Cuomo slams sheriffs for bucking COVID mandate

James Neiss/staff photographerGov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday criticized sheriffs in New York state who have said they do not plan to enforce state-imposed limits on gatherings in homes for Thanksgiving. Niagara County Sheriff Department Mike Filicetti has said he's not going to send deputies out to "count cars in driveways" of homes in Niagara County during the upcoming holiday. 

ALBANY — Upstate sheriffs who refuse to enforce a new executive order limiting attendance at Thanksgiving dinners and other gatherings are "arrogant" and violating their constitutional duties, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

While Cuomo upbraided the law enforcement executives, he stopped short of signaling that he will use his authority to counter what has become growing reluctance to enforce his pandemic mandates.

"You have to enforce the law or don't call yourself a law enforcement official," Cuomo said in defending the gathering limit.

The pushback against the mandate has gathered steam since CNHI reported last week that the director of the New York State Sheriffs' Association indicated his member sheriffs have no plans to be "peeping in windows" to discern whether a gathering exceeds Cuomo's 10-person cap.

Cuomo maintains that limiting gatherings to 10 people will help to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor did not explain why the enforcement task has been left to local police instead of the State Police force that he controls.

He acknowledged there are logistical challenges in the enforcement.

"Is it hard to police?" he asked. "Yes. But if you see it, stop it."

As for those sheriffs who say they won't enforce the executive order, Cuomo stated: "I believe that person should not be certified as a law enforcement officer."

He also criticized police officers who have been seen not wearing facial masks while on duty, and likened officers who pick and choose the laws they will enforce to an unnamed police official he said once confided in him that he doesn't investigate domestic violence because it is a "family matter."

Cuomo did not indicate if he ever followed up with any attempt to have that police official disciplined.

Deputies will not be seeking to charge anyone for violating Cuomo's gathering limit because, unlike a measure that the Legislature has codified into law, it is merely an executive order, said Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond.

"But if there is a problem — let's say there is a group of 100 people and they are gathered together engaged in illegal behavior — we would definitely address those illegal behaviors," DuMond said.

With state government facing a fiscal crisis triggered by plunging revenue, Cuomo also signaled he will "defer" a scheduled $25,000 annual salary hike scheduled to begin flowing to him in the first state payroll date of January.

The move came after the governor became the target of criticism on social media and state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy cited the planned salary hike in a fundraising appeal.

Cuomo, who faces re-election in 2022, has sent out invitations for a Dec. 17 birthday-theme campaign event, with donors who kick in $10,000 eligible to have a video chat with New York's chief executive. He has also been busy promoting his memoir recalling the first several months of the pandemic, suggesting he taught the nation lessons about managing the public health crisis.

Cuomo predicted the state will face a "tremendous spike" in coronavirus infections shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Meanwhile, the state's overall virus positivity rate from testing rose Wednesday to 3.43%, with 35 additional fatalities reported and the total number of people hospitalized in New York from the contagion pegged at 2,202.

Commenting on the elevated positivity rates in some Western New York communities, said the virus dangers were "never real" when the spread was concentrated in the New York City region earlier this year.

"Western New York never lived the full pain of COVID's wrath," Cuomo said in explaining the elevated infection rates even after various restrictions have been implemented. "Western New York read about New York City, they read about Long Island, they watched it on the TV news, but the numbers were never as bad in Western New York."

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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