Governor Andrew Cuomo ended his daily press conferences this week with a graceful thank-you to the journalists who covered those conferences each day. When he thanked those reporters, he didn’t know it, but I took that personally. And I appreciated it.
I wasn’t ever in Albany, or New York City, or anywhere he was, and my audience was small. But I covered those press conferences every day from my kitchen in Delaware County, writing up what he said each day for a little newspaper here.
My feelings about Andrew Cuomo evolved over time. I knew, as a former state communications officer, that he keeps close control of everything that goes in and out of his office. I believed he was a capable, intelligent guy. But I can’t say I liked him when those press conferences began.
But I got to know him, day after day, as we all did. I was happily surprised to find that he’s an excellent communicator, and I admired his willingness to make unpopular decisions and stand firm, inviting critics to blame him but not giving ground. It was a refreshing change from what’s coming out of Washington these days.
After a few weeks, the governor revealed himself to anyone who watched him regularly. He was sometimes abrupt. He could be cranky. He was funny, He could be defensive, and sometimes he was plain wrong. But he was willing to make changes when he was wrong, even if he didn’t care to admit the mistakes, and he was always, always, fiercely proud of his state and its people.
When he said he had sleepless nights over the number of Covid deaths in New York, I believed him. The fatigue, the worry, began to show. And I felt for him.
New York’s steadily declining virus numbers are, in my opinion, due to the leadership of the man that many people in this state hate. Was this crisis handled perfectly? Probably not. Was it handled well? Were lives saved? Yes, and yes. I believe he did that.
Cuomo credited reporters’ questions with helping better inform the public, and making compliance with state efforts to shut down the virus more likely. He admitted he might not have liked the questions, but he acknowledged their value. He pointed out the importance of a free media.
I want to return the compliment.
There is no way to calculate the value of a political leader willing to set aside his ambition to meet a public-health emergency, listen to the experts, and do what must be done to protect the people he represents. I’m not interested in whether you like him, whether you want to poke holes in him, or point out his past and likely future mistakes.
In this emergency, you wouldn’t have done it better.
Thank you, governor. You did well.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.