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Gov. Cuomo On WAMC's Northeast Report 10/22/20

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 Northeast Report Oct. 22, 2020.

Thank you. And hello, Governor. Long time, no see- Been a couple of weeks. And we certainly missed our conversations. So I'm glad you're here. Because I have a lot to ask you.

I'm back, but I was working. I was working, I was not on vacation. I want you to know.

I was working too.

I know.

That's no, that's no excuse. I mean, you know, here I was- I was working, and you were working. Which reminds me to ask you the most important question of all, how are you relaxing? You know, people, people are under a lot of pressure. They do strange things, we saw the case of Jeffrey Toobin, we heard about Rudy Giuliani the other day- You know, do you think do you think that these guys sometimes are under so much pressure that they act out?

Look, I think people do strange things, Alan, and I don't think there's anything new. I do think though, there's something to what you're saying. And I'm, I'm worried about it. I've been talking about it the past couple of days, I don't know how to get at it. They talk about ‘COVID Fatigue’. "Fatigue", sounds like you just tired of dealing with a compliance. But I think it's more than that. I think there's a stress, there's an anxiety, there's a fear. Uh, I think a lot of people are having emotional issues, who never had emotional issues before, or maybe not, don't even recognize them as emotional issues and mental health issues. This is a, an incredibly stressful time. And I think what happens is: early on, it's almost like adrenaline kicks in, right? And you have to stay functional. And you have to get yourself informed and you have to figure it out. But now the adrenaline is down and you just have this depressive, stressful, anxious, "When is it going to be over?" And "How am I going to be?" And "My job-" And I think it's really a component of this whole COVID situation that's going to rear its head later on. But I think it's very real, a real mental health crisis that's going to come out of this.

So you're not a psychologist, of course, we know that. But you are in many ways. So my question to you is, what do you do? I mean, to put it frankly, I've got Roselle. Do you have a girlfriend? I mean, what's, how do you? How are you dealing with this?

I don't have a girlfriend, I have a couple of irons in the fire. But I don't have a girlfriend, per se. I have- I have my daughters. I had a gift during this, that I had my daughters, and that was really delightful. You know, because I had a treat of spending so much time with them. And they were such a big part of what I was doing. And it was their idea then to do the book afterwards, and we sort of did the book as a collaborative, and they got closer to each other. And they are 25- 25 and 22. So they had sort of flown the nest, you know?  And it was hard to get them to take time. But they were such a support to me, and they did it together. And I was like their project, keeping me up and keeping me balanced. So that was the main, day to day emotional support system for me.

So I hear that. I hear that one of the, one of the kids are still with you. But the other two have flown the coop- Is that right and has that affected you even more?

Well, they come and go now. Cara has been with me, she just did the LSAT and she's going to do the GMAT, she went to see a friend for a couple of days. Mariah's coming up. Michaela lives in the city, but she comes up and down. So they're with me much more than they had been, as a result of this whole COVID situation. And by the way, I don't mind, like when just one is here for a period of time. And that gives me time just with the one of them. So it's been delightful. It really has been such a great situation in the middle of hell. It's really been, it's really been special.

So let me ask you this. Over the summer you were on the show, of course, and I asked you how much money- Because I'm interested in counting other people's money- You would be making from your book on the COVID crisis. You said, "It depended on how well the book did." Now the book is on the New York Times bestseller, bestseller list and it’s number seven today. That's actually pretty good. I don't remember any governor has having a number- Being on the bestseller list.

Yeah, isn't that great? I'm excited about that. I'm excited about it because the book, the book makes an important point Alan, which is: Look at what we've done for the past seven months and learn the lessons and from the mistakes we made, because this isn't over. We now are going through the fall, we made the same mistake again. Every scientist says "The virus is going up in the fall, the virus is going up in the fall." The President runs around, "No, I'm fine. It's all fine. Don't worry, no mask." Now the virus is going up in the fall and all these states are scrambling. We have 43 states on our quarantine list. I mean, how absurd. We had the highest infection rate in the country, we're now down to one of the lowest. 43 states are quarantined from coming here, because their infection rate is too high, like we're an island within the United States. 43 states quarantined, they were all told this was going to happen. And they weren't prepared and they didn't take it seriously. And then we have to do the vaccines, which Alan, I am telling you is going to be more of- The vaccine is going to be the same mistake we made, as- In the very beginning- As testing, contact tracing, PPE, except it's going to be worse. Because the federal government is doing the same thing. You listen to the federal government, they have no role in anything, it’s amazing. COVID hits, it's a problem in all 50 states. They say, "Oh, that's a problem for the states." Now, if it's a problem for 50 states, then it's a federal problem, because once it hits 50 states, that's called the nation. But what they did early on with COVID, they just abdicated. "It's up to the governors. The governors decide when to open up, governors decide when to close down. The governors have to do the testing. The governors have to buy the PPE, the governor has to- Governors have to put together the contact tracing. They need ventilators, the governors are supposed to find ventilators." Now they're saying, "The governors are supposed to administer the vaccines." I'm supposed to administer the vaccines? In- Listen to this: In seven months, we did 12 million COVID tests. Okay? That's more than any other state pro rata. And that's moving heaven and hell. I'm telling you, this state, you couldn't have squeezed another test out of the stone. We did 12 million in 7 months. To vaccinate New Yorkers, 40 million vaccines. If I did 12 million tests in seven months, how long is it going to take me to do 40 million vaccines? And by the way-

You've got to do two, right? You've got to do two, right? For everybody who gets it.

That's right. Yes. Well, nationwide, we did 120 million tests, we're going to have to do 300 million vaccines. It's, it's bizarre, and they have no idea. The whole federal focus is, "The drug companies are going to develop fast, develop it fast. And then we're going to make the FDA approve it fast or we're going to fire the FDA head." Then the president stands up in the Rose Garden holds up a vial and says, "I'm done. Here's the vaccine." It's all about the public relations. It's all about the PR, you will have a vaccine fast. Why? Because the drug company that develops the vaccine is going to make a billion dollars, that's why. And you have the best pharma companies on the globe trying to make the drug and you will have it. And then the president stands up and says, "Look at me, I created the vial." Except you never had anything to do with it. It was really a private sector company that's trying to make billions of dollars. "Well, I approved it fast." Yeah, sure you did. Now we just have to hope you won't kill people. "And I'm done. I'm going to send it to the states when it's ready."

So what do you have to do?

I have to do the administer- I have to do the vaccination.

Got any ideas?

No! Plus, I'm broke. It's so crazy. It's like the testing. When we started with testing, these COVID tests, we brought in the lab people, the maximum number of tests we could do in a day, 500. 500 at the end of the day, we wind up now we're doing about 120,000. We could only do 500 tests. Who do I have to administer vaccines?

Well, listen, I don't want to be personally offensive, you know that, I would never do that to you.

Yeah, sure, you do. For a guy who doesn't want to do it, you do it a lot. Go ahead.

But here, but, but listen to this, you're bitching. Is that a bad word? Could you use that on the radio?


You're bitching about, bitching about how bad, you know, how much pressure you're under to do it right. But you're not telling us anything about how to do it right.

I'm doing a whole plan on how to do it. But my point is the whole-

So is the president, he keeps saying he's coming up with a plan. We never see the plan. What's your plan?

No, he's-

Or are you gonna be like him?

That was nasty. That was a little nasty, doctor. The- No, because I actually have to do something at the end of the day. See, he doesn't have to do anything. He just has to go to the Rose Garden, infect people and hold up a vial. I have to actually administer it.


Yeah, what? I'm sorry, it was a slip.

Oh, it was a slip.

I, I have to actually administer the vaccine. And we will. I'm putting together a whole plan. But meanwhile, we have a $50 billion deficit. He won't fund state governments. He's not talking about providing the state governments any additional money. I'm head of the National Governors Association this year. We sent him 35 questions that basically say collected from all the governors that basically say, "And how are we supposed to do this?" No response.

Well, listen, he hasn't been exactly silent. This week, President Trump criticized you on Twitter, about your book, the book and called your brother, Chris, 'Fredo'. Now you know what that does to you and to him, which you write in the book is "personally offensive". When's the last time you spoke with the president? And when you do speak with him, are you gonna tell him, "Hey, look, cut it out, or I'm gonna punch in the nose."

Ah, I have not spoken to him in a while. The relationship has deteriorated, I think it's fair to say. Plus, the relationship deteriorated the day he was sworn in. Uh, I had to work with him during COVID, because I didn't have the luxury of my personal feelings. I had to do my job as governor. And the federal government- Had to try to get as much help from the federal government as we could, as de minimis as that turned out to be. But now- No, it's basically back and forth on Twitter. He calls my brother 'Fredo' because he knows it's- I find it offensive. I've told him that I find it "anti-Italian". He knows that, he does it. His friend Rupert Murdoch, then does it in the Post and on Fox. And I find it offensive. I found it offensive when he did it, I find it offensive when the Times Union does it. And I don't think Alan- You know, New York, we don't tolerate discrimination. And we, god bless us, have great diversity. I can't tell you, what you what you should be offended at. If you're Jewish, or if you're Muslim. I can't say, "Oh, no, I know you think that anti-Semitic. But you shouldn't." That was basically the Times Union genius. "Oh, you shouldn't take this as anti-Italian." You can't tell me what to take as anti-Italian. And you can tell me the stereotype and discrimination I lived with, about the mafia. But yeah, he does that to get my goat. I said- By the way, you want to talk about family. I don't bring up your family, but your niece brought up your family. His own sister, former federal judge, said the worst things about him that you could say. But yeah, I get under his skin. And look, I think it also bothers him that I don't back down, you know? He’s a bully. And he's accustomed to tweeting at you and because he has x million Twitter followers, everybody's afraid of him. I'm not afraid of him and I don't back down and I- What he did to New York is disgraceful and disgusting. He went out of his way to hurt New Yorkers, because he's mad at New Yorkers because they rejected him and made fun of him and voted against him. And he takes it personally because this was his hometown and they never really accepted him. You know, the real estate development community in New York City, they always thought it was a joke. That he was a huckster and that he's a petty, narcissistic man. And when he became president, he purposely hurt New York. That's what SALT is about. 'Greatest redistribution of income in history'. The SALT provision passed by Republicans who were against redistribution.

Tell me, tell me about your numbers. I know you guys are crazy on numbers. Your, um, your numbers are pretty well holding up in the middle 60s, right? I mean, that's pretty good for a politician in the middle of something. But your nemesis- Do I want to use the word 'nemesis'? de Blasio isn't doing quite as well.

The- Look, if you believe these polls. My job approval-

Oh, come on you believe, you believe them. You've gotta believe him. You know, these polls? You know, they go up. They go down, you gotta believe them.

Well, I don't believe them. Some of- First of all, some of them are just full of baloney, because they're just not done well. But that would be my highest approval rating, I think since I've been in office, just about. So I feel good about that. I don't know how a local official can have a lower rating on me than COVID. Because they didn't make any decisions. They don't have any legal authority. The state has all the legal authority. I said to all the county executives, the mayors- I said, “Just blame me for the policy. I need you to enforce it.” That was the one thing the locals had to do is enforce it. I said you would- Because I don't have enough of a police force. I said "Enforce it, but just blame me." They didn't close down any businesses. They didn't close down schools, they don't open schools. They don't- They have no legal authority, the local reporters to continue to write and confuse the heck out of everyone. "This Mayor proposed this, this county executive proposed this." They can't propose it, they have no legal authority.

Well, they can propose it. They don't have to do it. I mean, you they don't have the ability to do it. But-


You do. But they can propose it, right? They can say-


"Hey, Governor, why don't you do this?"

Yeah, but they don't- Yeah, but they don't write it as proposed to the state. They write it as "proposed", like it may happen. So then people get confused. "Oh, the mayor of Boston said he may open the schools, maybe they're gonna open." No, it's up to the governor. But anyway, so, I don't know why their numbers are below mine.

I don't have- Listen, because you've been so parsimonious with your time. And because you haven't been showing up all that much to talk to me. Not that I want to bite the hand that feeds me here. But I do want to ask you some things that, you know, that are important. So should Speaker Pelosi, right now, take a half a loaf or wait, knowing that states like yours needs the money with fingers crossed that the Democrats will be running Washington in 2021. I mean, if Biden's running things, you're on Easy Street. And by the way, while you're answering that question, tell us whether you gotta be the Attorney General, in a Biden administration.

That's a "by the way" question? That's the- You tack that on to a Pelosi question?

Well, sometimes-

As a "by the way"-

Sometimes you, sometimes you get you get even with it. You can work that, work it that way. I mean, if you can sort of say- If you ask the question, it's taken as too serious, but if you just sort of sneak it in that way-

Sneak it in. Yeah, it's a good tactic. I get it. Pelosi should not take half a loaf, because it's not half a loaf, it's crumbs. And it's not just the number. It's- They want to give the money with their discretion to their donors and rich corporations. And that's the last thing we should be doing. So it's not just what the states don't get. It's what the Trump administration, the discretion they have to give money. More money to the rich, which is the last thing we have to do. I said, "I'm not running for president. I'm not running for vice president. I have no intention of going to Washington." I just want to be the best governor that I can be.

Wait, somebody's gotta-

That gives me tremendous credibility.


Yes, go ahead.

But wait. So, so, you know, but you're never gonna say, "Yeah, I want to be the Attorney General of the United States," until somebody asked you to go to the prom, right? I mean, how do we know that you really mean it.

Oh, you'd have to take a lie detector test.

I see.

By the way, when is the last time you found me saying something that I didn't do?

Hmm. Well, you're taking advantage of my deficient memory?


So, you know what you're doing? It's a nasty, it's a nasty technique.

I'm not taking advantage because we both have a deficient memory. So it's even.

You don't. Okay. So now, you said in your morning conference call with reporters this very morning that the head of the FDA should be protected from political pressure from the Trump administration, specifically HHS Secretary Alex Azar? What's your concern about the accelerated timeline for a COVID vaccine? You said, you know, "It's gonna be- Devolve on you." You already said that. But, but do you think they're gonna do it? Do you think they can do it?

Yes. Yes. See, the President said, "I want it for Election Day." How the heck do you even say, "I want a vaccine approved for Election Day"? What the hell does Election Day have to do with a thorough medical trial to make sure that the vaccine doesn't kill people? He wants it for Election Day. Azar is pressuring the FDA to accelerate the trials. The trials are important because you could kill someone with the vaccine. If it's not right, and if it's not tested, it's the testing of a vaccine.

So. Okay, I got, I got that. Now, now, now, now, now. Let me ask you this. Early voting starts Saturday in New York. There are concerns that Boards of Elections will be overwhelmed by mail-in voting, which has expanded due to the pandemic this year, how can we be sure everyone's vote will be counted? Because, you know, a lot of people think that, you know, he's gonna go to the Supreme Court with a six to three, or a five to four majority and say this, 'This thing is rife." And that that, and that that court, those people up there are gonna say you're right. People who voted by mail don't count.

I'm afraid of that also.

Wow. Is there any way to put a stop to that? Is there any way to put a hold on that?

No. Look, he has been feeding that argument. This president, if you watch him, he tells you and shows you where he's going. He's been railing about mail-in voting for months. When have you ever heard him talk about a substantive issue, ever? He has been planning this for months. The Republican Party put out their own ballot boxes to collect their own ballots. I mean, they're creating Republican confusion. They have to get the Supreme Court appointee done now. What's the rush? What's the rush? It's costing you political capital, looks terrible. What's the rush?

Well, he's already said so, he's already said he wants it on the court so that when he brings something- And he said it, when he brings something to the, to the court, she'll be there for him?

Yes. That's his plan. I believe that. I believe he thinks he's going to lose the election. He is a litigious fellow, as we know, he sued everyone for everything, he loves to sue. He did it as a businessman, he was infamous for it. He's going to come up with multiple grounds of fraud, those 'sneaky Democrats', he's going to try to get to the Supreme Court, try to do a Bush v. Gore. Yes, that's his plan. I believe that's his plan.

And then what do we do if he does it?

Then we have to hope that the Supreme Court actually has some integrity. And they look in the mirror and say, "We are supposed to be the Supreme Court. We're not supposed to be a bunch of political hacks."

Well, yeah, well, well, we see Roberts behaving pretty well.


But let's just, let's just say that the newest member votes with the- With some people might call them 'the bad guys', and puts a halt to the- Our election process. The way that we see it. I mean, can you imagine Clarence Thomas, doing the right thing? Or you know, any of those, some of those other jokers? No, you would not.

There would, there would be anarchy. If they stole the election, there would be anarchy, and this nation would suffer in a way it's never suffered. And it'd be tremendous damage. I believe Biden is going to win by such a large margin that the Supreme Court, even if they wanted to fix the election, couldn't do it with a straight face test. I don't think-

I'm sorry, Governor. But while we're on that, while we're on the subject, do you think that Biden is appointing a commission now? We know that one already, to look into whether or not there have to be structural changes in the Supreme Court, meaning expand the number on the court? What do you think?

I think it's up to Biden. I understand the conundrum. I think the commission was a good way to get through the election with it. I think the hypocrisy of the Republicans saying "He's trying to pack the court," at the same moment that they try to rush a nominee through is quite rich. Uh, but I think he's, he's handled it well, for the time being.

How much money you get- How much you get for that book?

It depends on how many sell, I think the bestseller list is obviously a good sign. But the bestseller list doesn't tell you how many books it ultimately sells. And the way-

But you got money going in- But you got money going in, didn't you? I mean, like, was a 200,000? That was it, 400,000 or a million? How much?

Yes, I got an advance, but the money is really dependent on how many books I sell, and that we're going to know over the next few months, and that'll be in my financial filing. But I need you to buy a book. And I need you-

I'm going to.

To give my books as Christmas presents to everyone you know.

Well, could you get us, you get us some for the next Fund Drive. You know, to, to use as premiums that might help a little bit.

I will sign the books. I will do whatever I need to do. I will sign books, I will go on a date for a book, I have to sell books.

You'll go on a date for a book? Now, that's good.

How cool is that? The bestseller list? To give me credit, a little credit, where credit is due. 

I did!

You, my number one critic, you're my harshest. Give me a little credit.

Yeah, well. So are you gonna make up with de Blasio? I mean, at some point, you know, you're getting some criticism for this, this, this interstitial. This relationship has gone on, you know, on a long time is there a time when you- "Come on boys shake hands and put your arms around each other"?

Alan, what else could I do? I- From his point of view, all he has to do is blame me for all the enforcement policies and all the bad news. He doesn't have legal authority. The only time we get crosswise is when he does a proposal that he has no authority to do. And then it looks confusing. And I hate confusing because I'm trying to build confidence in government and give people some peace as they're going through COVID Fatigue hell. And then then New York reporters write it, "The mayor today proposed to do X, Y and Z." Except he can't, and they leave that out. And then I get 57 phone calls from people in New York City, "Oh, I heard that the mayor wants to close the school, open the school. Close the beach, open the beach." That's the only issue I have.

Well, we have to go. But I wanted to ask you something. Did Christopher ever go to your mother and father and say "He hit me first"?

He always said that, but Christopher says a lot of things.

He's terrific. And you're terrific. And thank you for being with us. We really appreciate it. And we'll talk again sometime unless my questions have been too rough. In which case you'll never come back.

Give me credit for being on the bestseller list.

You get a lot of credit, Governor, for being on the bestseller list.

Okay. Talk to you soon.

Bye, 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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