Governor Charlie Baker and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo received the Edward M. Kennedy Institute Award for Inspired Leadership Wednesday evening for their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The institute praised both governors, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, for the leadership they showed in their respective states, which were among the hardest hit by first wave of coronavirus in the spring.
Anne M. Finucane, vice chair of Bank of America who received the institute’s leadership award last year, spoke during the virtual conference which was starkly different from last year’s 400-person dinner at the institute in Dorchester.
“It’s especially noteworthy this year that we are honoring the work of both a Democrat and a Republican,” she said. “The EMK Institute serves as a constant reminder of what inspired leadership, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on, can accomplish to help ease the burden and improve the lives of Americans.”
The two governors famously teamed up to bring respirator masks from China, enlisting use of the New England Patriots plane that touched down in New York and later Boston.
The award was presented during the institute’s 2020 gala held virtually due to the pandemic. Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward M. Kennedy for whom the award honors, and Martin Luther King, III were among the speakers at the hour-long event.
“I’ve always thought of Senator Kennedy as one of those people who was able to work both sides and did it on almost every major piece of legislation that he got passed,” Baker said. “In this particular time, finding a way to collaborate and work with others you may not agree with on everything, is in some respects, a science I think is incredibly important.”
In brief remarks, the two governors reflected on their experiences leading each state during the pandemic.
Although there is a vaccine coming, people should not let up on precautions because there is a major surge of cases, Baker said.
“These are really hard decisions,” said Baker, in regards to implementing public safety restrictions. “I’m humble enough to recognize that this virus just punches me in the gut every single day.”
The holidays are especially difficult times because it is counter-intuitive to tell people they should not socialize, Cuomo said.
“Leadership is sometimes doing what’s unpopular and setting restrictions for society that you know are in their best interest, even though they are not popular,” said Cuomo, who is divorced from Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. “Leadership is doing what’s hard when it’s right.”