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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent extension of a statewide curfew on bars and restaurants shows the limits of a law intended to curtail the unilateral powers he received in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Republican lawmakers say.
The law was enacted in early March, as the Democratic governor grappled with accusations that he sexually harassed former female aides and requests for documents from federal prosecutors about the state’s policies around COVID-19 in nursing homes.
Facing public pressure to respond, state lawmakers voted to amend a March 2020 law that gave Mr. Cuomo the power to issue unilateral directives necessary to cope with any declared disaster. He used it during the pandemic to issue more than 150 executive orders that closed schools, changed election procedures and set parameters for business operations.
The amended law prevents the governor from issuing new directives, but it allows him to extend existing rules if he gives notice to the Democrat-dominated state Assembly and Senate. He did so last Monday, signing an executive order that pushed back the curfew for bars and restaurants to midnight from 11 p.m., starting on April 19 and effective until May 19. The businesses would also still be required to sell food along with drinks. Restaurateurs object to the policies, which they say hurt sales and don’t have a clear public-health rationale.
Republicans said the episode shows that the changes enacted this year were little more than for show. They said the curfew should expire.
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"This was a fake rollback, and the Legislature is complicit," said State Sen. Sue Serino, a Republican from Dutchess County who voted against the law in March because she didn’t think it went far enough. "You’ve got a scandal-scarred governor prancing around like he’s still the king, making all these rules by himself."
Mr. Cuomo has said he is cooperating with investigations into his conduct and said the state’s nursing-home policies were in line with federal guidance and crafted to preserve hospital capacity. He has denied touching anyone inappropriately and has apologized if his workplace behavior offended anyone.
Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, said in response to Ms. Serino’s criticism that Republicans were simply looking for political advantage during the pandemic. He said Mr. Cuomo had notified legislative leaders as required by the new law and said the restaurant restrictions were justified by health and safety concerns.
Mike Murphy, a spokesman for state Senate Democrats, defended the March changes to the law and said senators were looking at next steps to fight the continuing pandemic while at the same time successfully reopen businesses.
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STANDING WITH CUOMO: More than a month after she called for Mr. Cuomo to resign from office, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins appeared with the governor in her Yonkers district on Wednesday.
Mr. Cuomo has made a dozen appearances over the past month, often flanked by Black and Hispanic clergy and officials, as he signed bills and touted the state’s vaccination campaign. Political observers say the events—which are closed to the press—are a calculated part of his strategy to show he has support in those communities.
In Yonkers, Ms. Stewart-Cousins gave the governor an elbow bump and said she was grateful for his work to encourage vaccinations. He praised her work on the recently enacted state budget.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat, said Ms. Stewart-Cousins made a mistake by appearing with the governor. He said he wouldn’t do so because elected officials shouldn’t normalize Mr. Cuomo’s behavior.
"It clearly sends mixed signals," Mr. Kim said. "Unless we have accountability, we shouldn’t be validating anything he does."
Mr. Murphy said the Democratic senator still believed the governor should resign. "This event was in her district, and it is critically important that people get vaccinated and that all efforts are made to make sure that happens," he said.
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THE QUESTION: Which former U.S. president lived in Schenectady County?
—Know the answer? Send me an email!
THE LAST ANSWER: Lots of people got this question wrong! Former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio was the last member of Congress to be the designated Republican candidate for governor, in 2010. The key word is designated: Mr. Lazio won support from party leaders at its convention, but lost the nomination to Carl Paladino in the primary that year.
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