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Gov. Cuomo On WAMC's Northeast Report 8/19/20

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Pat Bradley
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on Northeast Report Aug. 19, 2020.

You go first.

Good afternoon, thank you for welcoming us. And, and, Governor, your turn.

Good afternoon.  Buon pomeriggio.

Exactly, exactly right. Okay, let's get started. What do you think about that democratic convention so far? Is it a borer, or is it you know, is it different? Is it terrific?

Yeah, it's different. It's different. That's, that's for sure. Look, the world is different, right? Zoom meetings, Zoom that, virtual convention. I don't even know that you can call it a convention. You know, convention: you're in a room, there's energy, there's people, there's signs, there's music- This is a, they have to perform the function, they're doing the best they can. So, you know, it will accomplish the purpose but it's, it's not like any convention I've ever seen. What did you think of my speech?

Well, well, it was it was. It was, it was something special, wasn't it? Let me tell you something and you're not gonna like this, and I do apologize. 

That's okay.

I do apologize. But I get up at 1:30 or two o'clock every morning. And then by four I'm on the air and all the rest of it. So, I don't know how I say this-

You didn't see it.


You didn't see it. Well then, let me tell you, it was great.

Was it?

Oh yeah, it was a spellbinder. It was the best five minutes I've ever done.

Well- And what I did hear about it was that you spent a lot of attention on the, on the virus. Is that, is that right?

Well the- Yeah, the, the message of that night was COVID. And by the way, I believe that the federal government's handling of COVID is going to be the determinative issue when it comes to Election Day-


Because it defies politics, you know? Anyone can dismiss anything nowadays in this hyper-partisan environment. Nobody believes anyone, there's no truth anymore, Alan. But COVID they understand, right? When is the last time you saw every night on the daily news the number of deaths, not since Vietnam War- and COVID? They know what happened, they know what he said, they know the- They can make a, an intelligent decision on competence and lack of competence. But I used COVID as a metaphor. I said, "It's the symptom, not the illness." And what, the virus attacks a body when the body is weak and the immune system is weak. And my metaphor was, "the American body is weak because we're divided": anti-Semitism, racism, etc. And the immune system is the government and the government was dysfunctional and incompetent. And they deny, denied it. They ignored it, they politicized it. They couldn't figure out how to take tests. And then I said, "Six months after New York, they've learned nothing." I mean, you look at these other states and where we are, they're still trying to figure out what we did six months ago. So I used that as a metaphor more than anything else, but it wasn't really a speech, because it's a, you know, it's a five minute video transmissions are not really a convention speech.

Well, I want to congratulate you on having been chosen, one- There were many people who were not that's for sure, were missing in action. Number one, and number two, you know, I do, I do apologize for not having, not having watched it, but I just, I just can't stay up that late. I gotta go to bed by seven.

Yeah, I understand. I'm perfectly I'm happy you didn't watch it, because then you would have had one of your hypercritical opinions. So this is perfect as far as I'm concerned.

Quite right, but right, I would have been hypercritical. Okay. So, so let me ask you something. There was a lot of heat back in back in the day, and a lot of, a lot of companies missed the boat, I think- Because, and some people didn't have air conditioning, and that could kill people, for 10 days. Are you gonna do anything about that? Are you gonna just sit there and just, you know, watch?

Yeah, no. I'm gonna sit and watch, you know, that's what I am. Let's be honest, I'm a sitter, and a watcher, and "see what happened". This is what I'm going to do, the- We're doing an investigation, DPS is doing an investigation, they have to do it better and faster. I'm having the Department of Financial Services join with them because frankly, I'm not happy with the amount of time it takes or the depth that they get to. PSE&G which is the operator on Long Island, we already said that they're not going to get a payment that they were supposed to get. $10 million in the contract if they did a good job, because they didn't get a good job- Do a good job. But this is, this is what I'm also going to do. The ultimate sanction is revocation of a franchise, okay? These utilities have a franchise, they have an agreement from the state. Their attitude is too big to fail. I'm Con Edison, "You're going to pull my franchise? You'll be in court for years." And then the question will be, "Well, you pull my franchise. What are corporate assets? And what would the, would the Con Edison Corporation own? And what would we have to pay for if anything?" In other words, if I'm a lawyer for the utility, I say, "We own the poles. We own the wires, we own the trucks. We own the cables. We own the substations and if you pull out a franchise, we still own all the equipment and you would have to duplicate all the equipment." Obviously, crazy scenario, but, you know, lawyers come up with crazy scenarios. I want a piece of legislation that says, "This is how revocation will happen expedite it, and resolve these open questions." You know, people say, "Well, we should just pull back the utility and have municipal power." Yeah, except you're in court for five years. And if you're not careful on the way you do it, you could wind up with a big bill to the taxpayers, utility ratepayers. Remember what happened on Shoreham? LILICO went away, and then people are still paying to this day, for Shoreham. So how it's done is everything, you know? It's another great progressive idea: "Yeah, pull the franchise and let's have municipal power." All right. And what happens if ratepayers get a bill that's the same cost, plus a surcharge, paying off the asset value of the previous entity. So I want to get a piece of legislation that clarifies all of that.

Well, they think you're faking, right? I mean, you know, they're saying, "Ah, he's just talking, he's just showing off."

Nah, they don't think I'm faking. They know me, I've been in the tunnels with them. I've been at the substations with them. I've been in their offices. People think a lot of things about me, nobody thinks I'm a faker. And the, also-

Don't look at me, I don't think I don't think so.

Yeah, and also Alan. Look on the facts- on the merits. How many times, how many times, the same damn situation? "Well, there was a storm." No kidding. There's a storm. That's what we pay you for. It's not giving me power on a sunny day. Fix this power after a storm, that's what we pay you for, that's the service you provide. You know, a plumber comes to the house, "Oh, well, you know, the pipes are broken." I know, that's why I call you. I don't call you when the pipes are working fine. I call you when they're broken. Don't tell me, the problem is the pipe is broken.

On another subject- Thank you for that. We interviewed your state Democratic party chair today, Jay Jacobs, who laughed at the idea that President Trump could win New York state which the republican, he, mentioned in an interview with The New York Post. You know, I think, I've thought of horrible ideas, but could he- Could, could Trump really take New York State?

Hohoho. Hohoho.

You sound like Santa Claus.

Yeah, I have a bad laugh. Let me try again. Heeheehee

I mean, he says, the most incredible things. Is that your answer?

How about this. This is the most incredible thing he said: "New Yorkers are tired of the high taxes." Now, first of all, I've lowered taxes for every tax rate, since I've been governor. Second, the only increase in taxes was from him, with the SALT tax. Talk about disconnected from reality. It's just incredible.

You think he's crazy?

I think he is highly manipulative. And I'll tell you this, he, he plays- You know, he criticizes the press, “the fake news, fake news, fake news.” He also uses them extraordinarily well. All these articles, "Trump says 'New Yorkers Pay high taxes'". None of them mention that the taxes are actually down. And nobody mentioned that he actually passed SALT. So what he, what he knows is they will write his quote, and outrageous as it sounds, to an intelligent person. It sounds good in the article, "Trump says taxes are 'too high'". By the way. 98% of the people in the state will say, "Yeah, taxes are too high." 98% of the people in the country will say, "Taxes are too high." Nobody wrote, "Except they're not." They're lower, and SALT raised them. So you know, who's the dummy?

Well, are you implying that the people are the dummies?

No. Can I-

Because of all the people don't, the people don't get it. I mean, you get it, I get it.

It was not written. It was not written. He- His accusation, and his outrageous accusation, accomplished his purpose. The people heard him saying he would lower taxes and he thinks taxes are too high.

You will you answer my question or not?

What was your question?

Is he crazy? Is he crazy?

I'm not a psychiatrist. I can't make those judgments.

But as, as a casual onlooker, you think he's nuts? I think he's nuts.

As a casual onlooker: I think he's eccentric, and mercurial, and narcissistic.

I would agree with all of that. I also think he's crazy. Okay, so you're, you got a book coming out, right? Did you get a lot of money for doing it?

Well, only if you sell a lot of copies. The book- I'm excited about the book. It's called "American Crisis". And it again, it, it uses COVID sort of as a lens to look at what's going on in society and my theory of government and my theory of politics and the divisions that are going on. And the incompetence in government, incompetence on a federal level, by the way, incompetence on local levels- And how this is going to change everything, this is going to be transformational. Because for the first time in our lifetime, and we've been around a long time- Government actually became relevant again. It became relevant-Alan, think about it, not since World War Two- Maybe Vietnam when government wanted to take your child for draft, but not since then did government affect every person's life? And even if people say "Aw politics are all a bunch of junk and government's a pain in the hiney," yeah, not anymore, under COVID, government became relevant. And all of a sudden they flick the switch and they needed the machine to work, and you know what happened? The machine didn't work.

So how much money you're getting for this book? I'm sorry to be talking about the tawdry stuff, but are you're gonna make a lot?

It depends on sales. Obviously-

What about a, what about advance how much in advance?

Yeah, it will be in the disclosure. When I do my financial disclosure, so you're gonna have to wait until-

Why? I don't want to wait.

I know, neither do I. But you have to wait. That's how it works. You have to wait, you have to wait.

Okay, so would it be wrong to say you, you expect $2 million dollars? In advance?

I would wait for the disclosure. But let's get the point: Government-

Why should we wait for the disclosure? Why not tell us right now? How much money you're gonna get for the thing?

Because it's dependent on other issues. It's dependent on sales, dependent on who I have to pay, what- To actually get the book done, etc.

I wanted to ask you about that. So are you writing this book or is a ghostwriter writing a book?

It will be in the beautiful, eloquent language that you will know was unmistakably mine. My fine pen.

How can you write a book now? When you're, you're doing so much work, incredible work, but you're there all the time in the mornings in the afternoons, you even talk to us- How can you write a book in a time like that? I wrote a book about your father. I had to get up at three o'clock in the morning to do it every day. But of course I was up at three o'clock so it didn't matter.

Because I knew exactly what I wanted to say. And when you, when you know what you want to say then it's just a function of putting it on the paper. And that's all it is for me, is putting it onto paper. I knew it was- And by the way, it's, it's what I've been saying since I was at HELP, and at HUD, and Attorney General. And what I've been saying to Mr. Trump from day one, and what I've been saying the federal government should be doing. And hopefully with a new administration for Mr. Biden, what that administration should do. And here's ideas that you can implement immediately. So the federal government doesn't have to come up to speed and understand everything that happened and everything that they should be doing.

You told reporters that this was this very morning that the state did some things right during the COVID thing and other things wrong. What, what do we do that was wrong?

In retrospect, what did we do that was wrong? How did the virus- Who, whose idea was it that the virus was in China in December, and it was still going to be there in March. And nobody realized that the virus, virus was going to leave China and get on a plane and go to Europe, and that it was going to come here from Europe.


How did we totally miss that?

But that's not you. I mean, you've been criticized on nursing homes, things like that. Is there anything that gets to your gut that comes directly to you that we did, that you did wrong?

I was the first state in the nation to do masks, I should have done it earlier. I should have done masks earlier. That would have made a dramatic difference. We were wrong that people who were, who didn't have symptoms could infect other people. That was just wrong. We spent months saying you have to be sneezed on or coughed on. That was just wrong. It was just wrong. By the way, I did the research. Now, there were articles written in the New England Journal of Medicine that went back to January, February, saying there was asymptomatic spread. It's not really a state function. That's really a federal function with the CDC, etc. You know, most of these issues are not in control of the state, right? They mostly are federal, because this is a global pandemic issue. But there's a whole litany. We were late and finding the virus here. We were wrong when we said it was asymptomatic. We were wrong when we said "If you're infected, you can't get re-infected," that turned out to be wrong. The collective we made many mistakes. The federal government saying this should be done by all 50 states. It's not the responsibility of the federal government- Only federal government in the United States- The only national government on the globe that took that position. How absurd is that? It'd be like me saying 50 counties in the state, "50 counties have a problem, but it's not my problem. It's a 50 County problem." I mean, please.

When do you plan, Governor, to sign legislation making it easier for people to get an absentee ballot for this election due to the pandemic?

This week.

Oh, yeah. So how will that work?

I sign legislation. I use a pen.

Okay, who gets the pen? Okay, let's move on. Right.


Okay, for whatever it's worth. Now Mass, Massachusetts-

You want the pen? I'll send you the pen.

No, it would be it would be seen as unseemly by some of-

The pen is $1. 29, there's no-

By some of my critics. No. But what I do have on my wall as I'm looking up here is a bunch of bats that your father gave me, with the name of all his aliases that he played under, in the, in the in the leagues. So every one of those bats is up here right over my head right now. Extraordinary, that's, that was something, that's something that's worth something.

That's a beauty.

Do you have that?

No, I don't have that.

Yeah, well, maybe we could trade at some point.

Would you sell it to me?


I'll give you a signed book.

Absolutely not. That's very generous, though. But no, I could never let go with this because I, I'm gonna will this to my grandsons.

That's amazing.

And yeah, they really, they really are extraordinary. I'm looking for where they are. They're somewhere up here. Yeah. That's great. Oh, there they are. Look, hold on a second. I'm going to read them to you. So it will know all of the all of the names of the people that Mario took on. When he played in the leagues, and he said, he did it- He told me he did it so that his parents would not know he was, you know, fooling around. One of them is Connie Cutts, Connie Cutts. And another one you must know all this of course, and then is-


Glendy Laduke. That's my favorite, Glendy Laduke is my favorite. And then of course there's there's a Lava Libretti.


That's a sort of an Italian sound to it. And then there's a Matt Dente. Yeah, it was to Alphonse Dente, which would be Al Dente. But enough of that right?

Oh, that's cool. I have a lot of my father in the book. You'll enjoy that part.

I will indeed and I'll enjoy the part about you too. I give you a hard time but no, I will. There was a press conference this morning in Albany by movie theater owners who say the gyms in bowling alleys can reopen- Who say now that gyms and bowling alleys can reopen, "that movie theaters should be next." What's your response?

Should be next. Yeah, I think they're right if they say they are less essential and more dangerous than gyms and bowling alleys. That's the matrix on all of this, remember: it is how essential is the business, how dangerous is the business? And the movie theaters, I think are next, they're congregate, they have a centralized ventilation system. People by definition are not moving around, you're in close proximity to another person for a prolonged period of time. If you are positive and you are breathing in and out, and you're sitting two seats away from another person, it could be a real problem. But they are a situation that we have to attend to. Look, we're doing very well on the numbers. We are at under 1% for the 12th, straight day. But I'm, as I say that- And we're doing better than any state in the nation right now, God bless New Yorkers. But as I say that, it's been purely a function of how intelligent we've been. And we can't we can't get cocky here, Alan, you know, we're looking at September, which is going to be very difficult. Schools are opening, that's a Pandora's Box in and of itself. The flu is going to come that's going to stress our testing capacity, because we're using all the testing capacity now for COVID. We're then go and have to do some flu tests and some COVID tests. I'm going to the county Health Departments today to say, "How do you intend to do that?"

And while you're there, will you be getting a flu shot?

Oh, yeah. I’ll get a shot.

Mhm. Mhm. Interesting. Now. So, the Associated Press did a story not long ago that raised questions about the true death toll of the state's nursing homes from COVID-19. Comes after the legislature's latest hearings into the issue. Why is it so difficult to provide an accurate count of nursing home residents who died of COVID, whether they died in the nursing home or in the hospital?

It's not. The question is when a person goes from a nursing home to a hospital. And the person dies in the hospital. That is now called a hospital death. And some people say, "No. That should be counted as a nursing home death." Well, then you would have to reduce the hospital deaths. And you are attributing a death to a nursing home. When it didn't occur in the nursing home, it occurred in the hospital. And if I'm a nursing home operator, I say, "Don't say that person died in my nursing home because they didn't. They died in the hospital. And if the hospital did a better job, they wouldn't have died. So why do I get blamed for the death when it didn't happen in my nursing home?" So it depends how you want to argue it, you know? But then if you died in a nursing home it's called the nursing home death. If you die in a hospital school, their hospital death. It doesn't say "Where were you before?" Hello?

Hello. Hello. I'm yeah, I lowered the sound because there's a terrible storm hitting the window. And I didn't want anybody to think I was playing the drums. Governor. So, so there was that. Let me ask you something. The big question, of course is you've been holding out all along that the Fed should give money to the state to make up for this incredible shortfall. 30, 30 billion over the next two years. Any progress or is it a lost cause?

Oh yeah. Let me just double back on the storm in the nursing home hospitals. I'll tell you the problem that we, they would run into is you double count. What some of them are saying is if somebody dies in hospital who was in a nursing home, it should count as a nursing home death and a hospital death. Yeah, but then that double counts. Anyway. So we have an audit that says if you died in the hospital, you died hospital, and it is counted as a hospital death. If you died in a nursing home, it's counted as nursing home death. We- For the federal government not provide, not to provide funding for state and local. This is just pure politics. It is so contrary to the national interest. Every economist says that the national economy will be hurt. If you now cause state governments and local governments to lay off essential workers who are the people who are doing the job. We want to open schools, but we don't want to pay teachers. We want to make sure we're treating people in hospitals, but we don't want to pay the hospital workers. We have problems with the police and community tension, but we don't want to pay police. It's pure politics. And it's unconscionable and I don't believe they're gonna get away with it. And I don't believe the House or the Senate Democrats are going to allow them to do it. And look, I've been very blunt. You know, a lot of times people don't understand what happens when they pass a piece of legislation in Washington, I made a very clear. I said, "If we don't get the funding, we're going to have to do cuts and possible tax increases. So the federal government better make it work this time." And if those House members are going to come back here and run in November- Do you think Congress people are going to come back here with an empty wallet, and then I have to cut schoolteachers, local governments, hospitals, and they're going to run for election in November. And I'm going to say, what I've said, "This is all because they didn't pass a bill that provided state and local aid." And it can't just be Trump, because he can't pass a bill without the House. And he can't pass it without the Senate Democrats. So they are responsible and I'm keeping the pressure on them. They want to do a millionaire's tax, pass it nationally, so you don't put me at a disadvantage. But it is of how our budget is a function of the federal representatives. Accountability works.

But I only got one minute for you to answer this. So no more than one minute. But what if the, if something Trump- Some people say some things, I say crazy- But if Trump is Trump, what in fact, you can, can you do about it? You're gonna have to we're gonna have to eat the hurt, right?

No, the Democrats can't pass it. It will be mayhem in this country for two months, and then he will lose the election and the Senate will lose. The Republicans will lose the Senate. And then we'll have a new president and a Democratic Senate. And we will have had a lousy three months on top of a lousy six months, but then they will all be gone.

Well, I think that all that's gonna happen anyway, but I can't argue it with you now because we're at a time. And I love having the last word. Would you like the last word? Go ahead something about $1.50 that you're gonna owe me on a bet.

$2, you owe me $2.

Not yet.

Or the bats. Or the bats.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much Governor, we'll see you soon. Appreciate it.

Thank you. Thanks 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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