Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on The Roundtable with Alan Chartock on WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
A rush transcript of the Governor's interview is available below:
Joe Donahue: Welcome back to the Roundtable and we welcome the Governor of New York State Andrew Cuomo speaking with WAMC's Alan Chartock. Good morning.
Alan Chartock: Good morning, Governor.
Governor Cuomo: Alan, why doesn't he call you Dr. Alan Chartock anymore? You must have talked to him.
Alan Chartock: He knows better.
Governor Cuomo: He used to Dr. Alan Chartock, what happened?
Alan Chartock: He's not teasing me like somebody else I know. So listen, Governor, the state budget is due April 1st. So, without getting too far into the weeds or going too long on the subject, how's it going?
Governor Cuomo: It's going choppy. The ocean is choppy. There's a big differential in the numbers, first of all, and that's aggravated by a situation where I'm worried about the numbers, Alan. The economy is slowing down, our revenues have dropped $2.3 billion, I understand it's a legislature that is new and wants to do a lot of good things, we all do. But, fiscal responsibility is important. Numbers are a fundamental problem.
Alan Chartock: But I thought the Comptroller gave you a number?
Governor Cuomo: Yes, but their one-house budgets have exceeded that number. Now the Assembly calls for new taxes, which neither the Senate nor I would accept. And the Senate just did some re-estimate that magically came up with $3 million more, but it's still within the 2 percent spending cap. So, you know, the one-house budgets, I think it's fair to say and I've said in the past, don't have the most financial rigor applied. They're more political priority statements. So the numbers are a problem. Second, there are some issues that are threshold issues to me - criminal justice reform...
Alan Chartock: What does that mean? What does criminal justice reform mean in your budget?
Governor Cuomo: Criminal justice reform means we've been talking about the unfairness of the criminal justice system when it is based on cash bail. Which means if you can make bail, you go home and see mom and dad. If you don't have the income or you don't have the wealth to make cash bail, then you sit in Rikers Island for two to three years at times before you even see a judge. That's our criminal justice system, and Rikers Island is one of the worst jails, it is the worst jail in the state, it's one of the worst jails in the country. And I've said to my friends in the legislature for years - A, we should close down Rikers Island and force a closing down of Rikers Island, which has been a scandal that is allowed to exist in the most progressive city in the country, rhetorically. And then cash bail has to end. It was the Republican Senate who wouldn't do it, but now we don't have that obstacle anymore so we have to get that done. What's called the permanent property tax cap, at 2 percent, a middle class tax cut and campaign finance reform. These things we have to get done, as well as MTA reform.
Alan Chartock: So campaign finance reform --
Governor Cuomo: Otherwise you can't say to the people we have a real budget.
Alan Chartock: I would hate to interrupt you sir, and I hope you don't
Governor Cuomo: No sir. You're better because I talk all the time, so if you don't interrupt I just keep going.
Alan Chartock: So here's my question, my question is this: cash bail reform is interesting, but you know politicians and what will happen is somebody who is let out with no cash bail will commit a heinous crime and then you'll all be held responsible, right?
Governor Cuomo: Yes, that's a political downside. And we have to be able to say, "Well, just because you don't have cash doesn't mean you can't have a bail system where an intelligent decision is made as to whether or not to release the individual." But that is a political fear, yes, that somebody, which happens now, by the way. People are out on bail now and they get into trouble. But you're right, politically the reforms would be blamed.
Alan Chartock: I hate to stop this very interesting discussion on the state budget, but I want to go to the shooting in New Zealand and the shooting that we're hearing about in the Netherlands right now, Utrecht. Is there anything that crosses your mind that we should be saying or doing?
Governor Cuomo: Well, unfortunately it's another scar on the soul of this, of the people of this planet. It's another affirmation of the fear and anxiety people feel that our divisions are overwhelming us, and hate is overwhelming us. On a parochial level, we had increased police presence after New Zealand. Now with the Netherlands this morning we're going to continue the police presence, Alan. But, and they had the President's response, which people seemed outraged, except it was predictable. This is a man who fans the flames of division.
Alan Chartock: No question.
Governor Cuomo: He is the divide and conquer president, he thinks it's novel, it's not. He's a marketing man. We know him from New York. That's what he is, he's a marketer. And he instinctively felt the tensions in society which happen to be stronger now than almost any other time. And there have always been two tensions. There's been an economic tension that has come up from time to time and been politically exploited—economic populism. And there's a cultural tensions—racial tension, religious tension, gender tension—that has popped up from time to time and that has been exploited politically. Right now, Alan, we have both. We have an economic tension and a cultural tension and he is exploiting both. And it's one of the rare times where you've had such strong tensions on the two different fronts. Normally they appear one at a time and the emotion, the passion, the fear—we're in a political reptilian brain. It's fight or flight. We're hyper defensive, we're hyper aggressive, hyper emotional. We've lost what Jefferson always talked about—the logic and the reason that would talk through the passions. And he does it, the president does it consistently. I think it's instinctively. And it will continue until you have a different voice and a different moral compass in the White House.
Alan Chartock: Let's talk about that moral compass for a moment. There are those people who think there have been subconscious and others who have said his lack of responsibility when he says something like that points to a kind of a mental illness. What do you think?
Governor Cuomo: I don't know. It's not my profession. But I know he is instinctive, he is emotional, he is divisive, hyperbolic. The truth doesn't get in his way and when you put him with the condition of the times, which is this economic anxiety, economic populism, and this cultural anxiety, cultural populism. "It's not my country anymore. There are so many immigrants. I'm afraid." That's the trifecta that we now have going on and it's poisonous and it's dangerous and you see it all over. On both sides, by the way. Because the political reptilian response chastens the good voices that would normally stand up. You've had on the Democratic side, voices of anti-Semitism. And I think some people were reluctant to vociferously stand up and condemn it because the whole political environment is so charged now. Whatever you say, you're going to get criticized by the other side. Say what's right and say what you believe and say the truth and damn the rest.
Alan Chartock: Can we take that as a criticism of Nancy Pelosi's leadership in the United States House of Representatives where she comes up with a watered down version of not saying what you think needs to be said?
Governor Cuomo: No, I think Speaker Pelosi, who you know I have affection for and I've known a long time and her family. She's a phenomenal leader. But when you are a Speaker, you are also a barometer for your conference. I think there are a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans, by the way, who are just politically reluctant to say anything because they have a fear of retaliation because you have these polar extremes and the best thing to do is duck and you have too much ducking going on. I think if there's any way—anyone who could have gotten there, it was Speaker Pelosi and anyone who would've gotten there was Speaker Pelosi. But I think you have Democrats who are afraid of—
Alan Chartock: But she didn't get there.
Governor Cuomo: She didn't because she couldn't. You know, you can't ask the Speaker to stand up and articulate a position that her conference is not going to support. And she did make a statement. People can say it wasn't strong enough, but look, it shouldn't have been just Speaker Pelosi and the Congress. It should have been every Democrat, you know. Everyone should have stood. Every New Yorker—for crying out loud. New Yorker—you want to tolerate anti-Semitism in New York? Where the Jewish community is such a large part of who we are and what we are and we wouldn't be without the Jewish community, I have two Jewish brothers-in-law, because there's such an interconnection and intermarriage and the community is so close. No, it was muted. It was muted because too many people feared the retaliation of this reptilian political moment, right? Lash out or run away.
Alan Chartock: So how do you assure courage? Now look, you know that I have not always agreed with you, but your greatest moment, as far as I was concerned, was on gun control. And you did the right thing and it took courage and you took a hit in some of your upstate voters, let's face it, you did. So, you're asking Democrats to do what you did and they're not. Doesn't that make them cowards?
Governor Cuomo: No, it makes them politicians. Small "p," politicians. Which is what people are disgusted with, frankly, and I don't think it works for them. My father's finest act was opposing the death penalty, I believe it. He lived with it every day.
Alan Chartock: Do you think it cost him the election?
Governor Cuomo: Yes, ultimately. The gun bill, I believe, was one of my finest acts. And I hope they mention that in the eulogy. I knew that issue backwards and forwards, I knew the retaliation, I had done it with the Clinton administration. It was one of the reasons Gore lost the election; I was doing the safe gun agreement in the middle of the Gore campaign. I knew the political cost, I did it anyway. I believe it has saved lives, I believe it has saved lives, and shown the rest of this nation what we can actually do. Marriage equality was a tough vote, still is. By the way, a woman's right to control her reproductive health, just a few weeks ago where the Catholic Church organized priests to stand up on Sunday seminars and say how reprehensible this act was. Which is just what happened after marriage equality where I went to a church with my daughters and I had to sit in the pew and hear the priest read a letter condemning me as a statement for the Catholic Church for what I did with marriage equality. Child Victims Act this year, which the Catholic Church and other religious groups are very opposed to. These are hard decisions, but you know what, Alan, you reach a point and that's why I know everything is young, young, young, young, young. You get a little gray, you get a little mileage on you, you get some wrinkles on your face, and then you look in the mirror and say, "what is it really all about? And what am I really all about?" And if it isn't taking on the tough ones then you're in the wrong business. Get out! If you're going to play it safe, get out! Go do something else.
Alan Chartock: I want to change the subject. The American Gaming Association says Americans will wage $8.5 billion on this year's March Madness men's college basketball tournament. So, should we legalize sports betting?
Governor Cuomo: We have sports betting that you can do through a casino and we are trying to support our casinos, which, you know, we did primarily upstate as an economic development vehicle. I've never been crazy about casinos, but life is options. Many upstate communities we have a prison industry or nothing. So the casinos, especially the way we did it, they are high paying jobs, they're jobs with mobility, this would help fortify the upstate casinos. I am not a fan, pardon the pun, of the new mobile sports betting. You can bet any time from your cell phone.
Alan Chartock: Well it's going to happen. And your rationale for marijuana was, "hey, they're going to do it in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey, so we better get in on it." Why not this?
Governor Cuomo: Sports betting is different. Sports betting, first of all, does not make you that much money. New Jersey has sports betting, it's on TV all the time. You can't turn on the darn TV without seeing it. They raised something like $13 million dollars - $13 million dollars is a rounding error in our state. So I don't even think the economic benefit is there.
Alan Chartock: Okay, that's a good answer. So, I see that Senator Gillibrand has entered officially into the race. This would be a great opportunity for you to endorse her.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you for that political insight. Thank you for your informed, educated decision.
Alan Chartock: Okay. And then, of course, the same thing at the same time, Beto O'Rourke is in. What do you think of him?
Governor Cuomo: I think he's tall. How tall is Beto O'Rourke?
Alan Chartock: I don't know. I always thought he was short.
Governor Cuomo: Is he? No, I thought he was tall. Maybe it's because he's always standing on the table.
Alan Chartock: You know, when you're short like me you think everybody else is short. That's the way it is.
Governor Cuomo: Look, this is a new type of presidential, right? This is one of the legacies of Trump. Anybody can run for president. It's a celebrity contest. It's a talent show. It's one of those reality TV shows, it's the Apprentice, it's sing, the best singer show. Best dancer show. So you don't really have to know how to manage anything. You don't really have to know
Alan Chartock: Like you do.
Governor Cuomo: work with the legislative body.
Alan Chartock: Like you do. You're the Governor. You know, there are those of us that really think that you've been setting yourself up, positioning yourself to run. Now I know you're a Biden fan and all the rest of it. But positioning is what I'm saying. So I think like what you just said, it doesn't take, you know, you have to have experience in doing these things, that's just another nail in the political coffin of running for President.
Governor Cuomo: Oh, well no. Because I'm saying qualifications don't matter.
Alan Chartock: No, you're not really
Governor Cuomo: Have you ever turned on and watched a cable TV show talking about qualifications or accomplishments or knowledge?
Alan Chartock: Let's go to the Boeing Max 737—what kind of plane are you flying around in these days? Is it a Boeing Max 737? No, it's not. It's a little state plane.
Governor Cuomo: I'm flying a 1960's surplus state airplane that, oh, how about this. Governor George Pataki ran against my father— "Air Cuomo". New York Post front page every day, every day, every day. Use of the state air, misuse of the State airplane. What he does is he pledges when he takes office he'll sell the State airplane. He sold the State airplane which was an old twin prop, it had about 18 seats so you would take the press with you when you went somewhere. Which did a great advantage to the press because now they're just locked in the Capital talking to themselves and the lobbyists. Pataki comes in, sells the State airplane, buys helicopters instead. And flies basically from Albany to New York City in a helicopter and you can't take any press in a helicopter. The only plane left is a surplus plane that the State got for a dollar and that's the existing State aircraft. Helicopters don't really work if you're going any distance upstate. They have a short range. So my plane is that flying death trap. Surplus State airplane, the one that's left. From Pataki, the one that I flew on as a kid with Tim Russert, and we swore that we would never get in again.
Alan Chartock: Do you think the FAA, going back to my question, acted fast in enough in grounding Boeing Max 737 fleet?
Governor Cuomo: Well, my opinion was no. I did a letter with Rick Cotton who is the head of the Port Authority which runs our airports—and we called on the FAA to ban the planes before. You know, our airports are located in very densely populated areas. And God forbid you have a problem at one of our airports, it wouldn't be just the passengers on the plane. If you had a problem in the neighborhood, the community surrounding the airport. So we came out and called for before the FAA acted.
Alan Chartock: Letitia James, your personally endorsed Attorney General, is pushing legislation to close a double jeopardy loophole that would extend to Presidential pardons. Is this a good move?
Governor Cuomo: I think it is. I think it is. I think you're in a situation now where you have a White House and an administration that is defying the rule of law. Disrespecting the Department of Justice. Has a highly politicized view of what the criminal justice system should do. So I think there should be a safeguard.
Alan Chartock: Chuck Schumer is dropping by here this morning, unlike you, he actually comes into the station. Sits across so we can watch the wrinkles in his brow and see whether or not we think he's, you know, telling the truth at all. So the question I have is what questions should I ask Chuck Schumer?
Governor Cuomo: How can you promise to get SALT repealed for the state of New York? It is the single most economic driving factor—it will change the economic trajectory of the state of New York. Why can't you get up, filibuster, lay down on the Senate floor, tell Nancy Pelosi, team up, do whatever you can to change SALT because nothing is more important. It's the first tax on tax. It kills this state.
Alan Chartock: Do you think he's not moving fast enough?
Governor Cuomo: Well, he's going to say I'm in the minority, what can I do I'm in the minority.
Alan Chartock: Well you just told him what to do. Lie down on the Senate floor.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, well that's what I would say if I were you. For a provocative, educated, informed interview. I would say can't you do one of those—lie on the floor, can't you get up and just talk forever like Al D'Amato did when he didn't like something?
Alan Chartock: But I want to quote you, don't you see? I'm going to quote you. I'm going to say, I talked to the Governor, the Governor said to me, ask him why he doesn't lie down on the Senate Floor.
Governor Cuomo: No, you asked me what should you ask him. That's, this is from your mouth. My mouth -
Alan Chartock: No I'm going to ask him, but I'm going to ask him throwing you under the bus. Don't you see?
Governor Cuomo: No, I see. Oh I know, I know how this works. But I just, for the record, my quote is I'm sure Senator Schumer is doing everything he can to repeal SALT.
Alan Chartock: That's funny. So have you talked to the Senator about this yourself?
Governor Cuomo: Oh about 57 times. I've spoken to Speaker Pelosi, I've spoken to the President. I've spoken to our Congressional delegation. I'm going to be rallying Governors across the country. Alan, if I drop dead of a heart attack this afternoon
Alan Chartock: No.
Governor Cuomo: Your column has to be please do the unfinished work, repeal SALT. There is nothing more important for the state right now.
Alan Chartock: Well Pelosi goes along, when it comes down to the negotiations, what you're really saying is she has to put that number one on the table, right?
Governor Cuomo: She has to put it number one on the table, and the Senate has to pull out all the stops. There should be no discretionary deals without SALT. It hurts New York, it hurts California. You can't pass a bill without New York and California and 15 other states. And that has to be a top priority. I don't think they feel it the same way. You know, I read the revenue numbers every week. I know what's happening with the state's economy. I get calls from businesses almost on a daily basis saying they're changing locations. I get calls from rich people saying, call me when you're in Florida. So I know how bad it is.
Alan Chartock: Well they have sun in Florida and California. They don't have that here. It's been a miserable winter. And that's frankly Governor, your fault.
Governor Cuomo: Yes. Also I went to Florida. There was sun in Florida. I had extra time after the speech before I was coming back. I sit outside, I said let me get some sun because I'm in Florida. Burned like a lobster in two and a half hours. So sun can be dangerous. There's something to be said for the cold. It preserves you up north.
Alan Chartock: I want to ask you a question. You have a problem with the President. You've made that clear. You've talked about what his downsides are. And then you have to go and ask him to build a series of tunnels under the Hudson Tunnel which we desperately need because when those things collapse there's going to be hell to pay. Don't you ever think, how can you criticize him on the one hand, and expect him to do something for you on the other.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, I think that, I think that when I'm walking into the office. And by the way, I have a problem with him. He has a problem with me. He tweets nasty things about me all the time. He tweeted nasty things about me last week saying my Attorney General is attacking him, it's why everyone is leaving New York. No everyone is leaving New York because of your tax policy Mr. President. But when I walk in to see the President, I say Mr. President I would like to talk to you about your tunnels that you own that are under the Hudson River that are very dangerous that could collapse and end your train service to the entire Northeast. It's all about you, Mr. President. This is in your best interest.
Alan Chartock: Does he care?
Governor Cuomo: He cares. I have had several conversations with the Department of Labor Secretary, sorry department of Transportation Secretary. It is intertwined with a political dispute and he's using the tunnels as legislative leverage and that's the problem. But they are federally-owned tunnels Alan. I mean my first response when they said I should help pay for the tunnels, and this is a lot of money, it's $5 billion for the State. Remember, $5 billion, that was the whole Tappan Zee bridge. That's half, that's a year of funding for the MTA. I said why should I fund the tunnels. They're not my tunnels. And by the way, they're not my trains. It's Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, coming into New York. I said, why should my people, my taxpayers, I call them my people, why should my people pay for the tunnel.
Alan Chartock: Hey I only got two and a half minutes here. I want to ask you something really quickly. According to the Siena poll, 67 to 21 percent margin New Yorkers say that Amazon canceling its second planned headquarters in Queens was bad for New York what does that say to you, that 6,721 you've got two and a half minutes.
Governor Cuomo: Nothing that I didn't know, and the Amazon situation was talked about. I stayed on it.
Alan Chartock: Will they change their mind?
Governor Cuomo: I don't think so. But I don't want the Amazon situation to metastasize to the other question in the poll which is New York is not open for business. We literally spent millions of dollars running an ad saying "New York is open for business," changing the business perception. I don't want Amazon to metastasize to a chronic anti-business mentality. That's why I've been pointing out and continue to point out, it was a mistake it was unique. It was unique the way Amazon held the competition, the local politicians did a disservice to the oath of their office. It was a mistake by the State Senate. It was a mistake the way I think Amazon left so quickly, but it was a unique situation. Don't define our status or stature toward business in that Amazon light because otherwise we have a real problem.
Alan Chartock: So has the Senate apologized to you yet, because clearly they have taken it on the chin for this.
Governor Cuomo: No they did not apologize, but I wouldn't expect an apology. Last week the Senate Leader did say I think I don't have the verbatim but basically that you would ask Amazon to reconsider.
Alan Chartock: Well that would be good.
Governor Cuomo: Yea but close the door, the horses out of the barn.
Alan Chartock: The horses out of the barn, your pretty sure of that, huh?
Governor Cuomo: Oh yeah! No it doesn't mean
Alan Chartock: You talked to Bezos?
Governor Cuomo: I get paid by the people of the State of New York to fight for them and you know where I come from and I punch until I hear the bell, and I will continue because this is devastating, not just in the Amazon 25,000 jobs, but the way it would be interpreted as more than a one-off, bizarre episode and political miscalculation. If it became a, because Amazon is a national company, international. I don't want anyone to think what Siena says that New York is not receptive to business. That's the scary question in the poll to me and that's what I have been fighting against. They all write it as you know, I bring up Amazon to annoy Senators. No! I bring up Amazon to make it clear to the world this was a one-off mistake and don't characterize us that way.
Alan Chartock: And the Hudson Yards
Governor Cuomo: It will never happen again.
Alan Chartock: And the Hudson Yards getting built with a lot more government money than Amazon, the Amazon deal for some reason that seemed to be okay?
Governor Cuomo: Oh, no! It is, because it's the reptilian response. Amazon's coming. They're a big corporation. We're against corporations. Let's go out and grab a sign. Local politicians get scared because the activists and the socialists are going to be against it, and now all the little local politicians run and they pick up a sign and they put on a t-shirt, "I'm like you, I'm like you." I'm going to get a tattoo and an earring and I'm growing a beard and I'm going to protest "I'm like you". Politicians, small "p."
Alan Chartock: When you say reptilian again and again and again, it means you really are saying they are a bunch of snakes aren't you?
Governor Cuomo: No. There just politicians, small "p." Snakes would be yes, smallest.
Alan Chartock: Or how about a larger "r" as in a reptilian. Listen I have one last question to ask you then we have to go, because were getting the signals. Okay so here's the
Governor Cuomo: Why are they saying you have to go, do you have somewhere to go? I'm just curious?
Alan Chartock: I got to go interview Chuck, Chuck Schumer.
Governor Cuomo: Oh that's right, that's right.
Alan Chartock: Remember Chuck is the, Chuck saw you on the air and then they called and said we have to come by too. And you know, you've been very helpful to be honest with you, because you know, that's what happened.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, that's what happened that's right.
Governor Cuomo: Were raising the whole profile, were going to get Trump to call next.
Alan Chartock: I don't think so.
Governor Cuomo: Just tell him what I said and he will tweet at you.
Alan Chartock: You were there when your father, you were there when your father said, your father's father, no you weren't there. Your father's father said "We're going to push her up, we're going to push up that pine tree that had fallen on the ground."
Governor Cuomo: Yes, yes.
Alan Chartock: Do you ever look at that pine tree, do you ever go by there and say, this pine tree is a testament to my father and his father?
Governor Cuomo: I go by the pine tree all the time. I have a, my grandfather was a great mason who made these little castles and little ornaments. I have one in my backyard. And I'll tell you something else, I'm sitting in my father's office now that I built for him in the mansion when he became governor. All he wanted was a small office, 10 by 15, just books and him. And for this Christmas I was given the original artwork that's on the cover of the pine tree book and I'm looking at it right now, the original artwork that became the painting that was the cover of the book.
Alan Chartock: Andrew Cuomo, Governor Andrew Cuomo. That's all the time I have for, I have to go on and do Chuck Schumer now.
Governor Cuomo: Tell Chuck Schumer I said thank you for all his work on SALT, don't forget!
Alan Chartock: Thanks a lot Governor.