Read: The equalizer: Bill de Blasio vs. inequality
Cuomo and de Blasio have also differed markedly in their approach to Trump. While the governor has tangled with the president at times during the crisis, he’s also praised him and largely directed his demands and criticism at “the federal government” rather than at the president himself. “Andrew is a four-pitch pitcher,” observed Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College and a longtime commentator on New York politics. “He’s got a full range of pitches, and he’s used several of them in his relationship with the president. It’s more indirection than frontal assault.”
Until the past few days, by contrast, de Blasio has been throwing only fastballs at Trump, with little visible effect. “It looks like a political stunt,” Lis Smith, a Democratic consultant who worked for both de Blasio and Cuomo before steering Pete Buttigieg’s presidential bid the past two years.
“He was the loudest, most strident, most provocative,” Paterson said of the mayor, surmising that de Blasio might have toned it down after watching Cuomo’s performances win raves.
Yet for all of their difference in tone, the substance of de Blasio’s and Cuomo’s public response has been more aligned than it might seem. Neither Democrat was particularly quick to order major shutdowns; both were initially reluctant to close schools, and as recently as mid-March, both waffled on whether to scrap the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. And it was the mayor, not the governor, who began calling for a “shelter in place” order days before Cuomo ultimately acted.
“The governor is a genius at deflecting blame, and the mayor is a genius at attracting blame,” the New York elected official said. “That has been true for a long time.”
Katz told me: “For the most part, they’re saying a lot of the right stuff now. Cuomo in particular is rising to this moment. The biggest concern now though is, was it too late?”
Despite a few notable disagreements, aides to both Cuomo and de Blasio told me the two are working well together during the pandemic, speaking nearly every day and sometimes multiple times. And while de Blasio’s spokesperson, Freddi Goldstein, noted that the mayor had changed his tone toward Trump after speaking with him Sunday night, she said he would not hold back if the president did not continue to deliver. “This is life and death in New York, and our tone and rhetoric and response will match that,” she said. “We just don’t have time for niceties.”
And even de Blasio’s critics acknowledged that in a dire situation, the mayor’s stridency might be a necessary complement to Cuomo’s more nuanced approach to the mercurial president. A good cop, bad cop routine, though certainly unintentional, might be effective, and de Blasio’s repeated shaming of Trump on national television did ultimately get the president’s attention.
“Maybe America needs both of them,” Katz told me. “Maybe the best thing for New York right now is for de Blasio to sound the alarm and for Cuomo to come in and be soothing. Maybe that’s not great for de Blasio in the long run, but this may be the only thing standing between New York and tens of thousands of deaths.”