Foss: Cuomo shines in crisis

Gov. Cuomo Monday
Gov. Cuomo Monday

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

Whenever I heard Gov. Andrew Cuomo mentioned as a potential presidential contender, I rolled my eyes. 

His appeal, it seemed to me, was limited to New York, his centrist outlook and ties to the Clinton administration out-of-step with today’s Democratic Party. Above all, Cuomo can be tough to like, which turns voters off. 

Coronavirus has rendered all this irrelevant, at least temporarily.

Cuomo’s handling of the crisis has been aggressive, smart, deliberate and strangely reassuring. 

He has looked — dare I say it — presidential. 

I’m not suggesting that, at this late date, Cuomo has any chance of becoming president. 

But his decisiveness, command of detail and calm yet firm approach to what is shaping up to be an unprecedented global emergency suggest he might have made a good president, after all.

Cuomo is a real leader, at a time when New York desperately needs one. 

I haven’t always been the biggest fan of the governor’s Machiavellian approach to governance or sometimes bullying style. But those characteristics — flaws during ordinary times – now seem like assets. 

Among other things, Cuomo pushed legislation that contained $40 million in emergency state funding to combat the virus, joined together with the governors of Connecticut and New Jersey to shut down bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms and movie theaters and mobilized the National Guard to retrofit and convert buildings to medical facilities. 

These actions have come partly as a result of a void in leadership at the federal level, where President Donald Trump has consistently downplayed the health threat posed by a virus that is both more lethal and more contagious than seasonal flu. 

That began to change on Monday, when the president issued stricter guidelines to contain the virus and suggested Americans might have to stay hunkered down until summer. 

Those of us fortunate enough to live in places where state and local officials have been up front in discussing the challenges ahead are already aware of this, of course, and it’s worth noting that Cuomo isn’t the only governor who has stepped up. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has, if anything, acted even more aggressively than Cuomo, ordering all of the state’s schools closed last week. Cuomo had left it up to local districts to decide whether to shut down, but changed course on Monday, when he ordered all New York schools to cease operations.

Cuomo’s response hasn’t been perfect. 

He was slow to develop a plan for the state workforce, and although every state employee I spoke with last week fully expected to be told to work remotely, clarity didn’t arrive until Monday, when the governor ordered non-essential state workers to stay home.

I’m not sure why this decision couldn’t have been made earlier, but I’m glad it’s been made. 

Finally, Cuomo’s strong leadership wouldn’t be possible without the state’s robust public health system, which includes top-notch county health departments and state-of-the-art hospitals and medical schools. 

The governor is obviously heeding the advice of public health experts when crafting the state’s coronavirus response, and that’s something to be grateful for. 

His quick thinking and actions might just save lives. 


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