How’s he doing? Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that is. Pretty well, thank you very kindly.
For sure, the crisis is far from over. And much work lies ahead. But this fairly can be said of the governor and the coronavirus: So far, he has been up to the challenge.
Calm, informative, reassuring and subtly authoritarian when called for, Cuomo moved early to establish legal groundwork for the wide-ranging prophylactic measures that now restrict most New Yorkers to their homes, save for essential activities.
A series of gubernatorial orders have postponed elections; shut down bars, bowling alleys, ballparks and Broadway; and closed restaurants, libraries, barbershops and beauty parlors. Scarcely a hint of normalcy remains — and even more sweeping restrictions are being held in reserve.
Not a moment too soon, or so it seems. Or maybe not soon enough. Or perhaps it has been too much. Who knows? We are all in the wilderness now — without a map, compass or crystal ball.
These are the moments when reasoned guidance and firm direction matter most — think Rudy Giuliani after 9/11, or Mike Bloomberg during the two deep fiscal crises that marked his tenure. Not every elected leader can be Winston Churchill or FDR in wartime, but sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.
And Cuomo has been better than good enough. Much better. Certainly, the stark contrast with Mayor Bill de Blasio is instructive. Erratic, irresolute and radiating barely suppressed panic, when the mayor’s own Rudy-after-9/11 moment arrived, he went to the gym. So enough about him.
Now New York is in lockdown, a ludicrous notion a month ago but an astonishing reality today. Events cascade by too quickly to be catalogued, let alone understood, and the only truly relevant question is this: What next for New York?
Not just New York, of course. But America’s challenges — indeed, the world’s — aren’t dissimilar, and the need for confident, muscular and insightful leadership is universally urgent. So think Gotham as microcosm.
Certainly the virus remains in charge right now. The numbers are daunting, and rising, and the potential threat to the hospitals, and health-care systems in general, is obvious — and, yes, existential.
Yet there also is reason to believe that the rising numbers are artifacts of more robust testing; it’s not at all clear how widespread the outbreak really is, which bears on mortality rates, and the end of flu season is arriving.
So while everything could go south in a moment, it probably won’t. If not, grim days lie ahead anyway, along with Cuomo’s most grueling test.
It doesn’t detract a molecule from the governor’s performance to date to note that it’s easy to take a watch apart; this he has done masterfully. It’s putting it back together that will be hard.
Even should the crisis pass tomorrow, the damage done to the systems that make New York hum will linger for a very long time. Indeed, just determining when the danger actually has passed, then finding the courage to say so out loud, will be daunting. There is no wise guidance in polls right now.
The public-school year is over, that much is clear. The courts are in disarray. Who knows what mass transit will look like when this is over?
The skilled workers that hold New York’s leisure, entertainment and tourism industries together are scattering. Health-care funding, another economic mainstay, is in free fall. No one knows where Wall Street will wind up, and the city’s tax-critical commercial real-estate industry was already under siege when the Wuhan flu showed up.
In short, New York’s private economy is cratering. And this will mean starvation rations for state and local governments, school districts, tax-dollar-dependent not-for-profit social-services agencies and public unions — all grown fat and lazy during one of the longest-lived economic expansions in New York’s history.
Not since Mayor Ed Koch and Gov. Hugh Carey teamed up to tease New York out of the fiscal crises of the mid-1970s has there been a governmental earthquake of this magnitude. And probably not even then.
But Cuomo largely is on his own. That’s because of de Blasio’s infuriating sloth, but also because of the governor’s well-established, equally exasperating inability to cooperate with others. It’s going to take a team to make a rescue work — and this could be the heaviest lift of all for New York’s foremost first responder.
But that’s down the road, with just how far to be determined by circumstances — and the coronavirus.
Today, Cuomo can take a bow. He’s earned it.
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