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Cuomo’s control is still front and center

This photo taken from a Rogers SportsNet broadcast shows a cutout of Gov. Andrew Cuomo at Sahlen’s Field in Buffalo.

Behind home plate of the Toronto Blue Jays’ games at Sahlen’s Field in Buffalo sits a cardboard cutout of New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Viewers to the broadcasts cannot miss him.

Cuomo’s image is the only one decked out in a tie and sportscoat while being surrounded by other likenesses wearing blue, red and white Blue Jay jerseys. His appearance makes him look a little out of place, but Cuomo loves the spotlight.

For 100 days, New York’s top elected official gave a dose of statistics and heart-felt anecdotes that resonated with many who were homebound for a stretch of more than two months during his daily briefings that occurred during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. No matter how dark the situation, there was no doubt. Cuomo was in command.

Even some of those opposed to Cuomo’s policies and politics were impressed with his handling of the crisis. This state was ground zero from the start of the COVID-19, due in part to New York City’s population and its significance around the globe in terms of being a destination and a financial capital.

Our governor’s prominence, however, also came from having total control.

When the state Legislature expanded his emergency powers, it was both a blessing and a curse.

Once Cuomo had that ability, dominoes fell on a daily basis without any warning. State university campuses were told to close and go to an online-only format on March 11. Employers, in the public and private sector, had to reduce the work force in their offices by 50% and more later. Restaurants were limited to take-out menu items only. Barbershops and hair salons found out in late March they would be closing until further notice, which turned out to be Phase Two during the first week in June. Gyms are still waiting the go-ahead on reopening.

Those daily press conferences, which for a time became must-see television, also brought headaches. Local school administrators — and many parents as well — waited for guidance on the school year as well as graduation. It also kept educators who were taking on a subject that was much more complicated than the Common Core on their toes.

Cuomo’s message, though filled with caring and compassion, also could come across as stern and without emotion. Though he made mistakes, he is one of the reasons this state is being looked upon by many in our nation as controlling the virus.

How long will the governor continue to want those emergency powers that were granted nearly six months ago? That is something worth pondering.

State Republicans, who lost their clout in the 2018 election, think the time has long passed for the emergency to continue. One of those who never voted in favor of handing Cuomo the power was state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay.

“While I fully supported the funding appropriation, I could not support handing the governor the power to act unilaterally during any event he deems an ’emergency,’ “ Borrello said in March. “The bill would have given him sweeping and sole authority to suspend and alter any state or local law or rule and issue directives. It unnecessarily added language to allow the governor to declare a wide spectrum of events as ‘disasters’ — even blight — giving him ultimate authority.”

Borrello definitely has a pulse on what his constituents from Livingston to Chautauqua counties want. But what they needed, which they still do not accept, was one voice of authority.

In New York state, the most recent results speak volumes. Though not totally eradicated, the virus has been tempered as hospitalizations, cases and deaths continue a decline.

It is a much different story in the south and west. Containment in those regions resembles a tire fire.

Neighboring Pennsylvania, however, has numbers that are similar to those of the Empire State. Its governor, Tom Wolf, also has powers that mirror what Cuomo has been handed.

Wolf too has many reacting at a moment’s notice. Consider his Aug. 6 press conference that moved to the topic of high school sports as it neared the end.

“The guidance is we ought to avoid any congregant settings. And that means anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us and we ought to do everything we can to defeat the virus at any time. … So the guidance from us, the recommendation is we don’t do any sports until Jan. 1,” Wolf said.

Immediately after that statement, Wolf exited the briefing. No follow-up questions taken. No additional guidance offered.

One man’s order. Another organization’s dilemma, in this case the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Lawmakers’ hands in both states are tied — and it’s due in part to their own decisions. COVID-19 is an infection that, at this point, has no end. Just like the emergency powers of both governors.

John D’Agostino is the regional editor for the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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