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The Jolt: In Savannah, New York’s governor says mask mandate was ‘one of the smartest things I did’

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo waves a mask to make a point during a news conference at the Hyatt, in Savannah, Ga. on Monday, July 20, 2020. Listening in is Savannah Mayor Van Johnson. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo waves a mask to make a point during a news conference at the Hyatt, in Savannah, Ga. on Monday, July 20, 2020. Listening in is Savannah Mayor Van Johnson. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)

Credit: Steve Bisson

Credit: Steve Bisson

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo arrived in Savannah on Monday with a load of personal protective equipment, an admission that he didn’t get everything right in his city’s battle against COVID-19, and a timely endorsement of mask mandates.

Cuomo conferred with Savannah Mayor Van Johnson during a public roundtable discussion and pledged to assist the southern city as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country. From the Savannah Morning News:

“We did it imperfectly,” [Cuomo] said. “We made a lot of mistakes.”

Johnson has done the right thing enacting mask-wearing requirements, Cuomo said.

“New York was the first state to pass the mandatory mask (requirement),” Cuomo said. “We did it April 15. I think it’s one of the smartest things that I did. It is proven by the data that masks work.”

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More via the Associated Press:

Cuomo and Johnson, who was born in Brooklyn, discussed the economic hardships created by the pandemic and the difficulties faced by states and cities as cases climb across the country.

"When you want to win, follow winners," he said. "New York State literally went from worst to first and they have shown the entire country, the entire world the way to do this right."

Asked why Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp wasn't present for the roundtable, the pair of Democrats avoided directly criticizing the Republican leader, but made their differences known.

Noting that Kemp is suing Atlanta for instituting a mask mandate and returning to tightened requirements for some businesses, Cuomo questioned the political divides surrounding the virus and ripped the federal response to the crisis.

“A national mask policy would have saved 40,000 additional lives. How do we justify that? A mask is not a political statement,” he said. “The mask says, ‘I understand science.’ Why would you not wear a mask?

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Savannah was the first city in Georgia to adopt a mask mandate, and more than a dozen local governments quickly followed when Kemp didn’t initially seek to block it.

Cuomo, who has also offered test kits and other aid to Atlanta, fast became a target of Kemp’s Republican allies for his mask-less embrace of Johnson. Asked this morning on Fox News to respond, Kemp dodged the question.

“I don’t really have time to get involved in politics,” Kemp said. “If you look back at my record during the course of the pandemic, I haven’t really criticized any governor.”

Kemp’s lawsuit, aimed at overturning Atlanta’s ordinance and preventing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms from publicly questioning the governor’s sole authority to issue pandemic restrictions, was get a first hearing at 11 a.m. today before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe. However, the judge has now recused herself, state officials report. A new judge and hearing date have yet to be determined.

The governor wasn’t as squeamish about addressing this topic on Fox News this morning:

“When we have local mayors that start going either above or beyond the executive orders that I have in place, and try to pull back on our economy and start shutting our economy and shutting our businesses down, with really a knee-jerk reaction, I can’t allow that.”

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Also this morning, the DeKalb County Commission is set to give final approval to its own mask mandate, which would go into effect on Saturday. The final wording has just arrived. Some interesting passages:

...All persons present in the county who are over the age of (8) eight years are required to utilize a face covering or mask which covers the nose and mouth when in any public place, except as exempt as provided in this article.

...No employer shall prohibit an employee from wearing a face covering, except to the limited extent that doing so would prevent the employee from performing an essential job function that cannot be performed while wearing a face covering.

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As for enforcement:

...Upon a first violation, every person shall be given a written warning.

...After issuance of the written warning, a person who violates the terms of this article for the second violation, shall be required to attend a COVID-19 prevention class to understand the public health ramifications of this crisis and appropriate public health responses to mitigate the spread of this disease.

...If any person fails to attend the COVID-19 prevention class as ordered by the court, then upon documentary proof of such failure to attend, the court shall have the authority to impose a fine of two hundred and fifty (250) dollars.

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This week, a massive defense spending bill will be taken up by both the US Senate and House. Each version contains bipartisan language requiring the Pentagon to remove Confederate names from military bases -- which would include Fort Benning in Columbus and Fort Gordon near Augusta.

President Donald Trump has said he would veto any bill with such a requirement.

Watch this one carefully. It presents a dilemma for three Georgia Republicans in particular: U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and U.S. Rep Doug Collins of Gainesville -- who is seeking Loeffler's seat.

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On Monday, Democratic party insiders voted by a wide margin to replace the late John Lewis’ name on the ballot for the Fifth District congressional race with that of state party chair Nikema Williams. Important questions remain:

-- Will she also run as a candidate in the special election to fill Lewis’ seat, a free-for-all with no primary to carry out the rest of his term that expires in January?

-- Will she remain as the state party’s leader or give way to vice-chair Ted Terry, a former U.S. Senate candidate now in a runoff for a DeKalb commission post? (Terry, recall, was an outspoken supporter of Bernie Sanders in the primary.)

-- What happens to her Atlanta-based state Senate seat? Williams must resign the state legislative position, but will the Democratic executive committee again need to pick a replacement?

One thing Republicans observers have probably noted: Within the state GOP, elected officials are barred from holding party offices. They are reserved for volunteers. In the Democratic Party of Georgia, this is not the case -- and Williams's status as a sitting state senator gave her an excellent base of support to work from. Never mind her strong relationship with Stacey Abrams.

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Already posted: The attorney for the fired Atlanta police officer charged in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks filed a motion late Monday seeking Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard’s recusal from the case.

One reason, our AJC colleague Christian Boone reports: The attorney intends to call Howard to the witness stand to explain why he called a Taser a non-deadly weapon in the Brooks case, but a deadly weapon in when charging Atlanta police officers in another case, only days later.

Howard is in an Aug. 11 Democratic primary runoff against his former chief deputy, Fani Willis.

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Donald Trump’s Georgia campaign reports it has now logged 4 million voter contacts this cycle alone. By contrast, the campaign netted 2.5 million voters contacts in Georgia for all of 2016.

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The U.S. House paid tribute to the late congressman John Lewis on Monday morning, with members of Georgia’s delegation from both sides of the aisle leading the way.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, now the delegation’s longest-serving member, was first to speak. “He inspired us as the conscience of the Congress, and we have all been truly blessed to know, love and share the life and legacy of this extraordinary human being,” the Albany Democrat said.

A black drape now hangs above the door of Lewis’ office in the U.S. Capitol complex. Congressional colleagues and staff taped notecards on the door expressing their love and grief.

In the other chamber, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said he will introduce a bereavement resolution later today to officially mark Lewis’ death.

Some of Lewis’ House colleagues are also in the process of drafting a bill that would rename the highway between Selma and Montgomery in Alabama after Lewis. He was severely beaten at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge 1965 after attempting to lead a voting rights march down this stretch; the incident is now known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The highway is currently named after Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

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As Republicans express their admiration for John Lewis, Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action group says they should put their money — make that their policy — where their mouth is.

The organization released a statement noting that congressional Republicans have blocked efforts to respond to a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Democrats, including Lewis, interpreted as gutting the Voting Rights Act. The group also accused Republican leaders in Congress and various states, including Georgia, of eroding voter protections.

In light of Lewis’s death, Democrats have renewed their calls to pass a new Voting Rights Act and name it after Lewis. Republican should get on board, the group said.

From the press release: “Until then, their words ring hollow and their actions add to a bloody history of voter suppression in this country, and that will be their legacy.”

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Marjorie Taylor Greene, in the GOP runoff for Georgia’s 14th District congressional seat, faced questions on Sunday from opponent John Cowan over self-funding her campaign with nearly $1 million -- while also accepting government bailouts for her business.

During their debate, which aired on GPB last night, Cowan said that Greene had spoken out against Congress authorizing more emergency spending for businesses even as her company accepted $350,000 in Payroll Protection Program funds. Greene, in response, accused Cowan of not being attuned to the needs of companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m appalled at the fact that you cannot comprehend that I have a construction company and we can’t do construction remotely at home,” she said.

Cowan fired back that construction projects were deemed essential and most sites were not required to shut down. He said Greene’s ability to loan her campaign $900,000 in personal funds indicated she has enough assets to keep the business afloat without federal dollars.

“I find it disingenuous that you took money from taxpayers to pay for your employees while you were paying yourself in the campaign,” he said.

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