Advance Media New York
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is doing himself no favors by invoking comparisons to the way he responded to COVID-19. Cuomo’s pandemic baggage weighs down everything that comes after, including a gun violence initiative that actually might do some good.
On July 6, after 51 people were wounded or killed over the July 4 holiday weekend, including five in Syracuse, Cuomo declared a “gun violence disaster emergency” and announced the state would take a public health approach to stopping the violence.
The declaration unlocked $138 million in already budgeted state funding for summer jobs and anti-violence programming. Some of that money has already started flowing.
The order also directs the state to collect gun violence data from local police departments, creates an agency within the Department of Health to coordinate an “all of government” effort and direct resources to gun violence “hot spots,” and directs State Police to stop the flow of illegal guns into New York.
“This is life and death, like COVID,” Cuomo said Wednesday in Brooklyn, where he announced a job training program. “This is an epidemic, like COVID. This does deserve a concerted, direct effort, like COVID, and that’s why you see the state here on the ground.”
Adopting some aspects of the pandemic response to quell violence makes sense — such as collecting and using real-time data to target resources, flooding trouble spots with money and attention, and signaling urgency to the public.
Is gun violence really a “disaster emergency”? Maybe not for everybody — but if it’s your city, your neighborhood and your family in the crossfire, it’s an emergency for you.
Cuomo’s supporters — and that includes public officials who criticized him after sexual harassment allegations surfaced — welcomed the attention and the money. The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board pronounced Cuomo’s aggressive tactics as “the kind of ‘the buck stops here’ leadership on the gun violence issue that’s needed in Chicago.”
The governor’s political adversaries see it differently: as another executive power grab replacing the COVID powers he relinquished; as a tacit admission that recently enacted criminal justice reforms went too far; as a distraction from the many scandals dogging Cuomo.
Is this gun violence effort just more Albany window-dressing? We’ll wait to see if these initiatives have any impact here and around the state. Let’s agree that the recent outburst of violent crime is more complicated than any of Cuomo’s detractors acknowledge, and that there is no easy fix.
Nevertheless, Cuomo’s never-ending victory lap on COVID leaves a sour taste.
More than 43,000 New Yorkers (and perhaps as many as 54,000) dead of COVID is hardly worth bragging about. Neither are the scandals emanating from the governor’s pandemic response, from the hidden toll of nursing home deaths, to preferential testing for family and friends, to a $5 million payday from a COVID leadership memoir.
With all that baggage, it’s hard to take Cuomo seriously — and hard not to be cynical — when he compares COVID to anything. That’s a cross the governor will have to bear for the rest of his time in office. Enough with words. Let’s see results.