In a new book, Andrew Cuomo blames Donald Trump for thousands of deaths in New York in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, decrying “federal negligence” he says led to “the greatest failure to detect an enemy attack since Pearl Harbor”.
The governor also describes his repeated recourse to TV interviews in order to make the TV-obsessed president listen to his desperate appeals for help.
“I’m not running against you,” Cuomo says he told Trump in a call on 17 March, amid rumors his national profile, raised by the pandemic, might prompt a late run for the White House.
“I’m not running for anything,” Cuomo added. “All I care about is getting the people of New York through this crisis.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, New York accounts for 467,000 of nearly 7.5m coronavirus cases in the US, and 25,500 deaths out of around 210,000. Infection and death rates are a fraction of what they were in the spring but this week Cuomo reinstated tough lockdown measures in areas of New York City where cases are climbing steeply.
Next week, Cuomo will publish American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic, a memoir that details, day by day, how the crisis unfolded. The Guardian obtained a copy.
It seems doubtful Trump will read the book, as he recovers from contracting the virus in a White House beset by positive tests. But if he does – or if he sees Cuomo discussing it – he may return to the offensive on Twitter.
Cuomo portrays Trump and the federal government as complacent, uninterested in the plight of various states and concerned only with political gain, mostly through schemes to reopen the US economy.
The governor makes the comparison to Pearl Harbor, Japan’s surprise attack on the US fleet in Hawaii on 7 December 1941, in a chapter concerning 16 March 2020 – three days before Trump told the reporter Bob Woodward he was deliberately playing down the pandemic.
Cuomo describes what he calls Trump’s “fatally flawed” European travel ban, announced a week before. Experts agree the virus largely entered the US via Europe rather than China, where it originated. But when restrictions on entry from Europe were finally announced, Cuomo writes, at JFK and Newark airports, “thousands of travelers [shuffled] into tight waiting areas, further spreading the virus.
“To be clear, New York’s problem was caused by federal negligence. New York was ambushed by Covid. I believe that this was on a par with the greatest failure to detect an enemy attack since Pearl Harbor,” he writes.
The US death toll at Pearl Harbor was 2,403. A total of 2,977 people were killed on 11 September 2001 in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. By mid-April 2020, a month after Trump announced his European ban, in New York alone the coronavirus death toll had passed 9,000.
In his book, Cuomo also complains of Trump’s fondness for attacking his TV anchor brother Chris Cuomo as the “Fredo” of the family, a reference to the Godfather movies that the son of the former New York governor Mario Cuomo calls “one of the most painful and vicious of Italian American stereotypes”.
But Cuomo also claims to have been able to negotiate successfully with Trump, obtaining ventilators, hospital beds and more, precisely because he was not offended by the president’s attacks.
“With Trump I had no ego,” Cuomo writes, describing how he used a CNN interview to talk the president down from a threat to blockade the state, on 28 March. “His attacks don’t bother me and his praise doesn’t flatter me. The only question was how I could get him to help New York.”
Such help included docking an army hospital ship in the Hudson river and having the US army corps of engineers build a huge field hospital at a convention center.
Trump portrayed Cuomo as ungrateful, although as the worst predictions for cases and deaths failed to materialize, most such facilities were relatively little used.
Cuomo has not been universally praised for his work to combat the virus. New Yorkers are regularly exasperated by his clashes with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Questions also linger about many of Cuomo’s actions in the early days of the pandemic, prominent among them an order to send Covid patients into nursing homes rather than hospitals, which might have contributed to thousands of deaths. Cuomo’s administration has vigorously refuted such claims.
His book may be intended as a victory lap of sorts. Since it went to press, however, cases have begun to rise again.