In his State of the State address on Monday, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo stressed that “We must deal with the short-term economic crisis. A record $15 billion state deficit. That must be addressed in the next several weeks,” following which “we must plan our economic resurgence. We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits its critical mass. The cost would be too high. We will have nothing left to open. We must reopen the economy but we must do it smartly and safely.”
Which marks a 180-degree shift in the governor’s policy, having adhered to a year of ever-increasing lockdowns, even as his policy was being challenged, and losing, in federal courts. Last November, the US Supreme Court ruled against Cuomo in the combined case of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Andrew m. Cuomo, and Agudath Israel of America, et al. v. Cuomo, enjoining him from enforcing an executive order of 10- and 25-person occupancy limits in houses of worship in areas suffering from high infection levels of the Covid-19 pandemic (Agudath Israel, Catholic Diocese, Win Supreme Court Appeal Against Gov. Cuomo).
“What is the state of our state?” Governor Cuomo asked and answered: “In some ways, it is like the state of the nation and indeed the state of the world. We are hurt, we are frustrated, we are in mourning, we are anxious. We are shocked that an invisible enemy wreaked such death and destruction, especially amidst the wealthy and the most powerful nation on earth.”
“This next year, we will see economies realign and reset around the world,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We see the risk and peril but also the promise and the potential. The question to be answered is, What will we make of this moment?”
“We must vaccinate 70 to 90 percent [of New York’s residents] and we must do it safely and fairly,” he said. “We must also learn the glaring and costly lessons of America’s failed public health system so we are better prepared for the next time and as we all now should realize, there will be a next time.”
He observed that “too many essential products are made in China, [which] we must [produce] in the United States and even here in New York. We are already acting to solve the problem. We ordered more than $20 million to 36 New York businesses to make medical equipment here at home. Going forward, I propose the state pass a medical supplies act to incentivize New York companies to manufacture medical supplies. And New York will then purchase from that supply first.”
“This nation cannot be caught flat-footed again,” Cuomo asserted. “Covid showed us the limits of our health system but it also fostered innovation. Telemedicine was invaluable in keeping people remote while providing care. [But] public access was uneven and inequitable. At the recommendation of the Reimagined New York Commission, I’m introducing the most comprehensive telehealth bill in the nation to ensure accessibility to all New Yorkers.”
Last summer, Governor Cuomo and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced the formation of a 16-member Blue Ribbon Commission they dubbed the Reimagine New York Commission, to leverage advanced technology tools to build back a better and more resilient New York. The new commission includes educators, innovators, labor organizers, business leaders, and artists from across the state, and will focus initially on recommendations to reduce the digital divide, improve access to healthcare, and create more and better employment in an increasingly digital economy.
“Most pressing for the immediate future, we must vaccinate all New Yorkers,” the governor continued. “It is a massive undertaking and much greater than anything this nation has done today. We are expanding today our distribution system to include thousands of outlets, but the federal vaccine supply must increase. Today, we have about 1 million doses in New York State, for over 4 million eligible people. We only received 300,000 doses per week from the federal government. At this rate, it will take us 14 weeks just to receive enough dosages for those currently eligible.”
“Now, we will schedule appointments for vaccines weeks into the future,” the governor said, explaining that “we would rather have people signed up and awaiting the vaccine than have the vaccine awaiting people. I understand millions of people want the vaccine today. But we must be patient even though it is an inpatient time. I believe the new federal administration will see the vaccine supply increase and we will be ready for that increase.”
The governor then returned to the state’s financial troubles, saying “Covid has been costly in every sense of the word. The greatest cost is the lives lost, and for that, we pray every day for God’s grace and peace. Businesses have been lost. Lifetime savings have been exhausted. Personal debt has mounted, and our state government faces a $15 billion deficit, the largest in history.”
“While this fiscal crisis is larger than ever, the dynamics are not new. In the 1970s, New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy. Bankruptcy threatened the whole state and in fact the whole nation. At that time Washington famously told us to quote, drop dead. Well, in recent years Washington not only told us to drop dead, they dug a grave and tried to push us in. But their efforts failed. New Yorkers would not give up.”
On October 29, 1975, in a speech before the National Press Club, President Gerald Ford, who was running for his second term, denies New York City a federal bailout, which prompted the New York Daily News to run the immortal front-page headline the next day: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Of course, Ford never explicitly said “drop dead.” Neither did Marie Antoinette ever say “Let them eat cake.” But those two words did sum up the essence of his speech and cost him the state. Of course, the French Queen paid a much costlier price at the guillotine.
“Fortunately, this nation rejected Washington’s hyper-partisan politics and today is a new day after a long, dark night,” Cuomo switched on his own hyper-partisan politics, arguing that the fact is “New York’s damage from Covid is clearly and ethically Washington’s liability. This crisis was caused by two factors and both were created by the federal government. First, allowing Covid to ambush New York last spring without the knowledge or notice from the federal government was an act of gross negligence. The federal government thought the virus was still in China but they were wrong. Covid already traveled to Europe and 3 million Europeans already traveled to New York before the federal government ever warned New York or the nation or banned travel from the continent. New York, unlike any other state, had no notice and no time to prepare for the attack. As soon as we found out, the Covid enemy was already among us and had been coming for months. We just saw the same federal negligence reenacted, [in failing] to test travelers from the UK where a new strain of the Covid virus had been detected. The United States did nothing even though 120 other countries had already acted.”
The governor then vowed: “We will legalize the recreational use of cannabis, joining 15 other states that have already done so. This will raise revenue and [stop] the criminalization of this product which has left so many communities of color over-policed and over-incarcerated.”
He also promised “state-sponsored mobile sports betting to raise additional funding. We are a fiscally responsible state. We only ask for an equitable partnership from Washington.”
Cuomo ended with a parting shot at the current federal administration and a resounding elbow bump to his fellow citizens: “Over the last year, when forces were trying to convince this country that the strongest four-letter word is hate, New York showed that the strongest four-letter word is love, and that love wins every time. There is an indomitable power in our New York credo. The strength of one people, black, white, brown, Asian, upstate, downstate, straight and gay, all pulling in one direction is unbeatable, undeniable, and undebatable. We say it in our state seal in just three simple and beautiful words, E Pluribus Unum, out of many one. And we know the direction we are all headed. We are all headed up. … New York State is the state of aspiration and excellence, that is New York’s legacy. That’s what made us the progressive capital of the nation. We have done this throughout our history. We did it last year when times were tough, and we will do it again this year, and New York will lead the way. Thank you, and God bless you.”