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COVID-19 is a Leadership Crisis

Cameron Koffman, New York State Assembly Candidate (credit: Sean Andrew Jackson)
Cameron Koffman, New York State Assembly Candidate (credit: Sean Andrew Jackson)

We are living through a pandemic. How we respond can prepare us for the future. 

Coronavirus is many things: a microscopic virus, a global pandemic and an economic meltdown. It is also a test of our leadership skills. As confirmed cases of novel coronavirus continue to rise around the country, we’re going to see which localities have strong leaders and which have those who are all talk and no action. In New York, Governor Cuomo has stepped up and earned widespread praise, while infighting amongst current and former staff in Mayor de Blasio’s office makes it impossible to know where the city will be in a week. Regardless, widespread disruption of daily routine and commerce seem likely to continue. 

History will judge our response to this pandemic based on our ability to step up, flatten the curve, and make testing available. But I suspect it will reserve its harshest criticism for those who failed to do all three. President Trump said on January 22nd that “we have it totally under control,” on February 2nd that “we pretty much shut it down,” on March 4th that “it’s very mild.” On March 8th he went golfing. Like so many before it, he has failed this test. But so have some of our local officials. I’m a candidate for New York State Assembly, and my local representative has spent his time endangering the community during the crisis by canvassing for his DA race in Chelsea and collecting petition signatures after saying he would stop. But right now it is up to us to learn, in real time, essential lessons about preparing for and responding to crises in the 21st century. One thing must be made clear. Our goal cannot be to weather this crisis only to meet the next unprepared. 

That’s why we’re saying now more than ever, we need a new generation of leadership in Albany. Post Coronavirus, we will have a blank slate, a Tabula Rasa, on which we will need to be ready for new challenges. No one has experience with this, no one has ever seen anything like this. Life is changed. Things that we never thought possible now are. Emissions are falling, even if for the wrong reasons. Homes are becoming classrooms and office spaces. I may be running to be the first Gen Z member of the New York State Assembly, but like every single other candidate, I am running to be the first to respond to the next crisis. So what matters is not the years that someone has spent in Albany, but the quality of their ideas and the dedication of their spirit. I’ve made full-time representation a key part of my platform, and now more than ever we need it.

Unfortunately incompetent leadership is only a small piece of the picture. We would be doing ourselves a grave disservice if the lesson we take from this outbreak is that we need competent elected officials. Of course we do. We always do. This is an opportunity for the best among us to step up and lead. But we can only do so by presenting smart ideas, holding our promises, and dedicating ourselves to fighting this illness.

Cameron Koffman is a Democrat running for New York State Assembly in the 73rd District.

[Editor’s Note: It is the policy of New York County Politics to run any op-ed it receives, with few exceptions. The op-eds do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of NYCP.]

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