Cuomo steps into national spotlight with coronavirus fight

Cuomo steps into national spotlight with coronavirus fight
© Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has quickly emerged as a national figure in the coronavirus response as his state finds itself on the frontline in the U.S. fight against the pandemic.

Cable news networks now regularly carry Cuomo’s daily press conferences in Albany, which typically air before President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE’s coronavirus task force briefs reporters at the White House. Cuomo has also been making multiple appearances on cable and broadcast news shows throughout the day.

That growing media presence has put the governor in the national spotlight, serving as a counter-weight of sorts to Trump and his administration’s handling of the outbreak, even as New York City has now become the epicenter of the virus in the U.S.

ADVERTISEMENT

Cuomo enacted his most far-reaching executive order of the crisis during a news conference Friday when he mandated that 100 percent of non-essential workers in the state must stay home.

“I accept full responsibility. If someone is unhappy, blame me,” Cuomo said, while also announcing a suspension of evictions statewide for 90 days.

“I know that we're going to put people out of work with what I did. I want to make sure I don't put them out of their house,” he said.

The announcement came as the number of coronavirus cases in New York surpassed 7,000.

The governor said on Sunday that New York state had 15 times as many coronavirus cases as another state.

Cuomo, who was once seen as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, has received praise from some of his toughest critics for his handling of the crisis.

“President [Trump] has clearly taken naturally to the role of Crisis Manager-in-Chief. Cuomo has risen to the level of a statesman,” former New York City Mayor Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting CIA found Putin 'probably directing' campaign against Biden: report Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate MORE (R) said in a Thursday tweet, his second of the day complimenting the Democratic governor.

ADVERTISEMENT

Staten Island Republican and congressional candidate Nicole Malliotakis told The New York Times, “I have really big differences with the governor on policy, but I do believe that during an emergency situation he is at his best.”

Conservative talk show host Sean HannitySean Patrick HannitySunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Cruz: Trump should nominate a Supreme Court justice next week Ex-Pence aide: Trump spent 45 minutes of task force meeting 'going off on Tucker Carlson' instead of talking coronavirus MORE even had Cuomo on for roughly half an hour Friday, when he offered to use his television and radio platforms to help the governor with the state’s coronavirus response.

"Normally we'd be arguing about taxes and fracking," Hannity said, adding that now it's about "saving American lives."

"Nothing else matters now," Cuomo responded.

But New York’s response has not been entirely without criticism, particularly the disconnect between Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioOVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities New Year's Eve in Times Square to be largely virtual amid pandemic MORE (D) over a potential shelter in place order for the city. De Blasio has pushed for it, while Cuomo has downplayed the idea. The decision ultimately lies with Cuomo.

The governor also faced criticism early on for saying New York City schools should stay open. He later reversed course.

Overall, though, Cuomo has been lauded for what many say is his personal, straightforward response to the crisis.

“He [gives] people a place to tune into, to tune into for information, and that’s if you’re an American voter who has questions,” said Jon Reinish, a former aide to Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election Jon Stewart urges Congress to help veterans exposed to burn pits MORE (D-N.Y.). “That's also, though, if you're the media -- you had a place to point your camera when you needed answers. And it was right at Governor Cuomo.”

At Friday’s press conference, Cuomo invoked one of his three daughters, who was recently in isolation, as he appealed to individuals who have been forced to self-isolate.

“I was very aware of what she was dealing with and what she was feeling,” Cuomo said, referring to 22-year-old Michaela Kennedy Cuomo. “She was alone for two weeks with her own thoughts. Not talking to anyone else. No noise, not activity.”

"Be mindful of that. Those three words sentences can make all the difference: I miss you. I love you,” he said.

Christine Quinn, a Democrat and former speaker of the New York City Council, said, “I think as a New Yorker, he has the perfect combination of emotion and empathy and grit, and grind, and that’s exactly what you need.”

At a local level, Cuomo received high marks from officials for his on-the-ground response across the state, where he has had daily conference calls with elected officials from each of the state’s regions.

“This is all uncharted territory for us,” said Alex Yudelson, chief of staff for the city of Rochester, which had the first case of COVID-19 in western New York. “We don’t have in the city a public health department, The county does and the state does, so we’ve been working very closely with them.”

In Oneida County, which sits in the state’s central region, there were four coronavirus cases as of Thursday evening.

“We know that number is going to change,” Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri (D) told The Hill. “It’s something that we don’t know, and I think a number of people at this point are very, very grateful that he’s taken such an aggressive approach on this.”

One of the biggest steps Cuomo took toward containing the coronavirus was earlier this month when he established a containment zone in New Rochelle, just north of New York City in Westchester County.

“He showed that assertiveness, ramping up to the moment by doing that,” Westchester County Executive Director George Latimer (D) told The Hill.

“I run a county government,” Latimer said. “I have some executive authority, but I can't govern what happens next door to me in the city of New York or next door to me in the state of Connecticut.”

Cuomo has also teamed up with the governors of Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, in an effort to combat the disease in one of the most populated regions on the Eastern Seaboard.

Governors across the country have implemented measures to protect their states from the virus. California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomOVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 EPA head questions connection of climate change to natural disasters MORE (D) has ordered the entire state, nearly 40 million people, to stay at home, while Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) called off Tuesday’s primary election, citing the health emergency posed by the coronavirus.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump said this week he “applauds” the governors’ work during the response, referring specifically to Cuomo and Newsom’s executive action.

But relations between Trump and Cuomo were far from amicable just a few days earlier.

The two New York natives traded barbs after the president singled out the governor on Twitter on Monday, saying Cuomo had to “do more.” 

“I have to do more? No -- YOU have to do something! You’re supposed to be the President,” Cuomo fired back in a tweet.

Relations between the two New Yorkers have since improved. The two leaders said they were in communication this past week.

“I want to work together 100 percent,” the governor said. “I need your help, I want your help, and New Yorkers will do everything they can to be good partners with the federal government.”