New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing a challenge to his use of emergency powers in the Empire State from a somewhat unlikely source. This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined several progressive state lawmakers to call for Cuomo’s nearly unchecked power to be reigned in. On Wednesday, Hizzoner said, “It’s time to go back to the normal way of governing things. We’ve learned over a year how to address the pandemic.”
Republican lawmakers in deep-blue New York have been calling to rescind Emperor Cuomo’s powers for months now. But now that progressives are joining that fight, the people of New York can have some hope that they might soon stop living under a dictatorship. If that sounds like an exaggeration, the governor has signed 65 executive orders and suspended 250 laws in just the first six months, according to a Democratic state lawmaker.
During this time, he has had almost total control of the state’s COVID-19 response as well. He started it off by sending coronavirus patients to nursing homes, which led to thousands of deaths. Then he spent months instituting back-and-forth rules for restaurants and bars that left owners’ heads spinning, and many spots closed down forever. For good measure, he botched the vaccine rollout in ways that allowed many doses to simply go bad because of his byzantine distribution structure.
All of this speaks to why Americans prefer a system of checks and balances in government to dictatorial rule. Many of these decisions and others could have turned out much better with more deliberative bodies weighing in than simply Cuomo’s staff. It is also worth noting that almost all of Cuomo’s decisions led to him gaining more power, and at no point has he seemed particularly interested in giving any power back. Now it should be taken back.
Right-minded Democrats should join with Republicans in the state legislature to revoke these emergency powers. The fact is that local officials and state legislators are far closer to their constituents than a lone figure in Albany, and they are also far more attuned to the specific needs of their communities. It is pretty easy to get your state representative or city councilman on the phone. Try getting Cuomo on the phone.
Going forward, we need to learn an important lesson about emergency powers. We must keep them as limited as possible. Did it make sense to have all decisions coming from a central source in the first few weeks of the virus when it was slamming New York? Maybe. But 11 months later? The legislature could have revoked these powers at any time, but instead of that, we should have a system where emergency powers must be actively renewed every couple of weeks. Force the governor to make the case for why he still needs them.
This is a problem that extends far beyond New York. In places all over the country, the normal political and legislative practices have been suspended for almost a year. This means issues such as homelessness, crime, police brutality, housing, and dozens of others go unaddressed as the autocrat fixates on the emergency. The country needs to get back to being the democratic republic it was intended to be.
Perhaps the most amazing thing Cuomo has done this past year is to make de Blasio seem almost competent, and believe me, that’s quite a trick. Now their famous feuding could actually help the people of New York if Blas is successful in marshaling support to strip the crown from Cuomo. There is probably no other single action that could bring as much needed relief to New Yorkers in such quick order.
Honestly, this might be good too for Cuomo, whose popularity has dropped as more is revealed about his horrid handling of the virus. Handing power back to those lawmakers for whom it is intended would go a long way to showing the governor is concerned about the voters, not just himself.
Hopefully, this will never happen again. Hopefully, no state will be ruled kinglike for so long with such devastating effects. But for now, it isn’t quite over yet. It needs to be. It’s time to give New Yorkers back the government they actually voted for.
David Marcus is the Federalist’s New York Correspondent. Follow him on Twitter, @BlueBoxDave.