To the editor,
In response to Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay’s proposed legislation covered in the May 28 edition of The Palladium-Times: Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been for months the main source of daily, front-line information to Americans facing their newest medical foe, COVID-19. His daily presentations have been informative, detailed, and to the point. Not only has a national audience received excellent information from a knowledgeable, well-spoken, informed, highly intelligent source, but also that audience has learned how fortunate are the citizens of New York and those citizens of neighboring states.
Cuomo also had to make difficult decisions about how to minimize the spread and effect of this deadly virus upon unprotected populations within and outside of New York. Characteristically, top governmental administrators (presidents, county executives, mayors, etc.) have much extraordinary authority, documented in charters, or like documents, that allow the leader to make legal, though perhaps surprising, decisions during emergencies.
In the case of fighting this new coronavirus, Cuomo introduced several prohibitions, requirements and schedules during the early days of this world-wide pandemic. The daily number of deaths in New York was 800 per day in the early period of this pandemic; COVID-19 deaths in New York have subsided to about 50 per day. The goal, of course, is to get to zero. That most likely will require a successful vaccine.
Barclay’s announcement postured that the “time has come to curtail the governor’s expanded powers (and) increase local authority during future emergencies.” The operative word here is emergencies, and subject to a variety of interpretations largely dependent upon the type, severity and duration of the emergency. The current emergency is a massive pandemic, commonly is spread by droplets of mucus or saliva that emanate from people through normal activities of breathing, coughing, spitting, sneezing, shaking hands, etc. It first appeared in China, later in Europe, and then in the United States. The first New York appearance of COVID-19 was transported by air travelers from Europe, according to Cuomo’s office. The first COVID-19 death in New York was on March 11, 2020. In a matter weeks, the virus spread to tens of thousands of residents of New York City and surrounding areas.
New York has control of its battle with COVID-19. That control was earned by cooperative efforts based upon medical and technical experience of highly effective advisors and leadership abilities of Cuomo. His approach was to assemble a group of experts, evaluate the challenge facing the people of New York, develop a plan to confront that challenge, inform the people of that plan and ask for their support.
Cuomo has made some very difficult decisions regarding his approach to this challenge. People had to be convinced that their behavior would play a very strong role. People’s behavior had to be directed toward new, temporary modes of activity that called for more self-control. Large gatherings of people in close quarters were prohibited. Numerous events were (and will be) cancelled, and more. The battle is not over, however. COVID-19 disease is on the rise in 15 states and Puerto Rico.
Most of the matters described above were attacking COVID-19 from an executive platform, and did not require legislative approval. Of course, legislative leaders like to get press time and recognition on occasion as well. So, it is not surprising that an Assemblyman might also seek some press time. So why not raise a question about legislative authority in such a newsworthy matter? Why not posit a legislative right to review and/or control executive actions during emergencies? The answer is simple: what Barclay proposing is near impossible. A bill from a minority party member that would propose to control the actions of the leader of the majority party who is that party’s governor is not realistic.