Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a virtual sitdown with financier and former White House Communication Director Anthony Scaramucci for a webinar in which the governor talked about a multitude of topics from COVID-19 to President Donald Trump to the future of the Big Apple.
The webinar was part of SALT Talks. SALT Talks hosts a wide range of speakers including business leaders, policy experts and innovators. SALT (SkyBridge Alternatives) was created in 2009 by SkyBridge, a global alternative investments firm that Scaramucci co-founded.
COVID-19 IN NEW YORK
The chat kicked off with Scaramucci asking Cuomo why he felt compelled to write a book about COVID-19.
"American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic" is Cuomo's second memoir and launched with proceeds going to COVID relief. It recounts his interactions with the federal government and his response to the pandemic. Cuomo said the peak of the virus in the state was such a whirlwind that he wanted to revisit the experience and see what could have been done better by all.
"We still don’t know what the heck we are doing when it comes to COVID…This is something that we should have been able to deal with. This is government incompetence, meets denial, meets national division," Cuomo said. "The government was incompetent. I mean how can you be the United States of America and you can’t find masks and gowns and you can’t make…the nasal swabs for the COVID test? This is total government incompetence. It was a denial that the president know admits he lied about it. He just decided to tell the American people everything is fine, don’t worry about it. He was afraid that if they new the truth it would hurt the economy. It was totally implausible. It was a virus. You don’t think they are going to figure out there was a virus when they see people dying? But that was his strategy...And then it is a function of the division because we are so politicized, we are so polarized that we define ourselves by opposition. If you say wear a mask, I’m not going to wear a mask just because you said wear a mask…polarized to our own demise."
Cuomo went on to say the country "totally blew it…if you wrote a movie, people would say it was totally implausible for the United States to be so incompetent."
When Scaramucci asked the governor about the resurgence of the virus in the state, Cuomo said the infection rate is going up, but the state is taking proactive measures to manage and control its spread.
"Yes, the infection rate is going up. New York State remarkably had the highest infection rate in the United States of America we are now the third lowest," Cuomo said. "We test about 125,000 tests a day, more than any other state in the nation. We test to such a level that I can tell you what neighborhood has an outbreak….and then we focus on that area, we call it a microcluster, and we lockdown that area with restrictions, bars, restaurants, etc. but only in [that] area, so you are not affecting the economy overall, but you are controlling the virus. We are controlling the virus better than any other state."
According to Cuomo, the choice between public health and keeping the economy open was never a choice because in the end if the public doesn't feel safe, they will not partake in certain activities. The governor said it was the federal government that made public health or an open economy a "binary choice."
"It was never a binary choice. So ironically to the extent that New Yorkers feel more comfortable about the virus and they know we have a low infection rate, and they know we are smart and aggressive on it, it has actually facilitated the opening of the economy," the governor said, adding that although he might make "minor modifications" if there is an uptick of cases in a particular area, overall "the economy is open. There are some restrictions, but the restrictions are not what is stopping people -- it’s the consumer choice. People have decided what they are comfortable with and that is what they are doing and that is what they’ll continue to do."
WHAT NEW YORK, THE COUNTRY GOT WRONG WITH COVID
During their chat, Cuomo admits there are certain things about the state's response to COVID that he would change, particularly having listened to the federal government.
"What we got wrong: the virus was coming here for three months and we never knew and I was listening to the federal government and that was a mistake," he said. "We were told the spread was only if the ppl had symptoms -- when they coughed, when they sneezed, etc. -- three months later they said that was wrong. Asymptomatic spread. That was a terrible mistake because then we weren’t testing people who didn’t show symptoms and people not showing symptoms were showing up at work and showing up at nursing homes, that’s how it came into nursing homes…we were told that you can get it from a surface. Surface transmission. So I disinfected all the subways and all the buses -- never been done before. Millions of dollars. Then we’re told it is not surface transmission."
While Cuomo said there were mistakes along the way, there was room for learning and one of the things that should have been learned was that the country "has no health screenings at our airports. They stop you if you bring a bag of fruit but you can walk in with a virus and there is no screening whatsoever." This notion was agreed on by Scaramucci who said that there is this type of screenings "at other airports around the world."
"There is no testing we can have at the airport. We couldn’t even make the tests. We couldn’t make any of the medical equipment. We didn’t have any of the stockpiles. We didn’t have any staff that we could deploy. We talk homeland security. After 9/11 we put together this whole mechanism, yeah, except you have no public health national security," Cuomo said.
TRUMP IS 'UNREASONABLE ALMOST TO THE POINT OF A DISORDER'
As the conversation shifted to the federal government, Cuomo was asked what his experience was like working with President Donald Trump's administration during the spring peak of COVID in New York, which made the state the epicenter of the pandemic in this country.
Although Cuomo said there is a great polarization problem in this nation, he didn't so much have a bipartisan problem with the president, but rather him as a person. The governor went on to say he knew Trump and his family before he became president, saying that Trump even contributed to his campaign, but that since he became president Trump has moved "so far right, which he had to in the presidential, and then it is almost as if he became an apostle of it."
"I had fought with him as governor," Cuomo recalls. "We get to COVID, I call him up and I said: 'Forget all of that. It’s a new day. It’s a new moment. We have to work together. It’s a historic moment in this country. It's going to be your legacy. It’s going to be my legacy.' The problem was not politics. He is an impossible human being to deal with – and I am in the business of dealing with human beings."
To which, Scaramucci, who served less than two weeks as White House Communication Director under Trump, replied: "I didn't know that, Andrew."
The governor went on to say: "He really is impossible. Now, it’s interesting because the extreme personalities…are normally easier to deal with. A narcissist is almost the easiest to deal with...So in some ways he was easy because he is a classic narcissist. He needed to be applauded, he needed to get credit, he needed to be genuflected 'oh thank you, thank you. If it wasn’t for the president.' I did all that. But he is really unreasonable almost to the point of a disorder. And at one point he was in such a denial of the virus that we were just at loggerheads."
When asked if former vice president Joe Biden is elected president, what would he ask of him for New York, Cuomo said he would ask for COVID-19 help and an economic stimulus plan.
"I think Biden is going to be the turning point to get us to stop focusing on differences…to focus on commonality," he said.
"It’s a relationship that has to be restored and why I believe Biden is the right guy," he said of the deep division in this country. "I don’t believe Trump created the divisions. I don’t. I don’t think he’s that impactful. I think he sensed the division and then he played to the division because he is fundamentally a marketing guy. We know him from New York. He was never a business man. He was never a builder. He’s a marketer.
NEW YORK CITY'S FUTURE
With people traveling less and people working from home more, there has been a great decline in tourism and the economy, not only in New York, but across the country and world has felt the impact. However, Cuomo believes the city can make a triumphant return to its former glory, as it has done in the past.
"It will come back if we bring it back. We have gone through this before. After 9/11 nobody wanted to come back to the city because it was going to be a terrorist target," he said, adding that the city's problems, nonetheless, are more than just COVID-related.
"But it's more than just COVID. First, you have to be honest in your acknowledgement of the problem. It’s COVID and the density of this city that is scary. It's been this civil disobedience, it's homeless people on the streets, it’s a sense that crime is out of control. It’s all of that. And you have to address all of those things. I think the main factor is COVID, but we have to purposefully address all of those issues and show the city and the revitalization and the rebirth," he said.
The conversation also touched upon civil unrest, racial injustice, police brutality and how to make New Yorkers feel safe.
"Public safety is job one," Cuomo said. "You’ll have a peaceful protest and then you’ll have people come and hijack that protest and use that protest to commit crimes. Arrest them and treat them as the criminals that they are. Period. I think one of the things Trump did very well is make it sound like Democrats don’t respect law and order. You do have a nuance here. George Floyd, Eric Garner, it goes back to Rodney King. You do have unfairness towards African Americans in the criminal justice system. You do. And the George Floyd situation was horrendous and the other situations were horrendous. They have to be addressed. They are offensive to every American….we don’t kill people on the streets with four cops. We don’t do that. That has to be addressed. You can address that without saying I’m anti-law and order...One bad cop doesn’t mean all cops are bad. In this environment that nuance is hard to communicate."
CUOMO TALKS ABOUT HIS FUTURE PLANS
According to the governor, hard work will be put in toward an aggressive New York City resurgence and revitalization campaign, however, he is looking first and foremost toward an approved COVID vaccine.
"I just want to get through the announcement of the vaccine, which I think is going to be the light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "We’re then going to need a vaccine distribution plan, which this administration again, since they don’t know how to govern, they don’t know how to manage, they have no way to distribute this vaccine right now. Just to give you an idea of what this vaccine requires. We did 120 million COVID tests over the last 8 months nationwide, that’s everybody doing everything they could….We have to do 330 million vaccinations and the current vaccines require two dosages."
During COVID's peak in the Empire State around spring, there were talks of Cuomo running for president or vice president. The governor has continuously shut down those speculations and did so again when Scaramucci asked him what his future plans were.
"My plan is to do what I said to the people," Cuomo said. "You’re nothing but your word and you're nothing but your handshake. I said to the people of this state during COVID, when there was a lot of speculation that I was going to run for president, I was going to run for vice president, I was going to do this...I said, 'I have no plan, I’m going to stay here. I’m going to see us through this challenge. And that is what I'm going to do, period."