The continuing saga of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Empire State took a strange new twist this week during a press conference about the virus and the state’s plans to deal with the recent spike in cases. After berating a Wall Street Journal reporter over a simple question about whether New York City’s schools were going to close, Cuomo appeared to be saying that schools would remain open for the time being. He was proven wrong moments later by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during the mayor’s own press conference where he declared that the city’s schools would, in fact, be closing on Thursday.
The governor’s defensiveness and bungling of the reporter’s question once again raised concerns about his competence in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, which, among other missteps, has included directives to send recovering COVID-positive patients into nursing homes, where they spread the disease and allegedly contributed to thousands of deaths among what has to be the most susceptible segment of the population.
In Wednesday’s news conference, the back-and-forth with Jimmy Vielkind of the Wall Street Journal escalated quickly, after the reporter’s first question mentioned that there was still confusion over whether schools in NYC would be open or closed on Thursday.
“So what’s going on?” Vielkind asked after the governor’s opening remarks. “Does the city still have the ability to close its schools? Are you now taking control and saying that you have the power to make this decision? And for the millions of parents who want to know, are the schools gonna open tomorrow in New York City?”
“Let’s try not to be obnoxious and offensive in your tone,” Cuomo shot back, adding that the reporter was “100% wrong.”
I’m confused, and I think parents are still confused as well,” Vielkind said.
“No, they’re not confused. You’re confused,” the governor responded, almost shouting the words, adding, “Read the law and you won’t be confused.” The bizarre exchange left other reporters scratching their heads. Eliza Shapiro, an education reporter for The New York Times, tweeted at the time: “Ok state of things: Cuomo is screaming at @JimmyVielkind because he asked whether NYC schools are open tomorrow. We have NO IDEA whether schools are open tomorrow.”
Was Cuomo himself confused, or did he simply not know the answer to the question? In either case, the man who wrote a “leadership” book on how well he has handled the COVID emergency in New York set himself up for the embarrassment of what happened next. A short while after the governor’s press conference, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held his own press conference, where he announced that NYC schools would be closed beginning on Thursday.
The last-minute decision and announcement left parents little time to prepare to have their students at home the next day. In the end, neither politician emerged from the issue unscathed. Twitter lit up with criticisms of both men, including from Gabriel Snyder of the Columbia Journalism Review, who tweeted, “A total vacuum of leadership. There were a bunch of ways this could have been handled. But Cuomo, De Blasio, and the DOE decided to not make any decisions and left individual schools and parents to figure it out. Shameful.”
You can’t really argue with that.
Screenshot from The Hill