When the pandemic’s history is written, there will be long chapters detailing the mistakes made by leaders. Some of those, inevitably, will be Mr. Cuomo’s. But what’s notable is what he is getting right as a communicator, priority-setter, admonisher and empathetic voice of reason.
It’s a tricky balance, as is clear from the counterexamples set by President Trump above him and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio below. As Mr. Trump ducked accountability for the nation’s sluggish testing regimen — “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said — and the mayor hesitated, Mr. Cuomo leaned in to his sweeping move last Friday to shutter nonessential businesses. “There is no one else responsible for this decision,” he said flatly. Mr. Trump lashed out at a reporter who asked how he would comfort the nation. By contrast, Mr. Cuomo has invoked his 88-year-old mother by signing “Matilda’s Law,” a set of guidelines to protect New Yorkers age 70 and older; acknowledged the reality of “social trauma” and “pain of isolation”; and spoken movingly of his despair at not being able to embrace his children.
His emphasis has been on hardheaded executive action. He has ordered New York hospitals, whose capacity must nearly triple to handle the projected wave of sick people in the next few weeks, to add some 25,000 beds immediately; they need tens of thousands more. He suspended all residential and commercial evictions for 90 days. Furious at the crowds congregating in city parks last weekend, he banned all nonessential gatherings “of any size for any reason.” He demanded that doctors and nurses working for insurance companies as claim assessors be released from their day jobs to attend to the sick in hospitals.
Stylistically, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, is not so different from Mr. Trump, now a Republican. Both men, from Queens, are blunt, bullying, transactional rule-breakers who prize loyalty and punish adversaries. But governors are problem-solvers by definition: They must balance the budget; they must meet payroll. Now, as Mr. Trump dangerously flirts with a premature end to social distancing, the country may have to rely on governors such as Mr. Cuomo to keep its virus response on a rational and evidence-informed track.