The New Yorker: Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has failed to cover up the extent of the damage done to the country by the coronavirus crisis. Dexter Filkins travelled to Iran in February, just as the outbreak was metastasizing. He joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss what Iranian doctors and young dissidents told him, and why people think this could be a breaking point for the generation of aging revolutionaries.

Below is an automated transcript of this podcast episode with Dorothy Wickenden.

Dorothy Wickenden (00:02):
I'm Dorothy Wickenden. On today's politics and more podcast. David Remnick talks with three mayors, Andy Berke of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Quinton Lucas of Kansas city, Missouri and Marian Orr of Cheyenne, Wyoming. They'll discuss how their cities have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and how they're deciding when and how to reopen for business

David Remnick (00:28):
offices, gyms, hair salons, churches, social gatherings, and more are starting to reopen and even Andrew Cuomo of New York who hasn't soft pedal this disaster and that's that some restrictions will be lifted this month as planned, but what constitutes safe reopening is controversial, particularly in the absence of clear national guidelines and the president's encouragement of protests against orders issued by state governors to get a sense of how local leaders are managing the process. I called up the mayors of three cities, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Kansas city, Missouri, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. They've been spared the worst surge of COVID-19 deaths, but not the psychological pressure, the political upheaval and the economic wreckage. Andy Berke of Chattanooga declared a state of emergency on March 13th on April 20th, Berke said that the city would not commit to an arbitrary reopening date, but now the state of Tennessee is reopening and Chattanooga right along with it. Mayor Berke. Hello. How are you?

Mayor Andy Berke (01:29):
Good. How are you today?

David Remnick (01:30):
Not bad. Now the world has not seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic in a century. At least. There's no playbook to follow. We all know that. And everybody seems to be improvising and adapting to the changes. How has the Coronavirus changed your job as mayor?

Mayor Andy Berke (01:49):
Well, it's something I was completely unprepared to deal with. Didn't expect it, but we went from Chattanooga being a number one city in the country, uh, for new jobs according to Forbes to try and to, um, prevent people from getting sick and handing out relief to, um, people who need rent payments and businesses who are crying to survive.

David Remnick (02:14):
Well, how badly has your city been affected in terms of the virus in terms of illness and deaths?

Mayor Andy Berke (02:20):
Fortunately, we've been much better off than many places. Uh, we, uh, shut down things extremely early here. So, uh, as of the beginning of may, for example, we, we are the fourth largest County in Tennessee, but we only had 1.4% of the cases in our state. Uh, we've had 13 deaths, which is quite unfortunate. Uh, but our number of cases has not been nearly as large as in other places.

David Remnick (02:49):
Now, recently your governor, bill Lee decided to reopen the state. Did you agree with that decision?

Mayor Andy Berke (02:55):
I did not. Tell me why. Well, we had formed a economic restart group among the big poor mayors and Tennessee, Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, and Chattanooga. And we had a, an entire system set out that would say when we would reopen the circumstances under which we would reopen the things that would cause us to dial back different phases and so on. Uh, if we officially went from that to a full scale reopen where virtually everything other than large scale of dense is open on some level. Um, we, we know that, uh, from the CDC guidelines, this is not a public health recommended way to do this. Um, but, uh, the governor at the time put down an order saying that, uh, that no city mayor could control this issue. And, uh, and instead, at least in our County, he said, only the County mayor had that authority.

David Remnick (04:01):
Well, I'll be blunt. Do you think that this is a decision that's going to be paid for in human lives?

Mayor Andy Berke (04:06):
I'm extremely worried that it is. Uh, you know, we're already seeing, uh, some numbers climbing. Uh, we don't, we can't let them get to the point where it's a logarithmic expansion. And for us to do that, we need testing for large groups of people, uh, on a frequent basis. We need to make sure that we're monitoring what our numbers are doing here locally. And this has got to be a nonstop activity at the front of our public policy.

David Remnick (04:36):
Mr mayor, what's your responsibility at this moment? Is it to decide what you believe is best for your city based on consulting experts and scientists? Or is it to fulfill the mandate of the state government in Tennessee and what a large portion of your constituency is asking for and demanding?

Mayor Andy Berke (04:54):
Well, I believe that my mandate lies somewhere between those two because I have a legal duty to follow the mandates of our state. Um, my other responsibilities though are to speak out for what I think is right for my residents. Uh, we do, uh, webinars with all of our industries. Yesterday we had close to 200 childcare providers on a webinar plus close to a hundred close contact, uh, business owners. So we're, we're trying to do everything that we can to educate people and to speak out about what needs to happen. At the same time, I know that I have a legal obligation to follow what the governor does and, and we're going to do that.

Mayor Quinton Lucas (05:45):
you know, when I ran for mayor and got elected, which was less than a year ago, I used to say that, you know, the president doesn't make that much of a difference in my daily life and our daily lives in Kansas city. Uh, I'm, I regret that. I have to say that's not the case.

David Remnick (06:00):
Quinton Lucas is the mayor of Kansas city, Missouri.

Mayor Quinton Lucas (06:03):
That weekend when the president finally said, this is an important deal. Um, things are going to be different. We should all have shelter in place or stay home orders you saw pretty much throughout the country with the exception of a few holdouts, um, Republican States, all those sorts of things. Um, having these stay at home orders. But I think on the opposite way, as soon as the president tweeted, liberate Michigan, liberate Virginia and your second amendment, liberate Minnesota, then we started seeing more of these protests and state capitals. I had a protest on the steps of my city hall here in Kansas city. You started seeing kind of this great level of, uh, acrimony, uh, between different forces and I think he started seeing the repeal of, of stay at home orders a little faster than anyone would have recommended.

David Remnick (06:48):
Well, tell me about those protests. What was the rhetoric that you were hearing? How representative were there?

Mayor Quinton Lucas (06:54):
You know, I like to think that they weren't that representative. Um, but it was, they were certainly loud, you know, in a time where the news is looking at, um, data, which is, I don't always think that it's actually, um, deaths and tragedies, but, you know, I think people want it to look at something that was different than a number. Instead they saw a bunch of people with don't tread on the flags and you know, who had bullhorns and were saying zany in some ways really bizarre off the wall things. Um, you know, prior to this time in life, I'd never been compared to Adolf Hitler. Um, I don't think in any way the steps that I'm taking or any governor in our country is thinking there's anything that, that is that traumatic other than trying to save lives. And, um, you know, it's been frustrating to see that. So I think they've been more effective than their size is let on I think

David Remnick (07:45):
Forgive me, mr mayor, I just want to be clear on this point. You seem to be connecting the insults that have been directed at your way. I think you've been described as Nazi, like in how you've instituted restrictions in the city and you're drawing a line between being called a Nazi and the rhetoric from the white house.

Mayor Quinton Lucas (08:05):
I am, uh, I, I do think that there, there is a connection to where we are. I think as we've unleashed some level of, um, total detachment from I think science and understanding why rules are being issued in the way they are. I think you have seen an increase in, um, very negative sentiment. You know, some on the left have said that, um, now that all of our efforts aren't stern enough that we, you know, that there's blood on my hands. So I guess it's a two way street

David Remnick (08:34):
in term beyond rhetoric, what kind of practical problems has the white house created for you? Has Donald Trump created for you as you try to manage Kansas city's daily life?

Mayor Quinton Lucas (08:44):
I think there is an inconsistency in messaging that we have right now. Um, I'm one who has a concern with the fact that, you know, we're trying to say that wearing a mask is important. And, and the day that the president announced wearing a mask, he said, you know, I'm not going to wear one. And, uh, you know, some people say you need it, some people don't do what you will. Uh, it is shocking sometimes how many people that may not even subscribe politically to the president's viewpoint. So listen to him, still listen to what he says. And then still, particularly some of our younger people model that level of behavior. I think the fact that those of us here in cities, particularly where our States are not giving us much guidance, um, are looking for what are big rules for reopening schools, what are rules for summer student activities, swimming pools, that sort of thing.

Mayor Quinton Lucas (09:27):
And I think the centers for disease control and prevention has been muzzled. Basically what I've heard is that, um, we should reopen from Washington and uh, that's kind of the only consistent message we've gotten. And sometimes you certainly want to sit back and say, can I just get some clear guidance from someone else so that I'm not exchanging text messages with superintendents in the Kansas city suburbs about, well, you know, can we have events in August or can we not? It's not clear. We don't know. He says one thing, but we heard something different with organization. Is that even a credible organization now because we've heard them attacked in the white house. I mean it's, uh, it's frustrating and it matters and it gets down to everyday decisions like mayors of small towns and big cities are making all across our country.

David Remnick (10:12):
How do you go about being mayor? You don't have all the usual instruments available to you, ribbon cuttings meeting with people. So how do you go about communicating with people and staying in touch with your community and getting people to do what you think is necessary?

Mayor Quinton Lucas (10:28):
You know, we've done a lot more outreach to press than I think I ever had ever wanted. Really. Um, you know, I have a weekly segment on um, a hip hop station here in Kansas city to try to reach a crowd that may not catch me on, you know, our national public radio affiliate. I have a weekly segment on Spanish language radio. We continue through social media through pretty much everything we can to get people to recognize how important the moment is and how we're not doing this as part of some sort of vast left wing conspiracy to keep them indoors. And so that's, you know, the nature of what we do each day. But it certainly has changed. I mean, I'm an inner city politician, right. And a lot of money trajectory to being mayor of Kansas city was going to black churches every Sunday, which is something I don't do. But I get to talk to ministers still. I try to make sure I message with them and we'll keep doing that for as long as this crisis is around.

David Remnick (11:20):
Mayor Lucas, thank you so much and I wish you and Kansas city all the very best. Thank you Ann. Or is the mayor of Cheyenne, Wyoming? It's the largest city in the state and our County has seen over 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 mayor or welcome to the show. Now, how bad is your community been hit in terms of economic terms? How do you quantify that?

Mayor Marian Orr (11:43):
Well, we are having daily budget discussions. Our budget is due June 1st and we have absolutely been, we've been devastated and unfortunately for not only my community but for Wyoming. This couldn't have come at a worst time because Wyoming is so heavily dependent on the coal industry and oil and gas and seeing oil prices in the negatives devastates our economy and then to have sales and use tax plummet, we're seeing a 30% decrease in revenue and we don't see it coming back anytime soon.

David Remnick (12:19):
Yup. Mayors are often cheerleaders for their city. They should be. And you, you're often urging people to come to your city, come to Wyoming and spend money, but right now you found yourself in a position where you've had to do the opposite, discouraging some of your, even your out-of-state neighbors from coming and visiting. What's, what's that change been like?

Mayor Marian Orr (12:38):
Well, it's been very difficult. We're only 25 miles away from Colorado in weld County, which has seen a very large number of cases and we are one of the few States that did not issue a shelter in place to stay at home. And what we witnessed, uh, several weeks ago was the weather started to get better and we saw folks from Colorado coming up and purchasing out of States, you know, non-resident fishing licenses and camping in our parks. And unfortunately we had to do a shutdown on that. And my, my message has been, Hey, we love you to come visit, come visit Wyoming. It's a great place, but we just ask for a little bit of patience and we can't wait to welcome everybody back in.

David Remnick (13:20):
So tell me about the policy of not doing sheltering in place. Why not?

Mayor Marian Orr (13:24):
Well, it came from, it came from our governor who took direction from our state health officer out here in Wyoming. Um, we kind of maybe pride ourselves in the fact that many of us have been socially distancing before any of us really knew the phrase where we're very rural. I mean, our entire state's population is less than 600 thousands. We've really had to follow the lead of the governor and take a really unified approach as far as how the state operates.

David Remnick (13:53):
Now I wonder, as a Republican and as a citizen, and you're watching president Trump in Washington, what do you think of his messaging? What do you think of it when he says liberate Michigan, for example?

Mayor Marian Orr (14:06):
Well, I'll be honest, I've had to turn it off because it's, um, and perhaps it's because I'm, I'm dealing with my own issues here. We certainly have had protests here in Cheyenne at the Capitol. You know, the right to assemble. I think that really harsh rhetoric is not what we, what we need right now. We need, um, we don't need politics, you know, and this virus, not only does it not have a date, but it's, it's bipartisan. It's not a Republican and it's not a Democrat. And we really need to, I think, communicate as leaders in a very mindful and using the medical expertise that we have available to us.

David Remnick (14:49):
Now. The coronavirus has placed huge strain on the city's budget. There's an $8 million deficit now, which is a big deficit for, for, for your city. What plan do you have? What plan can you possibly have to get the city back on track financially at this point?

Mayor Marian Orr (15:05):
Well, with most city budgets, our largest expense is payroll. And so unfortunately we've had two furloughs, 16 employees. We have not stilled 15 um, positions that were open. We have roughly 400 and some employees. So that's really a pretty significant number. We are also looking at, uh, populate, not hiring additional police and additional fire. Uh, even though we're a growing population, so certainly payroll is top of the mind. One of the things that we, we talked about today was that even in city hall, we don't need square footage. We need technology. We need to be spending money towards technology because so much work can be done from home. We've learned we don't need this massive building with HVAC issues and you know, electrical costs and we need technology.

David Remnick (16:03):
So in other words, in a very profound way, the virus is going to change municipal life, not just for a little while, but maybe permanently.

Mayor Marian Orr (16:13):
I believe it absolutely shall. Perhaps perhaps the way we do business and deliver government services shall be changed forever.

David Remnick (16:23):
Mayor Orr, thank you very much and all the very best of your city. Thank you very much. That's Marian Orr, the mayor of Cheyenne, Wyoming. We also heard from Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas city, Missouri, and Andy Berke of Chattanooga, Tennessee.