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NYC was COVID-19 epicenter, but few mayors sought help from Bill de Blasio, survey finds

A survey of mayors out of Boston University shows which city leaders were most contacted by their counterparts to coordinate responses to the pandemic.

NYC was COVID-19 epicenter, but few mayors sought help from Bill de Blasio, survey finds
[Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images]
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It is said that heroes are forged in the gauntlet of crisis. And during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as New York darkened into the virus’s global epicenter, it is said that governor Andrew Cuomo emerged from the shadows a momentary hero. He was heralded as an unlikely savior, manning the hull of the city’s ship across its choppiest waters. He graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, a space usually reserved for legends of music and film. He began work on a personal memoir.

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But no Rolling Stone cover awaited New York mayor Bill de Blasio, the official steward of the city in crisis. De Blasio’s reception was decidedly more tepid and less welcoming, as media headlines recounted how many times he had downplayed the coronavirus and speculated that the mayor was still “searching for his footing.”

It was apparently a viewpoint shared by mayors of other major American cities, who had little interest in seeking de Blasio’s advice in the thick of the pandemic, a survey finds.

According to a report from Boston University on mayors’ responses to the pandemic, “Mayors reached out to their colleagues in a wide variety of cities in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to coordinate responses, identify best practices, and check in on each other.” Results showed that they “tended to connect with and look to their colleagues in nearby cities, leaders of professional organizations, and cities that were hit early by COVID-19.”

But despite the fact that New York was one of the earliest hit by COVID-19, few mayors reached out to de Blasio. Among the 130 mayors surveyed, each named up to three other mayors they had contacted during the first few weeks of the pandemic, and de Blasio did not turn up in the top 10—a list that included Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles (D), Martin Walsh of Boston (D), and Sylvester Turner of Houston (D).

[Boston University Initiative on Cities]
The snub occurred even as mayors cited New York as the top city whose economic and public health strategies they drew upon as blueprints. As the report explained, “Thirteen mayors mentioned New York’s public health response as a model, though some of these mayors combined or conflated the city and state . . .  a number of mayors emphasized looking to state government (NY and others) or county government rather than other cities as models, even when directly asked about other cities.” (Ouch, de Blasio.)

But on the bright side, the report also notes that mayors are optimistic that “the pandemic has the potential to bring about transformative change in our cities.” So, here’s hoping they lead us into a better future.