TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Tompkins County Legislature broke from New York State politicians on Tuesday, rejecting a resolution that would have called for an end to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers, granted to him by the state legislature last year in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the resolution called for “the emergency powers of the Governor to end and the powers of the State Legislature to be restored, bringing New York State back to a more regular course of business.” It wouldn’t have had any legal power or binding follow-up action other than being sent to the governor, though it would have added the county’s voice to the situation. Since early in the pandemic, Cuomo has been able to essentially create and abolish laws unilaterally—the state legislature has the ability to overrule him, but never took the opportunity. Legislators Mike Sigler, Glenn Morey, and Dave McKenna, all Republicans, voted in favor of the resolution, as did Amanda Champion, the lone Democrat who voted in favor.
The vote came amid a wave of scandals for Cuomo, centered on his handling of COVID-19 in New York nursing homes, his political tactics behind the scenes and three women (and counting) who have accused Cuomo of inappropriate conduct over the last several years. Sigler said he introduced the resolution because it’s probably the last chance the county legislature will have to weigh in on the situation officially: after a bipartisan deal was struck, the New York State legislature looks poised to revoke Cuomo’s powers by Friday. Newly-elected State Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, who was a member of the Tompkins County Legislature just three months ago, announced her support for ending Cuomo’s emergency powers in February.
“I was surprised,” Sigler said in an email of the outcome of the county legislature’s debate on Tuesday. “I don’t think I could have put forward a more timely and frankly watered down resolution. I cited restoration of democracy as the reason for the resolution, and not a rebuke of the Governor. It was brave of Anna Kelles and other representatives to come forward and call for this. If you’re going after three term Governor Cuomo, you better have it right and I think in this case they did. All the more reason to pass this call for action.”
During the debate over the resolution, Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino said that he was unsure of what the impacts of the state legislature’s decision would be, and whether it would have any effect on the state of emergency in New York. He did, though, confirm that he would keep the state of emergency in effect in Tompkins County for the foreseeable future, citing the public health crisis, provided he was still able to do so once the legislature officially strips Cuomo’s emergency powers. Overall, he said there’s a lot of “unknown territory” with a move like this at the state level.
Legislators, for the most part, seemed hesitant to embrace the same path state legislators have chosen. Deborah Dawson, Rich John, Dan Klein and Shawna Black all explained, with some mild variations, that they are nervous about any surge in COVID-19 cases and how the state would be able to react quickly if his emergency powers are stripped.
“If an emergency arises, I’d rather have one guy who can make a decision on behalf of everyone in the state, able to act, rather than depending on 200-some people bickering with each other about what the right thing to do is,” Dawson said.
Sigler, reacting with a mix of dismay and disbelief, called the Cuomo administration’s current status “a trainwreck,” but was unable to sway more voters to support his resolution.
“I appreciate the sentiment behind this resolution, I just don’t feel that we’re out of the emergency quite yet, we’re not quite there,” Klein said. He said he’d consider a similar resolution in a few months, as long as he felt confident the pandemic was ending or over at that time.