of August, the beginning of September. The second question comes, "What do you mean by reopen schools?" And then we said to the school districts across the state, we want three models depending on what happens, right: A hybrid model, a virtual model and in-person model. And the school districts have prepared those and was supposed to send them in, today is the deadline. New York City is late, that is unfortunate because parents want to see the plans so parents can respond, right? Parents are very animated about this, as they should be. Uh, I'm not in the situation where my kids are going to go back to school. But I guarantee you that if my kids were going back to school, I would want to know what that plan is. The fact that New York City hasn't published it and says they're not going to publish it for two weeks, is a problem. Because then, how do you have an informed discussion? I've said, "I will not send- Open a school unless I would be willing to send my child to that school." And basically what I'm looking at is the infection rate spread parenthetically. Anyone who says, "Well, there's no danger in schools," Go look at what's been happening at some of these summer camps. There's a summer camp in Georgia, COVID spread with kids, 200 got sick. You know, you have a congregation of people. This is why I'm so adamant on the bars and restaurants, it spreads quickly. So uh, the- On what I have heard, like on the New York City has this plan thus far, I'll tell you where the focus will be. Remote learning. Sounds great, doesn't it? Everybody does remote learning several days a week. Yeah, remote learning works. If you're in a house that has internet service and you have the right computer and you have a caregiver who knows how to help. For example, if I'm the caregiver, I'm like, no help for that student on the computer, right? What, what precautions have we done for remote learning in lower income communities? We have not done that well in the past, we have to do it better. So saying what we did last time is what we're going to do again, that is not good enough in my book. Second, "Well we're going to test and if there's an outbreak, we're going to do this," testing is very irregular across the state. There are some communities that do better, some communities that do it worse. How will this locality, New York City, how do you now do, how many tests are you going to do? What's the number? How do you do it? And how do you do it when you're already having trouble testing? Are you going to trust- Test 1000 a day? 5000 a day, on the population that you have? What's the relevant sample? How do you do it? And what's the turnaround time on those tests? So it's not just the conceptual. Remote learning is a concept. Yes, more testing as a concept, yes. What does that mean? How do you do it? That's been- The devil is in the details. It's truer in this situation than anything. That's where the government's incompetence rears its ugly head. This is not about rhetoric anymore. It's about results. And, uh, these school districts are going to have to do- Implement these concepts and implement it in a few weeks. So yes, testing. But if you don't have the volume, and if you don't have the turnaround, you have nothing. Remote learning, yes. But unless we do a much better effort than we've done to date, you're going to see the children in lower income communities left behind at a faster rate than ever before.

And especially if you had five kids in a family, or four kids in a family, right? I mean, with maybe one computer- Even if you gave one computer to one child, you really couldn't really couldn't do it, could you?

No. And the child needs help, it's not that easy. Uh, and it's one thing for a two parent household, let's be honest, that has resources. It's another thing for one parent household, where the one parent has to work and there is no internet access, and there's multiple generations in the same apartment, and that's a question of detail. This whole COVID experience, this is all about the details. You had to be able to get the test done. We have 800 testing sites in the state of New York, we do about 70,000 tests per day. That is a logistical nightmare to set up. So it's one thing to say it, it's another thing to do it. And that's what these plans have to show. How are you actually going to do it?

Governor, you have travelers from 34 states, must quarantine for 14 days when they come to New York. Yes, yes, talk about the details. How do you know if people are complying with this?

When you come and you get off a plane, you have to fill out a form. There are personnel in the airports, often police personnel at the airports, if you do not fill out the form, it is illegal for you to leave the airport. You then get approached by a police officer who says, "Oh, you really don't want to fill out the form, Dr. Chartock. That's okay. I understand your indignation, I understand your disposition. Can I have your name and address because I have to hand you this summons.

Okay, but- So-

My name and address on the summons- I'll finish for you- Then you say, "Oh, you know what, I'll fill out the form anyway." Because otherwise you fill out the form on the summons. Now you leave the airport, but we know where you are. Then it gets turned over to a contact tracing in that local community where they will do random checks to make sure you're really in your mother-in-law's house. I know you tried to get away, you needed some time, you needed a break, but that doesn't work for 14 days. They'll do random checks. They can do random checks on Skype, where they ask you to show the surroundings of the room that you're in or they have a person knock on your door.

Do you really think that's gonna happen? I mean, it sounds very good. You I don't want to use the word glib, because you never would be disrespectful when you're talking to the governor. But it does sound rather glib that you would say that this is what's going to happen. But is it really happening?

Yeah I- The random checks are happening. Now you can say, "Look, I know the speed limit says 55. But you know, I drive at 70 and I normally get away with it." And there will be people who break the law and get away with it. There will be people who drive 70 and get a big fat ticket. So it depends on, you know, your disposition. The- Everybody knew before they came here, I've said it loud and clear. I don't like this, Alan. I really don't like it. I don't like it, it, personally, it's not who I am. And it's not who New Yorkers are. It doesn't help our tourism market. But look, we- You look at where we've had clusters, it's very often been people from out of state who come up and bring the infection. So we don't really have an alternative. Do I like saying bars violated the congregate rule, and we have to close a bar. I don't like that, you know, I spent enough time in a bar having a drink and socializing. I get it, I don't like any of this. But it's, it's self-protection at this point. We don't want to go through what we went through last time. I can't go back to the people of this state and say, "Everything you did, and you brought the infection rate down, but it was a big whoops. People came in from out of state and now it's going up again, and we have to close down again." I mean, that would be terrible.

It would, it would. I- We only have 10 minutes left. So I really have to move a little faster. You know what I mean? I'm giving you a hint.

Yeah, I know exactly. I got, I got the hint, I got the hint. Well don't talk so long, Alan! I don't know why you take so- Takes you so long to answer- To ask a question.

You make a very good point, okay. The Environmental Bond act will not be on this fall's ballot. A lot of people, environmentalists, were looking forward to it. It was gonna do all kinds of things in terms of climate change and everything else. So you decided to postpone it. I take it, that there just isn't the money to do it. Is that what it is?

There's too much financial instability. I hope we can do it next year. It broke my heart. It was my idea, my proposal. But just given this financial outlook, I couldn't say at this time that we could do $3 billion.

So, that's a good answer, and it was fast.

I know, I'm trying.

So, so. You left me unprepared because then I had to do- Spectrum News did a story today, on a study showing governors getting better marks than the president from the public, when it comes to handling COVID. The story says governors were perceived as taking decisive action, and they remain popular- And those governors remain popular and trusted. And your popularity of course, I saw a study that said your popularity was right at the top of the governor's list. What do you say? Like "Aw shucks," or what?

Aw shucks.

Will do say something else?

Well, I was trying to be quick.

Well, don't be that quick.


You know, like the Three Bears.

Okay. New Yorkers. Look, if you look around this, if you look around the country, it's clear now that other states are in much worse condition than New York. It's clear that the New York strategy worked, okay? I don't care if you're a Democrat or Republican, short, tall. If you have any sense of rationality. It's clear that what we did worked and our reopening worked and yes we did tough things, but they worked. And we're sitting here now protecting ourselves from the other states. That's clear. So I think what New Yorkers are saying is, we did it right. It was historic, it was hard. We never went through this. We were scared to death. We did things we never did before. But we were right. They are- Have been affirmed by all circumstances and all information it is in arguable. You were right. I was with a person the other day, he said, "I didn't vote for you. I'm a Republican Conservative. But I'm going to vote for you next time. Because what you did here was extraordinary. You were right." He said, "I was also against what you did. And I was wrong. You were right."


You know, so I think that's what you'll see.

To hear that it's pretty good. The Rensselaer County Executive, former State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, told our news, WAMC news that you are breaking the law by sending New York's resources to others. States that are dealing with COVID spikes. He says taxpayer resources from New York should stay in New York. What's your response?

Yeah. Well, look, you have these extremists to make up their own facts, or just ignorant about facts. The way emergency assistance works is when once they provide emergency assistance to other states, they get reimbursed from the federal government. That's how that works. And many of the resources and equipment comes from the federal government in the first place. Secondly, as a point of ethics and humanity, we are a community and Americans help Americans, that's how it works. When we needed help people sent us equipment and PPE from all sorts of states. 30,000 people volunteered to come help. It's un-charitable and un-American perspective to say, "I know you're in pain, I know you may die. I'm not going to help you." FDR did a beautiful thing when he said, "Your neighbor's house is on fire. Lend them your hose to put- to use to put, have the water-" Paraphrase, turn, "Let them use your hose to put out the fire on their house." It's nice. It's also smart because if you don't put out the fire on their house, you know the next house to burn.

Okay, the next question is what we call here, an honesty question. Now, I hate to put it quite this way, but it involves, you know, a lightning bolt coming out of the heavens if you don't tell the truth.


So, so this is an honesty question. So here we go. Do you know who Joe Biden is picking as is running mate?


Oh boy, there's some thunder up there. No. Okay. You don't know? You don't know.

I do not know.

Got a recommendation for him?

Nope. Yes. Uh, he should pick a running mate who he feels comfortable working with long term. I think this, who the vice president is, I don't know that at the end of the day, it's all that politically important in this election, people vote for a president. But the vice president is very important position as he knows, and use a long term perspective.

But with JFK, and you know, JFK  [LBJ] and Kennedy, they hated each other's guts, apparently. And yet, JFK couldn't have won the election without, without Texas.

Joe Biden is going to win the election.

Uh huh, okay, if that's the way you want to be. Okay, now, my friend, my very good friend, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli-

DiNapoli. Yeah, yes we've established that your very good friend.

Yeah, said this week that the state Pension Fund is down almost 3% due to the pandemic. Does that worry you?

Well, did you ask him if it worries him?

No, I haven't had a chance to do that yet, but I certainly will.

Did you ask him if he's worried that his Pension Fund management has gone down 3%?

I'm assuming he will, he'll be unhappy about it.

Well, it worries me if it worries him.

Is it- Is he your very good friend? I mean-

No, he's your very good friend. You say, you repeatedly, "He's very- Your very good friend." So I'm just saying if it worries me, it worries me. So the question is, does it worry him?

Talk to me about percents here, Governor, about the baseball season. You came up with a plan that you were offering New York stadiums to play baseball in, here. That could, that could blow up in your face, right? In other words, it could turn out that they accepted, which they're not doing, but- And then they came in and they all got infected. That wouldn't be good for us, would it?

No, but there's no reward without risk. We have done great when it comes to baseball. We have swung for the fences. And we have hit the ball, homeruns, spring training camp for the Yankees and the Mets in New York, not Florida. First time in recorded, in my recorded memory. Yay! The Toronto playing in Buffalo. Yay, home run! They can't figure out how to play in some of these other states. I said you can come here, use our stadium, we'll quarantine you in a- You fly in a private plane, we'll quarantine you in a hotel, we'll take your test. You can't leave the hotel until you have a test. You take the test, you play ball, you go home. You take the test and fail, you go right home. We get the media coming here, broadcasting nationwide, home run.

I have one minute here. I want to ask you something. As you know, in my state, my very good state of Massachusetts. We have Markey vs. Kennedy here. Now Kennedy, you know, is by extension, and, you know, a relative of your children and everything else. So, do you have to pick him, because, because of your, you know, your affinity to your own children? And, I mean, what's the deal there?

No, I don't have to pick. Because I live in the state of New York. And when you say your good state of Massachusetts, I would just hope you, you have- Use the same expression with New York. "Good state of New York." I'm governor of the good state of New York. I don't vote in Massachusetts. I don't have to make a political endorsement in Massachusetts. I don't intend to.

And so you're not for either. What- You're not saying you're free either one of them, right?

I'm not saying I'm for that one of them.

Are you secretly for either one of them?

Nah, not even secretly.

It's always wonderful to talk to Governor Andrew Cuomo. I love these conversations, Governor, and thank you for doing them. And I so appreciate you being here.

I appreciate being here too. Have a good weekend. Thank you to all.

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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