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Gov. Cuomo On WAMC's Northeast Report 11/23/20

Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking in Saranac Lake
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking in Saranac Lake

WAMC's Alan Chartock interviews New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.Well, thank you. And thank you James Levulis for the introductions each time. Hey, governor, how are you?

Do you know why I do your radio show?

No, no, no, no, I don’t.

Because it is named after me. WAMC Andrew Mark Cuomo.

Wow, that is so cool. You know a lot of people have said that WAMC is Alan M. Chartock, except my middle name isn’t an m.

Change it.  You can change it.

That's true. How are you? Okay?

I'm doing fine. Fine.  One day at a time, but fine.

I see that you got an Emmy. Now, not every governor gets an Emmy. You went on to the TV every morning, you were a must you know.  You were sort of an antidote to you-know-who, The President of the United States and there you were every morning and you gave your thing and now they've given you an Emmy for that. Where are you going to put that thing? Do you have a fireplace mantel or what are you gonna do with it?

I tell you, it's unbelievable. You know, I watched it. They did it this morning. It's the International Emmy. And when the presenter, the president of the Emmy Association was talking about it, he told the story about how he has a friend in Abu Dhabi who was watching it, and California, and then an actor got up afterwards and said that he started his day with it in California. It was, I tell you it was emotional for me watching the presentation, because it brought it all back.  It had this opening clip that sort of ticked through the time period. I was so, so thankful in retrospect, you know, first there were so many people who worked so hard on my team during that period, and the reporters too you know, they had to come every day, everybody staying home and they had to get up and come every day. But then it was really the people of New York.  What made the briefings was that the number came down because the people of New York actually followed the briefings, right? The briefings are nothing, Alan and they don't get an Emmy if the infection rate doesn't come down. So it was really, I’m just a symbol for the triumph of the people of the state and it was touching to me.

Well, it should be but they don't give them to everybody. You know, I mean, you did it. You did it well, people liked it. I hate to say that, but it would appear to be true. And, you know, your team was there with you every day. It was a nice thing to watch.  It was a nice thing to watch. How would you compare that with some of your press conferences these days? You just had something nice to say about the press. But you know, last time I watched you, you were a little bit, a little bit, I don't know how to say it - you were you were on their case?

Well, first of all, the part of the briefings, it was not all love and kisses at the briefings. You know, the briefings were real, too. And there was, I kid, I said I might get the credit for my dramatic performances. You know, because just some mornings, the back and forth on the questioning, you know, can get testy.


Yeah. Well, they don't even know testy by the way. They, they think this is testy. They should have seen the old days with those press conferences with my father.  They don’t know testy.

I remember your father saying to this guy from the New York Times, he was talking in the back of the room, and he’d say will you guys take that outside, please.

Oh, yeah.  He had no time for it. But I think that's part of it, you know, part of the briefings. We would get all these comments and they would comment about reporters, you know, the people in the briefing, would also comment on the intelligence of the reporters question and the reporters behavior. So it was interesting to see how people perceived it. But look, it's like anything else sometimes. You know, I'm respectful of the questions and the institution, etc. But just sometimes, you know, I'm trying to convey and make sure people have facts and I get the press is trying to find a headline or whatever. But I'm trying to communicate facts and I don't want to get people confused. So tension, the dynamic tension, is not always a bad thing you know.

No.  You know, they listen to this. I don't know why, but they listen to me talking to you and then they critique both of us, the reporters.  They tweet and they say, well, why did Chartock ask him that question? And then they say, what did he say there? You know, and then sometimes I repeat it.  Sometimes they're not nice. Can you imagine that? That they're not nice always?

Well, there is a nastier tone now, with the press, not just in New York, it's all across the nation, there's a nastiness. There's a disrespect that never existed. You know, I've watched hundreds of press conferences over the years, if anyone used the tone that they use with me in some of these press conferences, if you did that with my old man you'd be lucky if he didn't walk around and deck you.  You know, the way they question President Trump at some of these press conferences is just, I've never heard that tone with the President.

Well, he deserves it, though, doesn't he?

Well, yeah, except there is supposed to be a decorum to the institution, right. You can not like the person or disrespect the person, but there is still an institution that each person represents. Look, I don't like, I think a lot of the reporters, well not a lot, but there are reporters who just are unprofessional, don't know the facts, and ask really biased questions. You have these reporters now who come from biased stations, right? We talk about the Post, etc. but you also have now the Fox equivalent on TV. So they come with a question that's going to fit what their editor wants for that night. You have reporters who ask questions that are just really unintelligent. So I try to get past that, because they're a member of the press and the relationship is with the press, and I'm doing this to inform people through the press. So just because a person is a jerk doesn't mean that person doesn't count. I think the same thing is true with an elected official, you want to say, well, I don't like the president and I disrespect him, I know, but it's still the Office of the President.

Yeah, but he's done a lot to screw that up. That's for sure. Let me ask. Let me move on here. That's a very good response. And I appreciate that. Let me say that you went over to the National Governors Association and you met with the president, your pal, the President, the President Elect, I should say, so how did that go?

That went really well, that went really well. You know, the governor's had been, the governors are at an extraordinary position in history right now. The governors have never been as preeminent in authority or responsibility. You never had a national pandemic handed to 50 governors. It was really a bizarre federal concept. It was a total federal application. President of the United States says, I have a national pandemic - okay governors, you're in charge. No, no, when it's 50 states, that makes it national. That’s called a national crisis. And the federal government is supposed to be involved. This president said, oh, we have a national crisis, okay guys, it's up to you. Don't worry, I have your back. But the governors were solely responsible, really, for COVID. The federal government, to the extent they were helpful, they were really more in supporting role on supplies, etc. And now on the vaccinations it’s the same thing. Okay, we're gonna give you the vaccines, go get ‘em guys. Yeah, I have to figure out how to do 20 million vaccinations. The state is broke. They're not giving us any funding to do the vaccinations. And I have to do twice the number of vaccinations that I've done in COVID tests over the past eight months. So it's incredibly difficult for the governors and they really are looking for help from the federal government and Joe Biden's tone was so different than what had gone on in the past with the prior administration. I mean, he was open, he was nonpartisan, he was friendly. He wasn't talking at us, he was asking.  It was a totally different reaction, even with the republican governors, you know, who were still in a funny position, because you have some of the Republicans who were still not willing to concede, right. But even those Republicans, I think, took very well to Joe Biden, and he just, he really wanted to hear because we are where we are now.  By the time Joe Biden walks in the door, HHS will have commenced the vaccine distribution. That's why this whole transition mess is really disruptive. The vaccine distribution plan will have been started by January 20. He is going to then inherit a plan that just started but is going to dictate how the next 6, 9, 12 months go. We're all concerned about that, you know, because if I don't get the right supplies, this is an unprecedented operation, this vaccination.

Now you've critiqued the possibility of doing it wrong. You've talked about that. Dr. Fauci apparently today, I have not seen it myself, but he apparently took some issue with your call to critique the way that they were going to do it, making sure that everybody got a fair share. Not only you know, not only the CVS’s and Walmart's things that kind, so Fauci, he had been a hero of yours, did that change your mind?

I don't know what he said. But I guarantee he did not say the black and brown community should not have the same access to the vaccine. Guarantee, he did not say that. And that's my only, my point is the black and brown community. Blacks had twice the death rate of whites on COVID. Latinos had one and a half times the death rate of whites, because they had more underlying health issues, more health disparities, because they're not as well served by the health industry. Also, they didn't have the same access to COVID tests. We can't repeat the same mistake with the vaccinations. And all these private facilities are great but how do you get it into public housing? How do you get it into the low income communities where you have many fewer of these national drug chains, fewer hospitals, fewer doctor offices? It's an operational question.

The president elect has made some cabinet choices. You want to comment on any of that?

I think the ones he's announced are all good. You know, I think they are known people, you know, because, it's just natural that President Biden is going to go back to the Obama administration, the Obama administration had a lot of Clinton people. So you know a lot of these people and being proven and experienced is actually a good thing. You know, they all talk about fresh faces. We want fresh faces. Yeah, that's understandable. I get the advantage of a fresh face. I also get the experience, I also get the benefit of proven commodity and proven experience, you know.  So, no, I think he, and the diversity he is quite sincere about, that's a good thing, too. I think it's all good.

Did you have any private sideline conversation with the president elect, when you went with the governors?

It not was one of those zoom calls and we were together.

And what are you doing for Thanksgiving? You're gonna sit around, poor Andrew Cuomo,  sitting around the table, looking down, a knife and a fork in each hand, looking down at a piece of turkey and no one else there. I mean, what's the story here?

The story is my mom is going to come up and two of my girls is the current plan, but the plans change. But that's my plan. But I'm going to work, I have a lot of work to do between now and Thanksgiving.  I'll tell you what's frightening, the COVID rate over the past three weeks, the hospitalization rate has gone up 122%. If you just continue the same rate of increase, in three weeks, you’ll have 6,000 people in the hospitals, up from 1,000 three weeks ago, okay? That's in three weeks, 6,000 people in the hospital, that's if there's no additional increase from Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and holiday parties. If that increases it at all, you're talking about 10,000 people in the hospitals in a matter of three, four weeks. And people don't get it Alan, they do not get it. They only, you know, COVID fatigue, don't worry, there's going to be a vaccine, we’re in good shape in this state, I'm wearing a mask… So you’re also fighting human nature, you know, we're social beings. We like to be with people. So it's, it's a frightening period. And well, we have the vaccine.  You're not going to have a vaccine at critical mass for months, months. So I'm worried about it. I'm trying to say to people now, you know, you watch all these commercials on TV, and they're selling commercial Thanksgiving, right? Twenty people around the table, pass me the wine, pass me this, normal things happening that can't happen. It can't happen. And why don't we say this is a special Thanksgiving? There’s actually a deeper, more spiritual, more principal Thanksgiving, where we're really being thankful for this year. And we're being thankful for the doctors and the nurses and the essential workers. And we're being thankful for the seniors who sacrificed so much, that didn't get to see anyone. And if that's what you're thankful for, and that's what you're honoring, then you're respectful in your behavior, be alone physically, be connected spiritually. That's what this real Thanksgiving would be about if you took out the commercialization, right. It's like they talk about take out the commercialization of Christmas, right? Or another religious holiday. That's what this Thanksgiving should be about. Thank you, nurse. Thank you, Doctor.  Thank you, essential worker.  I’m not going to create any issue for you by getting somebody sick or getting sick myself, so you have to put your life in danger. I have a conversation with someone because it's almost cultural, right? There's a lot of people in opposition to these restrictions now. Staten Island, Buffalo, oh yeah. So I had this discussion with somebody in Staten Island, and it was a heated discussion, frankly.  You're not going to tell me what to do, and how to behave in my own home. So first of all government does, right? You're in your own home, there's still drug laws, there's still domestic violence laws, but put that aside. I said, how about this, I'll make you a deal right now. You do whatever you want on Thanksgiving, you invite whoever you want over, but here's the deal, if you get sick, or if you get anyone sick in your home at Thanksgiving, you handle it. You handle it. He said what does that mean? I said it means you handle it.  You don't involve an ambulance driver.  If you have to go to the hospital, you take care of the bill. And you make sure you can get a nurse and a doctor who don't mind dealing with another COVID patient. You handle it.  He said no, no, that doesn't work. I said, so I see, you act irresponsibly, but other people have to pay the price. The ambulance driver has to risk getting sick. The nurse has to risk it.  The doctor has to risk it.  The 1199 worker has to risk it. The orderly who changes your sheets has to risk it. The taxpayers have to pay for it. But it's your individual right. You know, it's hard. It's hard.

Okay, so let's talk a little bit about, you know, sort of state politics. The New York State Senate Democrats announced they will have a supermajority in the next session with 42 seats.  Does that give leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins more leverage than she had last session? And let me couple that with, does the looming Senate Majority change your view of a new tax on millionaires and billionaires at all? In other words, they might override you now that they have a supermajority?

Yeah, a couple of things on that. No, it doesn't increase their leverage, because the main fact is the budget, and everybody has ultimate leverage in the budget, right? I don't have to sign it. They don't have to pass it. We know how that works. So we both have a veto in the legislature, I mean in the budget.  Once you get past the budget, you know, there's never going to be a situation where they have the entire Senate Democrats all agreeing to the same thing and I'm opposing it, right? The Senate, especially, its representative of the state. So you have members from Long Island, you have members from Buffalo, you know, they have to represent their people, otherwise they get into trouble as they learned in this past election. And I supported all these senators. I worked very hard to get them elected, and I have good relations with them. So no, I don't believe it's, and we're all on the same agenda. By the way, if we don't get the funding, here, I'll give you a piece of news. If we don't get funding from Washington, there will be an income tax increase. It's not even close.  If we don't get funding, and that's why I write the letter directly to our congressional delegation is I want to be clear, the hole is so big, that if we don't get federal funding, you will have to increase taxes on the higher end.  You'll also have to cut services.  You'll also have to borrow and you'll probably have to layoff.  That's the scale of this deficit Alan.  You're going to have to do everything. You know, income tax, income tax increase is more of a political issue than a financial issue. If we go to the highest income tax bracket in the United States of America, okay, higher than California, which is now the highest, we’re the second highest.  Higher than California, maybe you make a billion and a half, maybe you make 2 billion. You're talking about a hole of $30 billion. Okay, you have 2 billion. Now you only need another 28. It's not a financial solution. It's just it's the politics of it. You know, it's very popular to say, tax the millionaires. So yes, we'd have to tax the millionaires. But that's a political statement more than a financial fix. All right, so now you have a billion and a half, you have 2 billion. Now you have to make up, you know, $28 billion, you're talking about significant cuts to services, and borrowing and layoffs, at the same time that they want you to undertake this aggressive vaccination program. No, they've caused a national recession, because it is every state that is in this situation. That's the lunacy of it. One of the Republican governors said on the phone the other day, as goes the states goes the nation.  When every state is going to go bankrupt, you know, McConnell said the states should go bankrupt. Yeah, you bankrupt the states, you bankrupt the nation, right? You cut off all the limbs, the body tends to suffer.

Listen, you know, the capital is certainly used to a schedule, you typically do a State of the State address in early January, then sometimes a separate budget address later in the month. It won't be safe to hold a big gathering for those speeches in January. What are you going to do instead?

Oh, no, we're at a different world. I wouldn't be surprised if the session is remote. My, I wouldn't ask people, by the way, I don't think we want to change our laws by then. And we have a mass gathering rule in effect, so you couldn't have a crowd.  You couldn't even convene the legislature by our own law. I mean, I guess you could accept it, but then people would get sick. I mean, the law, it only makes sense. It's public health law. It's going to have to be all zoom video and all that stuff.  It’s a new world.

New York State workers are starting to be instructed to head back, I understand this, I've been told, back in the office after working remotely for most of 2020. Is it a good idea to start bringing them back?

We are rolling them back very safely. Now, we also have offices reopening, which we encourage, do it safely. And our office openings are all done safely. And we have testing regimens, etc. But look, you can't wait for the vaccine. You can't take another nine months. Call it nine months, you can't take another nine months of this reduced activity. And public employees, state government, it has to work. Again, this vaccination program Alan, in modern history, this is going to be the greatest governmental performance or failure. It's harder than anything we've done so far on COVID. This is a logistical nightmare. You start with like 50% of the people who don't want to take the vaccine. I mean, it's hard. So I need the government functioning.

You're right. Do you think President Trump and his business practices should continue to be investigated? Even after he leaves office? I mean by Tish James?

Yeah, well, Tish James, the Attorney General is looking at the charity and that should continue. And the district attorney is doing criminal law, it doesn't really matter if he's president or not. If he's president, he would probably figure out a way to slow it down. But you know, you don't

Are you kidding?  Come on, you know, very well know, that he hasn't been touchable while he's been president, that’s been a huge difference.

Yes, that's true. Yes. That's what I mean. You would not stop it because he's not president. But you shouldn't have started it. And I'm sure Cy Vance didn't.  You don't target people, right? You get a case, you follow a case. It's not about their political affiliation or their elected office, and if it is, then the prosecutors not doing their job. And if a prosecutor says, well, there's a high profile target, and it happens to be of the other party, I mean god forbid if America comes to that, that's a bad prosecutor.  I am not saying they don’t exist.

Look, look, Governor, you are a former AG yourself. Have you been in conversation with Tish James about what she should be doing? You got a President of the United States who was saying, come on, we got better things to do than go around chasing him. So it really will come down to New York State. And there I have a question for you, and we're almost out of time. Is there something you think we ought to do?

No. I've never had a conversation with the attorney general about the case. The attorney general should follow the merits of the case. I've never had a conversation with the district attorney about the case.

But they shouldn't lay off. You know, in other words, in order to get forward, you got 70 million people that voted for them, you know, leave them alone as opposed to…

No. Politics is irrelevant. It's irrelevant both ways. It has to be irrelevant both ways.

Anyway, listen, I'm out of time. I hate to do that because it's so much fun to talk to you and thank you very much for being here. Let's see what the press have to say about this conversation.

What whatever it is, it'll be nasty.

Right you are.  Great to talk to you governor.

Good to talk to you. Thanks.

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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