In The Wilderness, Senate Democrats Raise Their Voices Against Cuomo
From the Morning Memo:
Three years ago this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed off on a redistricting deal that allowed majority Republicans in the state Senate to directly control the fate of their districts one last time.
Later that same year, Cuomo did not endorse the Democratic conference’s bid to win full control of the Senate, instead choosing to back a mix of Democratic incumbents, members of the Independent Democratic Conference and several Republicans who voted “yes” on same-sex marriage.
The following year, Cuomo signed off on a deal between the Senate GOP and the five-member IDC that kept Republicans in control of the chamber.
Now, after once again coming up short in last year’s elections, Democrats in the mainline conference are making a public show of independence from a governor who, despite sharing their political affiliation, has shown little desire of seeing the conference take the lead in the state Senate.
Consider the first shot fired by Senate Democrats across Cuomo’s bow this year, delivered by their low-key leader, Yonkers Democratic Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
In a statement, Stewart-Cousins criticized Cuomo for “demonizing” teachers in his effort to create a more stringent teacher-evaluation system and make it easier for schools to fire educators deemed low performing.
Senate Democrats tweaked Cuomo again this past week, with Manhattan Sen. Liz Krueger announcing plans to introduce a bill that would block the administration’s 90-day email purge policy.
The conference’s deputy leader, Sen. Mike Gianaris, meanwhile, is among the lawmakers questioning Cuomo’s use of inserting major policy measures into his $142 billion spending plan by tying them to appropriations bills.
In an interview on State of Politics Live on Friday, the Queens Democrat didn’t deny his conference has been taking a more assertive approach with Cuomo this year.
“We try to focus on the policies and getting done what we need to get done.” Gianaris said. “At different times, different strategies are more effective. We are the minority party in the state Senate and often we found ourselves in the position of being the opposition party and we act accordingly.”
“I don’t think it should surprise anyone we’re going to make ourselves heard, and when we agree we’ll pat them on the back about it.”
To be fair, the mainline Democrats aren’t the only legislative conference giving Cuomo grief as he begins his second term on decidedly rocky terrain.
Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats both have refused to introduce the governor’s 30-day amendments over executive overreach concerns.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco has called Cuomo’s latest budget negotiating tactic “bizarre”, while newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie – albeit in a slightly more low-key way – has also questioned the governor’s approach.
The Republican minority in the Assembly is focused on Cuomo’s highly unusual step of refusing to release school aid runs this budget season.
But the flashes of independence from the Senate Democratic conference these last 10 weeks underscore a broader problem for Cuomo that began last year with an insurgent pushback on his left flank.
Liberal advocates remained frustrated with Cuomo since last year after Democrats came up short in the legislative elections against Republicans, who gained a firm, 33-seat majority in the Senate chamber.
Cuomo won re-election handily and had $10 million left in his campaign account from his victory over his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
The Working Families Party, in particular, questioned why Cuomo was left holding on to such a large pot of money after refusing to provide substantive financial assistance to Democratic candidates.
Cuomo supporters maintain that in a Republican wave year, vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the Senate would not have been helped with more cash – even if the governor had been willing to open his coffers.
At the same time, they note that the state Democratic Party – in essence an arm of the Cuomo 2014 campaign – provided financial aid to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
Regardless of whether additional cash from Cuomo would have helped, others stepped into the void to provide direct support to the Senate Democrats – many of whom are also at direct odds with the governor himself.
Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s Democratic primary foe last year, contributed $28,000 to Senate Democrats’ cause.
The Public Employees Federation, the white-collar union that backed Teachout’s failed campaign against Cuomo, provided $25,000 to the DSCC this past election cycle. (The union also contributed $10,500 to Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader, as well as other individual Senate candidates in both parties).
The New York Stated United Teachers union, meanwhile, spent millions of dollars on an independent expenditure campaign aiding Democratic incumbents and challengers. Cuomo this year is in a protracted battle with NYSUT over his education policies.
And perhaps Cuomo’s biggest rival in Democratic politics in New York, Big Apple Mayor Bill de Blasio, sought to help the conference gain full control of the Senate in order to help his policies win a more favorable hearing in Albany.
Cuomo last year did campaign with and endorse Democratic candidates, but his coattails were – as usual for any governor who runs in a non-presidential election year – strikingly short for down-ballot candidates.
In the end, Senate Democrats found themselves allied with Cuomo’s rivals, rather than the governor himself, and this political reality is now influencing their approach in the current budget battle.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Nick Reisman on March 9, 2015 at 6:52 am, and is filed under Andrew Cuomo, Democrats, State Senate. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|
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