The Ball’s in Cuomo’s Court.

NYS Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Just when I was beginning to think that Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings had about run their course, that he was getting repetitive and sounding pedantic, his briefing from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange was a tour de force.

 The first five minutes of Cuomo’s briefings are always substantive, fact-based presentations with vital information about the virus and crucial updates. On the morning when the NYSE physically reopened, a surgically-masked Cuomo rang the opening bell and reported on a new low level of COVID hospitalizations, down to 200 , and a daily COVID death total down to 73–the lowest daily level of human lives lost since the pandemic began to pound New York State back in March.

Over the past week, as New York’s COVID numbers continued to trend down, NY’s Governor has filled the space before his Q & A and after his 5-minutes of facts, with stuff that was beginning to appear less urgent: a history of the Executive Mansion in Albany, a PSA competition coordinated by one of his daughters, and some replays of Rachel Maddow’s comments.

 Andrew’s stretching, I thought; maybe it’s time for someone on his staff to tell him the briefings need to be shortened, less repetitive and not frothy. We’ve accepted some of Andrew Cuomo’s personal detours of stories, family or phrases, because his presentations on the facts and actions to best combat the virus have been so damn powerful and effective. Grateful for his superb and straightforward leadership, at a time when none is coming from the national level, we’ve allowed Cuomo a few digressions. He may be repeating himself, we told ourselves, but he’s repeating the right, science-based messages and socially responsible behaviors.

However, Cuomo’s NYSE appearance was both symbolically AND substantively significant in a new and valuable way. He stressed, “how smart you are in reopening, determines how successful you are,’ and praised the leadership of the Stock Exchange for requiring people to wear masks and allowing fewer people on the NYSE floor. The market responded well to Cuomo’s intelligent optimism by closing up 500 points. It was a marked contrast to Trump’s dangerous “re-open, vaccine or no vaccine,” brainlessness, and the cruelness of the President’s “transition to greatness,” self-serving gruel.

The true brilliance in Cuomo’s COVID briefing at the Stock Exchange came in how he framed the call for building infrastructure, by coupling it with a strong case for stimulating the economy, and creating jobs, during this time of reduced use of airports, trains, and tunnels. “Now is the time to build,” Cuomo repeated. “There is no better time to build.”

It was a skilled turning of the infrastructure issue–called for by everyone and acted upon by no one–into a new WPA to help pull the country out of the worst economic tailspin since the Great Depression. Visions of FDR danced in my head, especially following Cuomo’s reference the previous week to FDR’s wheelchair kept at the Executive Mansion in Albany, and the swimming pool where a Governor Roosevelt, legs weakened by Polio, did his physical therapy.  These were visible reminders of another virus, another epidemic from earlier times, and strong symbols of the courageous way to fight back. 

Masterfully, Cuomo coupled his call to “Rebuild America” (a logical extension of the “Rebuild NY” campaign we did when his father was Governor) with his demand for Congress to repeal the limitation on the State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions which have cost NY and California billions of dollars in lost revenue—a “theft” he righteously called it.   Again, he pushed Washington to pass an urgent stimulus bill aimed directly at helping State and Local governments, and avoiding massive layoffs of First Responders, healthcare workers and teachers.

Cuomo was taking his case to the White House—at precisely the time when the number of COVID deaths in the country passed 100,000– and if Trump had any shred of hope to salvage his presidency, he would embrace Andrew’s “Rebuild America” campaign as his own, and announce he favored Cuomo’s push to repeal the limitation on SALT deductions.  

Would Andrew Cuomo force the issue? Would he repeat the winning slogan from his daughter’s PSA competition: “I wear a mask for you; you wear a mask for me,” and underscore it by wearing a mask on his visit to the White House? Or, would he allow Trump to take the lead, as long as it benefitted New York, and fill the State’s $13 billion budget gap? 

The ball is in Andrew Cuomo’s court. After his championship performance at the New York Stock Exchange, Cuomo can take a shot at the hoop from wherever he wants. Cuomo’s large, sure hands and vision for the future, coupled with his comfort in showing his compassion and love for people, remind us at each appearance, what this country has been missing, what we need, and what we want.  

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