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INDIGESTION, ANYONE?: After Governor Cuomo issued an executive order limiting Thanksgiving Day gatherings in private homes to 10 people as a safeguard against spreading the coronavirus, Republican City Councilman Joe Borelli and several upstate Sheriffs (including at least one Democrat) waded into the political food-fight, saying that the Governor might be Big Brother in his own family but they weren't going to be his deputies in taking attendance at other family get-togethers. 

A debate set off after Staten Island City Council Member Joseph Borelli tweeted on Nov. 11 that he planned not to comply with Gov. Cuomo's executive order limiting Thanksgiving gatherings to 10 people in private homes has also engaged local law-enforcement officials statewide.

The controversy swirled as the nation passed 250,000 coronavirus deaths and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a million new cases of the deadly virus in just seven days.

'No Need to Hide Cars'

"With regard to the Thanksgiving Executive Order, the Fulton County Sheriff's Office will NOT be enforcing it against our County residents," wrote Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino, in a Nov. 14 Facebook post. "Frankly, I am not sure it could sustain a Constitutional challenge in Court for several reasons including your house is your castle. And as a Sheriff with a law degree I couldn't in good faith attempt to defend it in Court, so I won't."

He told Fulton County residents they didn't need to hide their cars, cover them with leaves "or walk 3 blocks so your house doesn't become a target of the Governors EO. I trust people in Fulton County to use their own judgment on who and how many people they invite. Obviously, if you have high-risk family members you will weigh the risks to your loved ones versus the reward."

Erie Sheriff Timothy B. Howard also spoke out against the executive order in a Nov. 13 post.

"I have no plans to utilize my office's resources or Deputies to break up the great tradition of Thanksgiving dinner," Mr. Howard wrote. "This national holiday has created longstanding family traditions that are at the heart of America, and these traditions should not be stopped or interrupted by Governor Cuomo's mandates. My office will respect the sanctity of your home and traditions, and I encourage you to follow your heart and act responsibly, as well as do what's best for your family."

Cuomo Carves Them Up

During a Nov. 18 press availability, Mr. Cuomo took umbrage at the push-back on his order, which he said was necessary to limit what he has termed was "living-room spread" of the deadly virus at a time when it was spiking dramatically across the country.

"I don't believe as a law-enforcement officer, you have a right to pick and choose what laws you will enforce," he told reporters, asserting that an  executive order was equivalent to a state law.

"'Well, I don't believe in that law and therefore I won't enforce it.' That is frankly frightening to me as an individual, frightening to democracy," Mr. Cuomo said. "It's arrogant, and it violates your constitutional duty."

Mr. Borelli began the denunciation of the Governor's order as half-baked by proclaiming he would be having more than 10 people at his home and tweeting, "My address is public record. Some family will come from (gasp!) New Jersey. Kids will see their grandparents, cousins will play in the yard, sis in law will bring strawberry rhubarb pie, & a turkey will be overcooked."

The Republican Councilman's declaration soon went viral, with counter-tweeters slow-roasting the Chairman of the Fire and Emergency Services Committee.

Turkey Day Political Football

When a reporter from People Magazine sought Mr. Cuomo's response, spokesman Rich Azzopardi wrote back, "‎Nothing says Thanksgiving like putting loved ones in harm's way to own the libs. Don't be a Borelli: stay smart this holiday; follow the rules, they're there to keep people from getting sick. Also, socially distance, wear a mask and wash your hands!"

In a Nov. 17 phone interview, Mr. Borelli said he had no regrets and noted that his tweet had been the basis for an entire segment on "The Chris Hayes Show" on MSNBC, with the host tweeting that "increasingly the entire Republican Party has basically taken the side of the virus and are actively trying to spread it."

"I tried to reach out and heard nothing back," Mr. Borelli said.

"The Governor made a hard-and-fast rule without nuance, and he shouldn't be surprised there is push-back from all over the state on it," Mr. Borelli said. "The same 11 people, who cycle through my house every day or so, to watch my children while school is closed, and people who have to work from home will be the ones at my house for Thanksgiving."

He added that his immediate family had decided not to travel to Long Island to be "with some extended family members," but that he was not going to exclude "my 11th family member because Governor Cuomo decided so."

Kicking Around the Pumpkin

The sharp debate over how best to celebrate this year amid a public-health crisis echoed the ongoing controversy over wearing a mask.

"Elected officials can overreach when they try to tell citizens by edict what it is they have to do," said George Arzt, a public-relations consultant whose clients include the Brooklyn Democratic Party. "Explain to them why it's beneficial to wear a mask or keep your holiday gatherings limited. You have got to help people grasp the underlying science that informs the guidelines. If you just hammer people, you'll get backlash."

In an op-ed on MedPage Today, Dr. Vinay Prasad warned thar an "abstinence-only message might mean people defy you, spend more time indoors (to avoid being judged), and end up spreading the virus far more than if you gave them safer options."

He observed that one of the "dangers of social media" was that stories about America's Thanksgiving plans were "instant clickbait for doctors," who "could not help themselves from tweeting messages admonishing folks to not meet in person. These tweets earned massive likes and retweets. No tweet advising the nuanced idea I describe went viral."


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