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The Column: Gov. Cuomo's approach keeps me tuning in to the pandemic

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his daily briefing

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his daily briefing May 16, 2020, on the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Office of the Governor

Andrew’s on.

We are in front of the TV with our shredded wheat and banana bread.

Yes, it is 11:30 a.m., but this is when we eat breakfast these days — often later.

Time has pretty much lost meaning. Except for occasional walks in required protective gear and weekly excursions to the Congregational church drive-by food collection, we’re inside.

Hours pass. It’s three in the afternoon before you know it. Cheese and crackers for lunch, maybe a little soup. Dinner when it’s dark. We light candles and have a glass of wine, one each.

“Remember restaurants?”

“Wait, you mean those places where we’d sit next to total strangers and you’d complain about the price of linguine with white clam sauce?”

“Sounds familiar, yeah.”

At the church parking lot, there are two big garbage bins for drop-off. All over, people are in need.

We unload a few items — canned goods, flour, paper towels, a couple rolls of toilet paper once when we were feeling especially generous and proud of ourselves.

There you go: Breakfast around noon, a little exercise wearing black masks perfect for a bank heist, the church food drive, cheese and crackers, dinner, a glass of red, a glass of white, another night of Netflix.

That’s it.

Except for Andrew.

This is Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor.

He is the son of Mario, who from 1983 to 1994 also was governor, and brother of the CNN host Chris, who got the coronavirus but is OK.

I spoke to Mario on a couple occasions after he left office.

Once I was doing a story for Newsday on the word “gravitas,” which, for some reason, public figures — Cuomo, included — were using a lot.

Mario, who died in 2015, was gravitas to the max, all right — a serious, philosophical guy.

I heard that when dinner guests arrived, Cuomo would say, “Hello, good evening, what do you think of the death penalty? Where do you stand on abortion?”

Life is short. Start talking.

Andrew has some of that heft.

Politics aside, like him or not, approve of his views or think he’s off-base, vote for him or anybody but, you would not consider him a lightweight.

For weeks, he has been on TV giving virus updates — a constant presence in these unsettled days.

I never miss.

“Hurry,” I say. “It’s Andrew.”

The briefings get a big audience but are not anything you would call entertainment. Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel can relax.

It’s just Andrew at a table with a couple state officials and, sometimes, one or another of his three adult daughters — all are living with him during the pandemic — telling New Yorkers to be tough, be smart, show love.

The governor favors white shirts with cuff links except on weekends when he switches to maybe a blue, button-down oxford, no tie. One morning, he said he was going for a hike — social distancing guidelines observed, of course. Rules are the rules.

For instance, Andrew wishes he could drop by to see his mother, Matilda, who is 88. But, there’s no knocking on Mom’s door unannounced with a bunch of flowers anymore. Too risky. Instead, on Mother’s Day, Matilda said hello via remote at her son’s news conference. “I love you, honey,” the son said when she signed off. “I’ll call you later.”

The governor is 62 and in good shape. He has blunt, rugged features that seem to match the moment. Lines on either side of his mouth travel to his nose. His thumbs bend outward too much — curved like cup hooks — so whenever he raises a hand to make a point, which is often, it seems he’s hitchhiking. In speech, Andrew is a guy from Queens.

He comes across as resolute and unbowed. The other day, he even took a virus test during one of his briefings. (Results: negative.) But even with the state’s numbers improving, this can’t be easy — announcing the infections, hospitalizations, deaths.

The creases in his face have deepened, I think.

“He’s tired — drawn.”

“Been a long haul.”

To get through the crisis, Andrew says, we need facts, figures, a sense of history, no nonsense.

The governor quotes Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein.

I think of his father and “gravitas.”

“How much is a human life worth?” Andrew asked recently. “Priceless.”

We are New York, he reminds us on television. Be tough. Be smart. Show love.

It seems like he’s been doing this forever.

I can’t look away.

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