At the Governor's Mansion in Albany, New York, like so many other homes across America, Sundays mean dinner with the family. And in this family, like so many others, the adult kids have moved back home: Michaela, Mariah and Cara Kennedy-Cuomo, all quarantining together with Governor Andrew Cuomo, their dad.
"I actually remember when Dad called me right at the beginning of this and said, 'This is gonna be a big deal, and you should be here for it," said Cara.
Correspondent Tracy Smith asked, "So you, governor, you kind of engineered this, getting all of your girls back together under one roof?"
"Yeah, I don't know that you can say that I could engineer anything with my girls," Cuomo replied. "But I was suggestive of the concept. I wanted them here. I wanted them with me. I needed them in many ways."
For 111 days straight, Gov. Cuomo held briefings about COVID-19. He said he tried to present just the facts, but the facts were often grim. On one day alone, April 8, New York lost 799 lives to the virus. "That is so shocking and painful and breathtaking," he told the state, "I don't even have the words for it."
Cara said, "Sometimes he would come home, and you could see it on him. And you would hear sort of this big, deep breath that he takes. And then you would know that he is stressed."
Smith asked, "Did he sleep?"
"He didn't sleep for 111 days!" Michaela laughed.
Just like their dad, and his late dad, Gov. Mario Cuomo, these young women have activism is in their blood. Their mom (Cuomo's former wife, Kerry Kennedy) founded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Project, named after their grandfather.
So of course, when the time came, the Kennedy-Cuomo daughters jumped right in to COVID relief efforts.
A state contest for ads encouraging mask use was Mariah's idea:
The governor marshaled public support and resources, and it worked. As New York's COVID numbers fell, the daughters say people across the world started asking for advice. So, they told their dad he had to do more.
Smith asked, "It sounds like you guys kind of pushed him – 'We're getting all these requests for, 'How'd you do it?' We need to come out with something'?"
"Right, from the first day, we were all saying, 'You have to write this down. You have to communicate this somehow," said Cara.
The result is a new book: "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic."
But to some, a book about "lessons" seems, if not presumptuous, at least a bit premature. COVID cases are on the rise in a number of states, including New York.
Smith asked Cuomo, "Do you see how some people say this is you taking a victory lap in the middle of a pandemic?"
"Oh, there's no victory here," he replied. "The game isn't over. This is halftime in the game. Let's learn the lesson from the first half of the game, and play a better second half. But we have to play a whole second half of this game.
"And there's gonna be another virus, and another infection, and another bacteria. And we can't make the mistakes we made this time."
Still, to date, the state leads the nation in coronavirus deaths – more than 30,000.
"There are people out there saying, 'Wait a minute, why is he setting himself up as the guy who did everything right? New York still has the largest number of deaths of any state," said Smith.
"Well, New York has the largest number of deaths because New York had the largest number of cases; we had a much worse infection rate than any other state, and we had it before anyone knew anything about COVID," Cuomo replied. "What happened in New York was unique. We were ambushed. Nobody knew the virus was here. That's not true five months later. Everybody knows it's here. There is no reason that we still have this infection rate going up across the country. There is just no reason."
The governor knows his family has been lucky. For months, he could only talk with his 89-year-old mother, Matilda, via Zoom, but they finally had a face-to-face visit.
"It turned out fine at the end of the day,' Cuomo said. "But it was, I feel like I lost a lot of time with her that I just wish that I hadn't."
When he talked about his family in the briefings, New Yorkers saw a softer side of Cuomo that maybe only those closest to him knew before.
Michaela said, "Is he touchy-feely? No. But I think he is an amazingly vulnerable man." She asked him, "Do you like that?"
"I'll take that, 'sensitive,'" Cuomo replied. "I'm a sensitive soul!"
The governor's girls have become his roommates and his co-workers, and his fiercest defenders.
Smith asked, "So, as protective as you are of your dad and as much as you wanna protect him, I would imagine there will come a time when you guys are gonna leave again, right?"
"Nope!" Cuomo interjected. "There will never come a time when they leave! That is not going to happen. Why would they want to leave?"
"They do have exciting lives of their own," Smith offered. They might wanna go pursue those!"
"No, they can do that with me! Right? You can stay here with me and do whatever you wanna do!"
Their dad is also a bachelor. His long-term relationship with author and TV chef Sandra Lee ended last year.
Smith said, "While we're on this light note, you guys are the social media-savvy ones. Have you helped your dad with his dating life? Gotten online for him? Set up a profile and anything like that?"
"Nothing," said the governor.
"No online profiles!" laughed Cara. "He hasn't hit Bumble quite yet!" But, she explained, "He's busy right now! He can get to dating post-global pandemic." Cara then turned to her dad and said, "Sorry!"
Of course, there's always the possibility that their dad will be the one to move away from Albany, though he's repeatedly insisted he has no interest in going to Washington.
Smith asked, "So, as much as he says, 'I'm Governor of New York for as long as they'll have me,' do you guys maybe have higher aspirations for him?"
Michaela said, "I like Dad being in New York. He really likes it here. But, as someone who wishes that I had someone I could vote for who would be more inspiring and someone who seems more competent, and so if that were Dad, I'd be a really grateful and proud American. And, I guess, a busier daughter."
For now, the governor and other leaders have their hands full with the virus. President Trump, whom Cuomo blames for mishandling the country's response, has the disease himself. And as Cuomo said, it's only halftime.
Smith asked, "I'm wondering, when you heard that the president was diagnosed with COVID, whether it shocked you?"
"It did shock me," Cuomo said. "It shocked me because I was aware of the protections he had around him. I think this says to everyone, this is real. You can get it. Even the President of the United States can get it.
"And I also hope it's a moment where this nation just puts aside the ugly politics that has become the way of this country, and let's remember that, at the end of the day, we're all people trying to do our best. And we can disagree, but let's just be kinder to one another."
For more info:
- "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic" by Andrew Cuomo (Crown Books), in Hardcover, Trade Paperback, eBook and Audio formats, available October 13 via Amazon
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Joseph Frandino.