America’s crisis daddy Andrew Cuomo exploits Coronavirus panic to push bail reform rollback in New York


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a news conference at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, which will house a temporary hospital in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, on March 24, 2020. PHOTO/John Minchillo/AP

As the coronavirus pandemic grips the United States, prosecutors, sheriffs, and public officials have raced to reduce the populations held in local jails, where it is next to impossible to protect elderly and otherwise vulnerable incarcerated people.

In New York, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is bucking this trend, pushing for a new law that would roll back newborn bail reforms that went into effect in January and instead expand judges’ power to put defendants in jail. Cuomo has backed this agenda for years, but his evident insistence on including it in the state’s budget negotiations amid a public health crisis is nonetheless remarkable.

“Every other elected official across the country is thinking about how they can reduce their jail and prison population,” Rena Karefa-Johnson, the New York state director for criminal justice reform for the advocacy group, said in an interview. “But in New York, we have elected officials still trying to change legislation that would put thousands more people back in jail and slowing up an emergency budget process to do it. It’s wildly out of step with what’s happening across the country, and it’s wildly at odds with this narrative of New York taking Covid-19 seriously and keeping people safe. It’s bonkers.”

The governor’s move comes as his power is ascendant. Cuomo has always wanted to be a crisis governor, engaging in well-documented disaster heroics whenever roadways get slippery. But that instinct, risible in peacetime, is playing differently in the pandemic. People in New York and around the country are terrified, and the erratic federal response under President Donald Trump has been far from reassuring. Cuomo’s sober, authoritative daily briefings have filled the vacuum. In the last weeks, Cuomo has become America’s Governor, its crisis daddy. In recent days the hashtag #PresidentCuomo has been trending on Twitter. With his popularity soaring, and his constituents preoccupied with looming mass fatalities as the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the state’s health care capabilities, Cuomo is well positioned to drive through his preferred agenda with hardly anyone noticing.

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