Andrew Cuomo Is the Control Freak We Need Right Now

“In other times, when you had to go through the messiness of listening to others and trying to bring people together, that was not his forte,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that spent last week fighting to close the New York State’s public schools. “This was a moment that he was really built for.”

Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Republican who is running for Congress, said, “I have really big differences with the governor on policy, but I do believe that during an emergency situation he is at his best.”

The hallmarks of crisis management are clear communication and utter decisiveness. And Mr. Cuomo seems to be one of handful of governors, including Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, a Democrat, who have stepped into a vacuum to demonstrate those qualities.

Mr. Cuomo holds news conferences filled with facts and (accurate) numbers almost every day. He explains systems and challenges and decision-making with a command that Mr. Trump lacks. He even models social distancing by having speakers stay six feet apart from one another.

But the governor’s great strength has always been his capacity to bend the bureaucracy to his will, and he has done that in recent days: pushing to get tests running in state labs, nudging the mayor to shut schools, coordinating a tristate shutdown of most commerce.

He is drawing on skills that are, more typically, seen pejoratively: The New York Times’s Shane Goldmacher described Mr. Cuomo in 2018 as “a political tactician of almost limitless ambition and extraordinary ability, a leader with jagged edges and little regard for rules, especially if they are standing in the way of the results he wants.”

It’s a sharp contrast to the central figures of the federal response so far: a bureaucratic caution that slowed down early testing in Seattle, and the lack of a centralized, decisive response.

Mr. Cuomo’s aides cite his long experience managing crises as a federal and state official; his first was the floods in northern Minnesota in the early 1990s. Many of the people who have worked with him, and against him, say his sense of command has more to do with his personality.

“His quick spurts of decision making and his ‘my way’ approach can be maddening on a lazy Sunday, but ideal when the world is cooking on a Friday night,” said a political insider who has spoken to the governor in recent days.

Mr. Cuomo’s relentlessness has long been an irritation to members of the press. He can be impossible to get off the phone. The Times once went so far as to bar its journalists from talking to him off the record. Now, over-communication is the order of the day.

And Mr. Cuomo’s frequent digressions, which can often come across as self-absorbed or corny, now capture an everyman’s emotional unease. He’s anxious about his mother who doesn’t believe she’s vulnerable and frantic that one of his three daughters “came in contact with someone who was in a hot spot,” he said on Friday.

“My daughter, you know. That’s everything to me,’’ he said mid-news conference, to a room in the State Capitol full of reporters sitting six feet apart from one another at the governor’s insistence. “That’s why I get up in the morning. How could I protect my daughter? Why didn’t I protect my daughter? Because it’s impossible. It’s impossible.”

He continued: “Now, my daughter is a young woman. She’s not one of the vulnerable categories. So, I have to talk myself through the facts, right? You’re talking about my child, right? You want to talk about emotion. Just, just goes up in you. So, I had to talk myself through the reality of the situation and the facts of the situation to calm myself. So, I understand fully the anxiety that people feel.”

And his self-seriousness about a state government that has been at the center of his life since his father, Mario M. Cuomo, was governor, in the early 1990s, also seems to match the moment.

“This is why you’re in government, this is why you’re here, if you don’t want to be here, you shouldn’t have run for elected office,” he said on Sunday, explaining why lawmakers were being called to Albany to act. “Government is an essential operation to manage the situation. To me, that’s like saying: In a war when people might get killed at war, does it make sense to send soldiers?”

Mr. Cuomo is closer to Mr. Trump’s orbit than most Democrats — Queens-born, transactional, with common friends in New York real estate and common enemies to the left. The key test of his ability to get things done will be whether he can persuade Mr. Trump to act on two crucial requests: to deploy the Army Corps of Engineers, as he suggested in a Times op-ed, to build temporary hospitals and to implement a standardized national shutdown.

“States frankly don’t have the capacity or the power to make up for the federal government,” he said, warning of a rapidly approaching shortage of ventilators for sick people.

In the meantime, Mr. Cuomo’s aides say they’ve been taken aback by a new phenomenon. For years, any attempt by Mr. Cuomo to dip his toe into social media has been met with mockery, most of it suggesting that he FIX THE SUBWAYS. Now, the reaction to him is as appreciative as New York City Twitter gets, with even skeptics impressed.

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