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Andrew Cuomo: How the New York governor and his press conferences contrast with Trump

Starting a little before noon, and running as long as an hour, the New York governor offers something simple and, to many viewers, deeply necessary: a sense that someone is in charge, even if the news is bad — and consistently getting worse.

The pressers have turned into indelible split screen moments between Cuomo and President Donald Trump — whose own news conferences often take place during or after those in New York — unfolding in real time for those watching in New York City. For many viewers, they are a stark and jarring reminder of the broad chasm between the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and efforts at the state level, where governors like Cuomo are increasingly taking stricter action — and greater responsibility — as they seek to stabilize both health infrastructure and ward off a public panic.

New York is currently the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic with the most cases in the US and 114 people who have died from the virus. There are more than 6,000 cases in New York City alone.

On Friday, Cuomo’s newser ran about 45 minutes as he delivered a daily update and took questions from a small gathering of reporters, all seated at a safe social distance. He covered everything from how the delayed federal tax filing deadline would affect state finances, to whether massages were “essential” — they are not, he said — the governor decidedly said — and his chat with internet service providers, whom Cuomo said he asked to expand “data capacity” free of charge. After informing the public that a press officer had shown coronavirus symptoms, which touched off an internal quarantine, Cuomo stopped.

“I’m gonna go to work,” he declared, before standing up, along with his aides, and heading off.

Until tomorrow.

A stark contrast

As Cuomo was wrapping up in New York, Trump and his team were beginning their own briefing at the White House. But where Cuomo projected competence and authority, with a dash of his idiosyncratic humor, Trump was meandering. When prodded to offer some kind of empathy — Trump lashed out.

“What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?,” a reporter asked.

“I say that you are a terrible reporter, that’s what I say,” Trump replied. “I think it’s a very nasty question.”

Whether he was annoyed that the wind-up to the question included statistics on the sick and dead, or at its characterization — “scared” — of Americans, was unclear. “They’re looking for answers and they’re looking for hope,” Trump continued, as if observing from afar.

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Cuomo has been blunt and at times searching, but unerringly forthright, even with unnerving information. He has been open in seeking out the equipment desperately needed by health care providers, like face masks and ventilators. Asked on Friday if the state was headed toward a cash crunch, he answered, “Yes.” When discussing his statewide order requiring workers in nonessential businesses to stay home, Cuomo acknowledged the potential for criticism.

“If someone is unhappy, if somebody wants to blame someone, or complain about someone, blame me,” he said. “There is no one else who is responsible for this decision.”

Contrast that with Trump, a fellow Queens native who also entered his father’s line of work: a week earlier, the President faced questions at a press conference over his role in the country’s failure to produce and implement functioning coronavirus tests.

His answer: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

‘This is really what he’s built for’

The blundering and opacity in Washington has underscored some of Cuomo’s more commonly appreciated qualities, but also opened the door for the three-term governor to surprise old friends, enemies and so many others who have found themselves on both sides of the line.

“It’s pretty legendary, our fights with the governor,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “But even when we’re really, really, really mad at each other, and we have been, there’s always still a line where you can talk to each other.”

Cuomo and Weingarten go back decades. Their clashes and reconciliations have offered Weingarten a unique insight into the governor himself — how he thinks and how his actions now are being perceived by the public.

“This is really what he’s built for. He has the mind, the analytical sense and the combination of moxie and smarts and bulldoggish-ness that has made him both respected, and questioned, for all these years,” Weingarten said. “But what you’re also starting to see is great empathy and great leadership.”

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Cuomo’s crisis response has also won him praise from more unlikely corners. The feminist website Jezebel via writer Rebecca Fishbein recently asked, tongue-in-cheek, “Help, I Think I’m In Love With Andrew Cuomo???” Meanwhile, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith put a finer point on it in his piece: “

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