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Cuomo's Briefings Provided An Anchor In An Uncertain Era

Office of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo holds his daily coronavirus briefing Thursday.

Governor Andrew Cuomo ends over three months of continuous daily coronavirus briefings Friday. The briefings became a cultural phenomenon and made the governor nationally famous, as New Yorkers and many across America, staying home to try to stop the spread of the virus, tuned in to what became a daily ritual.

“The journey is over,” the governor said Thursday. “ I hope the journey stays over.”

After 111 days, the governor compares the arc of the virus to a mountain. It peaked in the dark days of April, as Cuomo each day displayed a slide show of carefully prepared charts showing the number of those in the hospital, the number of those on ventilators, and the number of people who died, 779 on April 7.  

“The bad news isn’t just bad,” Cuomo said on April 8. “The bad news is actually terrible.”

Cuomo gave the stark facts, but he also empathized with those experiencing grief and those stuck at home, scolded people who were not following the rules like wearing masks or maintaining safe social distancing, and sometimes offered sermons, quoting from poets including Maya Angelou and past leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The traditionally private governor also opened up personally, admitting that he feared for his 88-year-old mother Matilda’s health, and said he thought about what his dead father, former governor Mario Cuomo, would have advised him to do.

He recounted stories of the time spent with his three grown daughters, who lived with him in the governor’s mansion for a time during the height of the pandemic, including when Mariah’s boyfriend came for Sunday dinner.

“Advice to fathers: the answer on what you think of the boyfriend is always, “I like the boyfriend,’” Cuomo said. “Always.”  

The monologue was parodied, in a nice way, by comedian Maria DeCotis.

There were other social media tributes as well, including a song written by Suzanne Windland of Queens, called KoCuomo, a take-off on the Beach Boys tune Kokomo.

The lyrics include “we gotta stay home-a so we don’t catch corona.”

During his nine years as governor, Cuomo’s been criticized by some in the political world for being too controlling and insular, often relying on a handful of staff to make all major decisions. But those traits became a strength in the crisis that required rapid, and in some cases, unprecedented actions, like ordering the economy to close.

He drew criticism for a nursing home policy that at first required the homes to take back residents who had COVID-19, at a time when many nursing homes were ill equipped to contain the virus. Six thousand died in the state’s nursing homes from the disease, and numerous nursing home staff were also sickened. The policy was later rescinded.

Cuomo’s briefings were carried regularly on the major news channels, and the governor was a frequent guest on national news shows. He was viewed by many as a kind of alternative president, when the majority of Americans viewed the actual president, Donald Trump’s, handling of the virus as lacking.

Cuomo at times praised Trump, and he met in the White House with the president a few times, but he more often he issued scathing critiques of Trump’s policies.

On the second to last day of the daily briefing, the governor delivered a parting shot to the president, saying he and his aides put politics above listening to scientists and experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who offered projection models of how mitigation efforts could keep down infection rates. Cuomo predicted the failure to act will result in many more unnecessary deaths.

“Because of what you are doing, people are going to die, because of what you did.”

Cuomo insists though, that he does not have higher political aspirations than being governor of New York.

Just because the daily briefings are ending doesn’t mean the virus has run its course. While the rate of infection in New York is now the lowest in the nation, it’s on the rise in other states and Cuomo and his aides are worried about a second wave. They say the only way to contain the virus is to continue the mitigations and for everyone to follow the precautions, which he calls “the new normal.”

Cuomo says while he and the rest of New York have climbed up and down the mountain with the virus, he does not want to scale an entire mountain range.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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