Cuomo thrives on the front lines of US coronavirus crisis

The United States was under attack by an unknown enemy. Washington was in disarray. A willing New York politician stood up and stiffened the spine of a frightened nation.

This was the case after the September 11, 2001 attacks when the mayor of New York at the time, Rudy Giuliani, became “the mayor of America”. The same is true for the coronavirus pandemic and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

With the Trump administration’s response to the epidemic riddled with mixed messages and confusion, Mr. Cuomo has filled the void, providing leadership and assurance – not only for a state that is at the center of the pandemic in the United States, but also for the nation. Even Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, congratulated the Democratic governor.

“There are people who thrive in a crisis. Andrew Cuomo is one of those people, “said Elie Jacobs, political consultant in New York.

Mr. Cuomo was decisive. When Donald Trump was still comparing the coronavirus to the flu, the governor deployed the National Guard to establish a containment zone in the city of New Rochelle, where a group of infections had erupted.

He quickly shut down Broadway, then restaurants and bars, and set up a testing regime that surpassed other states in the United States.

A man crosses the street in an almost empty Times Square in New York on Monday
© Mark Lennihan / AP

After days of harassment, the governor also persuaded the White House to send the Army Corps of Engineers to New York to reuse existing facilities – such as the gigantic Javits convention center – in hospitals.

Then there are the governor’s daily briefings, which were compared to Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside conversations during the Great Depression. With supernatural calm and logic, Mr. Cuomo details the progress of a seemingly inexplicable scourge and the response of his administration.

Divorced father raises charts and statistics on infection rates, hospital beds and ventilators with the wisdom of his mother Matilda and her faiths about her relationship with her daughter. There is also brutal honesty.

“[Coronavirus] will change almost everything in the future. It will, “said Cuomo last week. “No one can tell you when it will end. . . No one can tell you when you will be returning to work. ”

On the other hand, the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, was pilloried for having participated in a last training session in his gymnasium in Crosstown after announcing that these establishments would close to slow the spread of the virus.

“Cuomo looks strong, because he is, and de Blasio looks restless, because he is,” said Hank Sheinkopf, New York’s veteran political strategist, who hailed the governor as “the face National Battlefield. ”

Mr. Sheinkopf praised the governor’s intelligence and tenacity. Perhaps most importantly, “He knows how power works because he grew up with power.”

Cuomo’s father Mario was governor of New York for three terms. Although he was perpetually considered a Democratic candidate for the White House, he never entered the race. (“Hamlet on the Hudson” was his nickname.) His eldest son led his campaign in 1982 and continued to serve in the Clinton cabinet as secretary of housing before becoming Attorney General of New York and then Governor.

As state director general, Mr. Cuomo has obtained approval for same-sex marriage and the reconstruction of airports, bridges and other infrastructure. The centrist democrat led a state legislature controlled by the Republicans, and which is now dominated by a new generation of progressives.

However, Mr. Cuomo is often described as mean, domineering, bullying, vengeful, obsessed and even mad – including by his admirers.

Just before the pandemic, the governor was criticized for forcing the resignation of the British head of the New York City Transit, Andy Byford, who seduced New Yorkers by stabilizing a dysfunctional metro system. In 2018, Joseph Percoco, a senior Cuomo official, was found guilty of soliciting and accepting $ 300,000 in bribes.

Cuomo “did everything he could to keep himself out of the spotlight, and if that means nudging everyone – so be it,” said a political official for New York.

He also dismissed Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat from the progressive branch of the party. When the mayor recently warned citizens that he was considering a “shelter on site” order for the city, the governor publicly rejected it, reminding them that he alone had the power to do so. Cuomo shared Mr. de Blasio’s fears about the closure of New York’s public school system, the largest in the country, and he did so anyway.

In the end, the most important relationship for Mr. Cuomo could be with Mr. Trump. As Cuomo explained, New York is in desperate need of the muscle of the federal government to strengthen its health care system to handle an expected increase in coronavirus cases.

While the state has about 53,000 hospital beds, it may need twice as many in a few weeks, said the governor. Its 6,000 fans represent only about a fifth of what might be needed.

Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly punished New York, a Democratic state that voted against him. The President has refused to support a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River to New Jersey agreed to by the Obama administration, which is one of the state’s top priorities. Its 2017 tax reform caused disproportionate harm to the state.

It was not for nothing that Mr. de Blasio last week called Mr. Trump “New Yorkers in the White House who betray New York”.

Mr. Cuomo was more flexible. He lambasted the president, but he also credited Mr. Trump when the president finally took over – for example, the decision to send the Corps of Army Engineers.

A former City Hall executive felt some mutual respect between two great New Yorkers whose families are both from the Queens neighborhood of New York.

“Trump is smart enough to fear Andrew like a little bully – because Trump is afraid of people who can serve him – and Cuomo can,” said the person. “Cuomo is smart enough to respect Trump’s ability to speak directly to his base and manipulate the press.”

With the intensification of the pandemic in New York, the next few days will tell if Mr. Cuomo, despite all his strength and cunning, is up to the challenge of managing both the coronavirus and Mr. Trump.

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