Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie-Cuomo Show of Unity Has Its Limits

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie-Cuomo Show of Unity Has Its Limits

Article excerpt

The political bond between Governor Christie, a Republican, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, remains one of the rare examples of bipartisan cooperation from the past five years.

The two have worked hard to maintain it.

Both were reported to have cooperated on a secret plan to raise tolls on Hudson River crossings without raising public anger. The duo denounced the House Republican foot-dragging on Superstorm Sandy aid.

When Christie came under fire over the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal, Cuomo was the rare Democrat who refused to criticize him. And Christie's support for Cuomo's Republican opponent this fall has been virtually non-existent.

Yet, their joint response to the threat of an Ebola outbreak, which at first seemed yet another example of the bipartisan alliance, has exposed a crack in their compact. Most observers doubt that it's an irreparable breach -- both men have too much at stake to let the relationship founder.

But the Ebola episode shows that their solidarity is far more conditional. They'll remain allies but shrewdly and subtly distance themselves from each other when it suits their own self-interest, according to longtime political observers.

"I'm just happy that I have a partner like Governor Cuomo who understands these issues and we were able to come to a very quick agreement today," Christie said in a hastily arranged Oct. 24, news conference, with Cuomo at his side. The two were broadcasting their latest joint effort: a mandatory 21-day quarantine for returning health workers and others who came in contact with Ebola in the disease-ravaged nations in West Africa.

But within 48 hours, Cuomo and Christie were no longer speaking from the same script.

Facing pressure from the White House to rescind the quarantine order and charges that it was excessive and potentially harmful policy that could discourage workers traveling to fight the deadly virus in Africa, Cuomo softened his tone in a news conference last Sunday night, this time without Christie, who was traveling in Florida.

Divided over Kaci Hickox

The mandatory policy announced by Cuomo and Christie was actually far more flexible and nuanced. Cuomo on Sunday was offering another version that emphasized some of the fine points of the plan, such as allowing some workers to complete their quarantines in their homes. Some could be compensated for lost wages.

And this time, Cuomo was joined by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was not invited to the Oct. 24 event.

Cuomo's explanations and shift in tone put Christie on the defensive. He found himself saying Monday that he, too, supported in- home quarantines, and rejecting suggestions that he was backpedaling from the hard-line edict issued just a few days earlier.

Cuomo also refused to defend Christie in the New Jersey governor's public squabble with Kaci Hickox, the nurse from Maine who became the quarantine's first test when she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport. Hickox was heading home from Sierra Leone, where she had worked with Doctors Without Borders treating Ebola victims. Hickox was transported to a Newark hospital and placed inside an isolation tent after showing signs of a fever, a symptom of Ebola, officials said.

Hickox defiantly protested her confinement in a series of nationally broadcast television interviews, calling it "inhumane," unnecessary and unconstitutional. She singled out Christie for criticism and threatened to sue.

Cuomo dances around issue

Hickox was released after three days when she tested negative for Ebola and she did not develop any symptoms. But Christie defended the policy as fair and necessary, dismissed some of her criticisms as "malarkey" and shrugged at her lawsuit threat. "I've been sued lots of times before. Get in line. I'm happy to take it on."

Cuomo gave Christie a key boost last year when he refused to contradict Christie's first comments about the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. …

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