Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new book was released Tuesday, and it simultaneously serves as a definitive chronicle of decisions made by officials in New York to address the COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp rebuke to the federal government’s perceived failure to act.
Cuomo’s noted, more than once, that the book is not a signal that the pandemic is over, but a retelling of the height of the crisis in New York, where the virus has killed more than 33,000.
The book, titled "American Crisis," is Cuomo’s attempt to convince readers that New York formed a competent response to the pandemic, while characterizing President Donald Trump and his administration as careless and dismissive to the virus.
“Trump did more to hurt us than to help us,” Cuomo writes. “Anytime there was a function that needed to be performed by government, Trump instinctively withdrew.
“He had no knowledge of what government could or could not do. Trump’s instinct was also to avoid liability by refusing to be responsible for any quantifiable or specific task.”
Cuomo also claims in the book that Trump tried to convince the governor to publicly praise the federal government’s support for New York at times.
On one occasion, Cuomo writes, Trump asked the governor to join him for a public briefing with the press after a meeting in the White House over federal support for diagnostic testing. Cuomo declined, and writes that he was worried his appearance would be used in a campaign ad.
He also writes of a perceived miscommunication between the state and the Trump administration, which at one time had agreed to waive New York’s cost toward federal emergency relief funds. That didn’t end up happening, Cuomo writes.
“To this day, FEMA has refused to grant a waiver that the president agreed to,” he writes. “How do I explain it? I can’t.”
Cuomo also addresses some of the criticism he’s received for the state’s response to the pandemic, namely surrounding nursing homes. More than 6,000 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed in those facilities.
Some have claimed that an order from Cuomo in late March is partly to blame for the death count. The order prevented nursing homes from denying patients entry who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus, as long as they had the resources to care for them.
Critics of the governor have said that decision allowed the virus to spread through nursing homes more easily, while the state Department of Health has said asymptomatic staff and visitors are to blame for the high number of deaths at those facilities.
Cuomo, in the book, blames the disagreement on politics. But he also admits that, because the facts surrounding the virus were unknown early on, the state didn’t know what steps to take in March to prevent the spread in nursing homes.
“Wisdom comes back to the same point: We control what we can, but we must accept that we cannot control everything,” Cuomo writes.
The book also serves as a look into Cuomo’s personal life, both during and before the pandemic. He writes about a COVID-19 scare among his three daughters, one of which had come into contact with someone who tested positive. She ended up testing negative.
He also writes about his time before taking public office, and how his life was shaped by his family and the several high-profile losses he’s experienced over the years.
“Sometimes life brings you to a point where you either give up or push harder,” Cuomo writes. “My divorce, political loss, and public humiliation did that to me. It was terrible, and it all happened at once.
“It wasn’t just my perception; objectively, it was a very bad time for me.”
He was referring to nearly two decades ago, when he unsuccessfully ran for governor against then-Gov. George Pataki. At the same time, he was going through a divorce with Kerry Kennedy, the mother of his three children.
Parts of the book portray Cuomo’s vulnerability — both emotionally, and physically. He writes that, on at least two occasions, someone he’d spent time with had tested positive for the virus.
But he also writes about how he dealt with the pandemic on a personal level, including the toll it took on his mental health. At one point in early April, near the peak of the virus, he recounts a morning he woke up particularly tired.
“I went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and saw my father’s face, the face of lines and crevices,” Cuomo writes. “Some call it character, but to me it just looked like old age.
“Some days I was just exhausted. I tried to keep my tone factual and calm. Other days I just didn’t have the strength to control my emotions, and they were apparent. Some days I was so exhausted that I was in a daze.”
Dan Clark is the host and producer of New York Now.