Back in 2002, Andrew Cuomo ran for governor in the only unsuccessful political campaign of his career so far. Before dropping out, he criticized then-Governor George Pataki’s handling of 9-11. “There was a leader in 9/11,” Cuomo said, “It was Rudy Giuliani. George Pataki stood behind the leader; he held the leader’s coat.”
In this current crisis, Governor Cuomo is standing behind nobody. Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio at times seems less useful than a coat-rack.
As has been widely noted, Cuomo thrives in a crisis. A former tow-truck operator, he regularly personally supervises the clearing of upstate highways during blizzards, for example. Reclusive much of the time, when things are at their worst, he makes himself more visible to New Yorkers.
Meanwhile, de Blasio has reportedly clashed with his Department of Health staff, dragged his heels on responding quickly to the crisis, privately threatened library cuts when the libraries contemplated closing without his say-so, and infamously went to the Park Slope YMCA to work out amid the outbreak. (De Blasio seems to love the Park Slope Y so far beyond rational understanding that I think when he’s done as mayor in 2022 he should take a job there.)
Of course, this outbreak is a different sort of crisis than 9-11, so it’s easier for Cuomo to demand control than it was for Pataki. The damage of 9-11 was confined to a few locations in New York, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Coronavirus is not just across the state — with an initial cluster concentrated in Westchester County — but it is global. Most importantly, New York City had the support of the federal government during 9-11, whereas now we assuredly do not.
De Blasio has been disappointing but Trump has been a disaster. He presides over the worst failure of the federal government to protect its citizens in any of our lifetimes. He fired the pandemic response team at the National Security Council two years ago and he is continuing to deny reality and play racist politics as you read these words.
History will judge him poorly, but time also gives us perspective on past crises. I don’t believe Giuliani was a hero of 9-11. He was out on the streets of this city only because his command bunker ultimately collapsed. Rudy’s the only person in history to insist on putting a command bunker 140 feet in the sky. Firefighters in the towers were unable to hear the evacuation order because of faulty new radios, caused by a multi-billion dollar contract with Nextel that Giuliani insisted on.
So it’s not enough to be out in front during a crisis. Politicians ought to be held responsible for the planning failures that cause the crisis.
Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter at @NickRizzo.