Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has received an earful of anger for using Memorial Day weekend to remember "essential workers" who died of COVID-19.
What are the details?
Cuomo's order issued last week directed flags on state government buildings to fly at half-staff and state landmarks to be lit red, white, and blue on Sunday "to honor the essential workers who lost their lives due to COVID-19. Flags will remain at half-staff until noon and landmarks will remain lit on Monday, May 31, for Memorial Day in honor of the service members who lost their lives fighting to defend our country."
The governor noted during a press conference that "we remember those who gave their lives on Memorial Day. Gave their lives for this country. Fought for freedom because freedom isn't free. I also think we should remember this past year, on Memorial Day, remember the 42,000 New Yorkers who died. 42,000. Remember the 1,000 essential workers who died giving their life. Giving their life."
Rockland County Executive Ed Day — a former first responder — told News 12 The Bronx that the county wouldn't take part in the Sunday directive, calling the decision a "sickening effort to co-opt the true meaning of Memorial Day."
Others had similar reactions.
Gold Star wife Michelle Garcia — who lost her husband Justin in Iraq in 2006 when she was six months pregnant with their son — told the station she was outraged by Cuomo's directive and wrote him a letter asking him to reconsider.
"We have Memorial Day to honor our fallen, and we have Veteran's Day to honor our veterans," Garcia told News 12. "Our essential workers do deserve that, but our fallen heroes deserve this weekend and Memorial Day to be about them."
WGRZ-TV said it asked Dan Frontera — an Iraq war veteran and organizer of the Afghanistan-Iraq Memorial at the Buffalo Naval Park — and David Whipple, who lost his son Blake in Afghanistan, about Cuomo's decision.
"There are a number of days that recognize the military, but Memorial Day is the only day that recognizes the fallen soldiers, Navy, and it's all about them," Whipple told WGRZ.
Image source: WGRZ-TV video screenshot
Whipple added to the station: "And to take another group, a deserving group, and co-mingle that with these folks, for over 200 years, who have fought for our freedom, lost their lives? No, I disagree with the decision to co-mingle, even if it's Saturday, Sunday versus Monday. That weekend is Memorial Day weekend. That's for a special group and we ought to keep it that way."
Frontera told WGRZ, "Yes, recognize the people who were there to support COVID. Recognize the first responders, the nurses, the doctors who gave everything they had."
Image source: WGRZ-TV video screenshot
However, Frontera added to the station, "But this holiday, this weekend, when you raise your glass, when you have your barbecue, it's not about them. It's about the young men and young women who gave their lives, who will be forever young, in the service of this nation. It's not about what Governor Cuomo wants, not at all."
Did anyone like Cuomo's move? Why, yes — a union president
News 12 said 32BJ Union President Kyle Bragg noted that "some workers made the ultimate sacrifice, including over 150 of our union's members. We thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for honoring their lives and sacrifices by including them in New York State's Memorial Day tribute."
Did Cuomo's office have anything to add?
WGRZ reached out to Cuomo's office about his decision, and the station said Rich Azzopardi — the governor's senior adviser — offered the following response: "Memorial Day, which honors soldiers who paid the ultimate price to defend this nation, is Monday and we are honoring those who stayed on the front lines and paid for it with their lives to help us fight this pandemic the day before. This isn't either/or and surely there is enough space in our hearts to honor all these heroes in one weekend."