Gov. Andrew Cuomo is without a doubt having a moment. His response to the coronavirus outbreak has received widespread approval. His daily press briefings are expanding public understanding of the pandemic in a way quite unlike those done by President Donald Trump and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. #PresidentCuomo was a top trending topic on Twitter on Saturday. Cuomo is even getting some love from female fans and Italians alike.
Despite all of this, there are several aspects of the governor’s approach that are spurring significant criticism from lawmakers and activists alike. The governor continues to claim that a recently-passed federal coronavirus stimulus bill did not include any aid for New York state, which is not exactly accurate. Though confirmed cases in jails and prisons (and juvenile facilities) across the state are on the rise, Cuomo has continued to downplay the risk of a widespread outbreak among incarcerated people and corrections staff.
On Saturday, Cuomo claimed that there was no “significant issue” with the spread of coronavirus in jails and prisons. He also repeated a claim the next day that the state got no federal aid from a bill that Trump signed into law earlier in the week, which makes billions in federal aid contingent on states refraining from making changes to their Medicaid programs.
And then there is the issue of rent. “We took care of the rent issue here in New York,” Cuomo told reporters at a Sunday morning press conference at the state Capitol. He added, “You cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent,” per a directive he issued Friday.
However, all three issues are much more complicated than he is letting on during the daily briefings that have fueled an enormous spike in his popularity in recent weeks.
Cuomo’s claim that it’s all good for tenants? “This is false,” state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, who plans to propose legislation that would forgive residential and commercial rents for people and businesses who have lost work or been forced to close down because of the pandemic, said on Twitter in response to the governor’s remarks on rent. “Postponing evictions while allowing rent obligations to continue to accumulate only creates a bigger housing crisis in the months.” The governor has issued a 90-day moratorium on evictions.
Such claims have diminished some of the political popularity that Cuomo is getting from his overall well-received response to the pandemic. Groups on the political left and right are criticizing his insistence on staying the course with limiting spending on Medicaid. Activists are continuing to push for the release of elderly and sick inmates. His continued efforts to amend recently-implemented bail reforms to give judges more discretion to keep dangerous inmates in jail is also controversial.
Cuomo’s domination of state politics has only increased in recent weeks, but he has appeared to respond to political pressure at times. Notable examples include that moratorium on evictions as well as moves to make insurance companies cover coronavirus testing and treatment.
Lawmakers are aware that the budget is their only point of leverage, and that they also need to differentiate between the governor’s actions that they support – and those that require more scrutiny. “You have to pay attention to the details because the governor is always about the details,” state Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera told City & State this week. “Once he gets done with the budget, he doesn't need a legislature anymore.” And when that happens, lawmakers and activists alike will lose an important tool in dealing with a governor who is more in control than ever, for better or worse.
NEXT STORY: Cuomo's Medicaid dilemma