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Cuomo and de Blasio can't put their feud aside -- even for coronavirus

Even coronavirus hasn't cooled the years-old simmering animosity between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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Dan Merica
CNN — Even coronavirus hasn't cooled the years-old simmering animosity between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The feuding over the handling of the pandemic has gone on for weeks, including disagreements over calling for shelter-in-place, requiring people to wear masks in public and closing playgrounds in New York City. But this latest back-and-forth between the lifelong New Yorkers and Democrats -- unlike past spats about everything from workouts to napping to deer euthanasia -- has real-life implications while New York struggles as the nation's worst hot spot.

Over the years, the fighting has mostly centered on who has authority to do what in New York City, including serious topics like power over the subways and funding for key programs. The most heated point of contention came in 2015, when Cuomo used his authority to shut down the New York City subway amid a snowstorm and de Blasio didn't find out about it until it was being announced.

The latest flashpoint between the two men: what to do with the nation's largest school system and a disagreement over the weekend about who has the authority to make key decisions.

'We are where we are'

De Blasio told reporters on Saturday that he was closing New York City schools through the summer as a way to protect educators and children. The mayor had told a select few advisers late Friday that he was making the move, an aide said, including outside advisers like Anthony Fauci, one of the doctors leading the White House's response to the virus.

The mayor's announcement did not sit well with Cuomo, who used his news conference later that day to call the order "the mayor's opinion" because, in the governor's eyes, de Blasio does not have the authority to close the schools.

"There has been no decision on schools," Cuomo said bluntly. "That's his opinion, but he didn't close them, and he can't open them."

Central to the disagreement is that de Blasio did not coordinate his proclamation with Cuomo, who sees the decision to close New York schools as a regional one.

De Blasio's team fumed on Saturday after Cuomo undercut the mayor, with one de Blasio aide accusing the governor of being focused on "politics or machismo" and another implying Cuomo was behind with his decisions.

De Blasio, after making the decision on Friday, did not call Cuomo until Saturday morning, an aide to the mayor said, just a short time before he publicly announced it. The mayor did not get through to Cuomo, however, so de Blasio sent a text.

"We are where we are," Cuomo said on Sunday after the pair's latest skirmish.

Cuomo's team argued over the weekend that it is the governor, not the mayor, who has the authority to reopen schools, citing an order he signed in March that initially closed schools regionally.

Melissa DeRosa, a top Cuomo aide, said on Sunday that all schools in the area are "on the same schedule" through April 29 because of that order.

The subject that caused this latest strife is bigger than the two men, though: Families across New York City, many of whom are holed up in cramped apartments, are looking to plan the next few months around whether schools reopen as they use distance learning to educate their kids.

"The schools clearly need to stay closed," de Blasio said on Monday. "They will stay closed because the reality is ... there's not going to be a context to reopen schools with so much that we're going to have to deal with on the health front to get to a better place and more stable place."

New York has become the nation's hot spot for coronavirus deaths over the last month, with the state's nearly 10,000 deaths making up more than 40% of all deaths from the virus in the United States. The state has documented over 190,000 cases of coronavirus, while the second closest state -- New Jersey -- has reported more than 61,000 cases.

The seriousness of the situation was clear when some local leaders rebuked the mayor and the governor for continuing their fight amid the pandemic.

"I don't have the time," tweeted Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. "I don't have patience for petty back-and-forths in the middle of a deadly pandemic."

Adams then directed a message to both men: "Cut the crap."

From naps to workouts

While turf wars between state and local government are common across the country, the fighting between Cuomo and de Blasio is noteworthy, even given New York's reputation for dirty politics.

Their battles have also played out on a range of bizarre topics.

In 2015, the two differed over topless women in Times Square, with the governor looking to swiftly squash the practice, while the mayor aimed to take a more deliberative approach by creating a task force on the issue.

In 2017, after the New York Daily News reported that de Blasio takes naps during the workday, Cuomo relished the chance to take a knock at the mayor -- even as de Blasio denied the claim.

"I'm not a napper really," Cuomo said in response to the story. "I never have been."

And in 2018, the two offices openly sparred over funding for the New York City Housing Authority, with top Cuomo aides using de Blasio's frequent trips to the YMCA in Brooklyn as a way to suggest the mayor isn't focused on his job.

The two men's teams even bickered over whether to euthanize a deer in Harlem in 2016.

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