What We Need Now: A Governor of New York

By Jamie Stiehm

April 8, 2020 5 min read

When the nation plunged deep into despair and crisis, the governor of New York rose out of ashes and gave the American people a reason to hope for the future.

Something in the man's distinctive voice, not just words he spoke, consoled to the core. He gave no false comfort. Looking hard times in the face, he discussed ways to conquer them: strategies, numbers and facts that somehow strengthened us. He seemed to speak straight to you.

You know who. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is an Easter sunrise to a country missing spring things.

The grave pandemic upon us is killing private dreams, shared spaces and public rituals, at least for now. We're held captive to the coronavirus and the president's poor preparedness with hacks and quacks. The best of New York, Cuomo, upstaged the worst, President Donald Trump, showing what commanding leadership looks like.

By contrast, Cuomo emerged as true presidential timber, the right man for right now. And, in good news, he's only 62. Aged Joe Biden, 77, is sidelined and silent in times that try our souls — robbing bank accounts and jobs by the millions.

Yesterday's man should step down and clear the way for tomorrow's (not Sen. Bernie Sanders) amid failures of epic proportions — medical and political. That would be a public service full of grace.

There's presidential precedent for this. Indeed, Cuomo evokes a grand ghost, singing of happier days: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once Democratic governor of New York. In the Depression's darkest days, the governor was elected president in 1932.

I love when history rhymes.

Flying in the eye of a storm's pain, panic and suffering, Cuomo wins hungry hearts and minds, crossing borders in conversational daily briefings. Now is not the time to play Frisbee with your friends, he says. The New York Times calls him a "touchstone."

Cuomo is building field hospitals in Central Park and a cathedral. He summoned a Navy medical ship sailing in by the Statue of Liberty. He respects the ravaging respiratory disease. In sardonic style, he asked if the federal government wants a "pat on the back" for shipping some ventilators.

About 5,000 New Yorkers statewide died from COVID-19. The case count is more than 120,000.

We believe Cuomo when he predicts "a possible (curve) flattening." We believe good news because he levels with bad news. We can handle the truth. "We get reckless, you will see these numbers go up again," he warned.

Sunny and smart about human nature, Roosevelt defeated sitting Republican Herbert Hoover in the Depression's depths. He promised a "new deal for the American people" in his convention speech. A Harvard man, but not a snob.

Roosevelt knew families were fearful. So, he spoke straight on radio "Fireside Chats" to the widowed nurse, the coal miner, the Pullman train car porter — a friend to all except elite Wall Street.

FDR, as he was known, cheerfully told a crowd, "I welcome their hatred."

Roosevelt and Cuomo share a rare readiness for government solutions to a massive wave of emergencies. As governor, Roosevelt started employment programs to revive the economy. Cuomo became an overnight expert on mass mobilization for a pandemic. Initiative is key.

"Bold, persistent experimentation": FDR's motto for creating New Deal work programs could be Cuomo's. They knew can-do optimism is contagious, too.

Here's how American governing genius works. Cuomo and Roosevelt grasp the federal government was framed to unite the states. To bind them together as one, not only in war but also in peace, life and laws. Washington is not "back-up," as Trump claims, but headquarters.

Several governors plead for national help to play its proper role, Cuomo leading the chorus. Under the Constitution, the federal government matters more than any state — more than the sum of the states' powers. The federal government is the sun, while the states are like planets around it.

A pleasing parallel between the pair of governors: They're thoroughbreds.

Franklin learned politics from a famous relative, Teddy Roosevelt. The president gave away the bride at Franklin's wedding to cousin Eleanor. Cuomo, a father of three daughters, banters with sick brother Chris, a CNN anchor. COVID-19 has hit home, yet real kitchen table talk comes through.

Andrew emulates his late father Mario Cuomo, an eloquent governor — of New York, of course. What an arc.

Jamie Stiehm can be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.

Photo credit: Free-Photos at Pixabay

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