Comedian and native New Yorker Billy Crystal recently sat down—virtually—with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss the latter’s new book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In his introduction to the conversation, sponsored by 92Y, Crystal said Cuomo throughout his career has “made a priority of focusing on the least, the las and the lost, which would explain why he is a Mets fan.”
Cuomo said the book ”wrote itself because I’m thinking about it all the time. I did daily briefings. For me it was vital because we’re at half-time in the game. We have to go out there and play, we have a whole second half. You better learn the lessons from the first half if you think you have a shot to win in the second half.”
Speaking shortly before the Presidential election, Cuomo said he knew the Trump administration wasn’t ready to deal with the pandemic, nor did he think New York was psychologically.
“I had a bad feeling from the get go that this was going to be a real problem. . . , when the first case happened, (that) this was going to be the beginning of a journey we had never taken before,” he said.
Asked about his daily briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic—which have been aired on TV and viewed by Americans nationwide, not just New Yorkers—he said, “I never intended to do it every day. It almost became essential that I do it because people were saying, ‘I need to know what the heck was going on.’
“I was most afraid of panic. What you can’t deal with is panic among people. . .I was just 100% honest and authentic. I had no script, no preparation. I just spoke from the heart, literally.”
He said that Trump, on the other hand, panicked and deceived. He felt “the economy was going to reelect him, this (the pandemic) will be inconvenient for the economy.”
The administration’s logic, he charged, was “either shut down the economy or let the virus run its course. They were just wrong.”
“There was no reason” for the spread of the pandemic,” Cuosmo added, charging it has occurred because of “denial and incompetence. We have had 20 years of warnings . . .MERS and SARS, before COVID. They’re all coronaviruses.”
Cuomo said he still is “not over” the loss of his father, the late Mario Cuomo, who preceded his son as the Governor of New York and delivered a now legendary speech, “A Tale of Two Cities,” at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.
“He was my best friend, he was my hero. He was the guy to go to. I believe his spirit lives in one form or other. I needed someone to go to. So I went to my dad. I would have conversations with him” about the pandemic.
Battling it, Cuomo said he felt his father’s presence “more than I had felt it in years. I felt the legacy of him. In a strong way it really did give me a sense of support and comfort all through this.”
Despite his, the nation’s and the world’s current challenges, Cuomo predicted, “We will endure and we’ll be better for it. We have to resolve the division that made us immune to the virus, the cynicism, the hate, the anger. We became a place that feared differences, except we are a place founded on differences. That’s the illness we have to solve.”