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Cuomo's Emergency Powers Outlasting COVID Emergency

GOP Chair Nick Langworthy in Albany June 17, 2021
Karen DeWitt
GOP Chair Nick Langworthy in Albany June 17, 2021

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that most COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have ended in New York. But the governor did not discontinue the emergency powers he’s held since March of 2020. And that has Republican leaders in the state fuming. 

There are signs that the state, and much of the nation, are finally entering a post pandemic period.

Cuomo, along with California Governor Gavin Newsom, on June 15 eased most COVID restrictions and said most people who are fully vaccinated can now go about their lives like they used to.

“This is a momentous day,” Cuomo told an audience of union leaders and other supporters at a speech at the World Trade Center on June 15. “It has been a long, long road.”

The governor set off fireworks displays in cities around the state to celebrate.

Not everyone can go back to normal immediately. Unvaccinated New Yorkers — currently around 50% of the state’s population when children are included —still need to wear masks in public and practice safe social distancing.

There are signs that the state’s economy is also recovering. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found sales tax revenues totaled $1.4 billion , in May, a 57.8% increase from May of 2020, when the state was in lockdown. Spending was also up 6.9% from May of 2019, before the pandemic.

And, although many small businesses and restaurants say they are struggling to hire enough workers to fully re-open, most are resuming normal business hours and no longer require masks or social distancing.

Despite the signs of life returning to normal, the governor has not yet declared the state of emergency to be over. In March of 2020, the state legislature granted him special emergency powers, allowing him to issue over 400 executive orders that included business closures, mandatory mask wearing, and restricting how many people could gather inside a private home.

Earlier this spring, Democrats who lead the legislature voted to curb some of those powers, after the governor became embroiled in a number of scandals, including allegations of sexual harassment and a federal investigation into whether he covered up the true number nursing home deaths from COVID-19. The Senate and Assembly passed a bill that prevented the governor from issuing any new executive orders without their approval. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris spoke on the Senate floor in early March.   

“This majority has decided that power is no longer necessary,” Gianaris said on March 5. “It wasn’t executed the way any of us would have liked, and we’re going to repeal it.”

Republicans who are in the minority in the legislature say that measure was not enough. They say a lot has changed in three months, and that the Democratic lawmakers should have fully revoked the emergency powers before adjourning on June 10. More than 60 of the directives remain in place.

State Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy held a news conference outside the Capitol Thursday, which remains closed to the public but will re-open Friday.

“He can’t cancel every restriction and then still hold on to this power,” Langworthy said. “That’s just not fair.”

Langworthy also criticized Cuomo’s celebration on Tuesday  in light of the over 40,000 New Yorkers who died of the coronavirus, including 15,000 at nursing homes and other adult long term care facilities. Langworthy says those deaths and the grieving friends and relatives, were not acknowledged. He also says it’s inappropriate for the governor to hold a victory rally when Cuomo is facing several scandals, including whether he improperly used staff to help him write a memoir for which he was paid $5 million dollars.

“And he's celebrating with fireworks. If that doesn't make your skin crawl, I don't know what you are made of,” said Langworthy. “Andrew Cuomo is a Machiavellian, and he's as calculating as they come. Putin must be watching this and taking notes right now.”

A spokesman for Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, calls Langworthy’ s statements “garbage” and says the Republican chair is deliberately misconstruing the meaning of the celebration.

“The tens of thousands of cheering New Yorkers on Tuesday fully understood this was about celebrating the essential workers and turning the page on this pandemic,” Azzopardi said. “Once again Langworthy and the New York chapter of Trump’s Pom Pom squad are seeking to divide and politicize for their own craven ends.”

Though the legislature formally adjourned for the year, they may return to the capitol in July to act on the governor’s nominees to the MTA and other matters. They will have another opportunity then, if they choose, to alter the governor’s emergency powers. 

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