Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Stewart-Cousins: Democratic Majority Will Provide Economic, Progressive Balance

Perhaps the biggest knock made by Republicans when it comes to Democrats having full control of the state Senate is such a majority will pass liberal legislation at odds with the last four years.

Indeed, Senate Republicans can (and have) claim credit for the last four budgets passing on time, as well as the state’s bond rating improving to its highest mark in a generation.

But Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who stands to become the first woman to head a majority conference in Albany, said her conference understands the need for balancing legislative priorities for both upstate and downstate.

“Of course it will be maintained,” she said in an interview last week. “The reality is you didn’t see any block voting by Senate Democrats against doing good things for New Yorkers. We were right there.”

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein last week announced he would form a new majority coalition with the mainline conference of Democrats in the chamber, ending the two-year coalition with Senate Republicans.

Senate Democrats in the majority would likely pursue a variety of long-sought liberal goals backed by New York City Demcorats, including local control for minimum wage increases as well as funding for the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Republicans in recent days have suggested this is a bad situation for the upstate region.

But Democrats point to their support for Cuomo’s agenda during his first term.

“The reality is we will continue to work with Gov. Cuomo to make sure New York remains on the right path, but we should also respect the wishes of the majority of voters,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins added that as a lawmaker who has represented a suburban district that includes both poor and affluent communities, she has a broader perspective on state issues.

“There is a diversity within my district,” she said. “I understand downstate and upstate are not the same.”

Updated: Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif responds.

“The Senate Democrats can talk all they want, but here’s what we know – - when they last controlled the State Senate, they raised taxes by $14 billion, eliminated the STAR rebate checks for seniors and homeowners, funneled Upstate school aid to New York City and neglected the entire region. On top of that, they brought chaos and dysfunction to the State Capitol, and left Upstate Senators on the outside looking in. This isn’t up for debate. The Senate Democrats, backed up by ultra-left New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the radical Working Families Party, would be a disaster for hardworking Upstate taxpayers and their families.”

Stewart-Cousins Pitches Upstate on Democratic Senate Leadership

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has a message for upstate New Yorkers: her conference doesn’t favor New York City.

“I’m not a New York City Senator. I’m a Senator in Westchester County. My district is extremely diverse,” she said in a radio interview this morning.

It’s a critique that she and her fellow senate Democrats have to fend off frequently as they partner with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.

Of the 24 members of the Senate Democratic Conference, 17 of them represent districts that lie entirely or partly within New York City’s five boroughs.

As for the five-member IDC, leader Jeff Klein represents the Bronx, Diane Savino represents Staten Island and Brooklyn, and Tony Avella represents Queens. David Carlucci’s district lies just to the north of the Big Apple’s borders, and David Valesky of the Syracuse area is arguably the only true upstate member of the conference.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos was quick to point out this makeup in an earlier interview.

“It’s the reality that if you look at a map and see where all the Democrats concentrate, whether it’s the governor downstate, Speaker Silver in the city, most of the Senate Democrats, all from New York City,” he said.

“It seems like they’re really afraid and having this politics of fear doesn’t really help anyone,” Stewart-Cousins said in response. “I am the first leader that has been outside of New York City in almost 100 years. I am somebody who has always listened and understood the different dynamics.”

Having said that, the leader indicated that she understands the concerns that came out of the Working Families Party convention about the legislature’s inability to get liberal priorities passed, despite having a majority of members from the Democratic Party. Though she stressed it was about the issues themselves, not any particular party demands.

“Whether it’s ethics reform, minimum wage. Whether it’s women’s equality, campaign finanace. All of these things were being articulated by a majoirty of both hosues of legislature and the governor and yet they couldn’t be done. It’s not about aligning with the Working Families Party or not.”

As for which candidate she would support in primaries against current IDC members?

“This is day two of our coalition, and I think all of these people in primaries have their own decisions to make and we are continuing conversations. I think we want to sit with people who want to make sure that we can work together and move the state forward in all of the areas including the progressive values that we expouse and champion as Democrats,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Stewart-Cousins joins us for a sit-down interview this evening on Capital Tonight at 8pm.

Stewart-Cousins: ‘Unlikely’ Major Bills Get Done In June

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she remains hopeful that closely watched measures such as the public financing of political campaigns and the 10-point women’s agenda are approved in the chamber, but acknowledged that at this point it appears unlikely they will.

“We’re not controlling the agenda,” Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, said on The Capitol Pressroom on Wednesday. “That is the job of the Republicans and the IDC. There are things that still need to be done.”

At issue now is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s newly avowed support for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate, which would effectively end the governing coalition of Republicans and five independent Democrats.

In addition to supporting a Democratic Senate, Cuomo told the Working Families Party he would back a minimum wage increase plan for local communities, the public financing of political campaigns and the Dream Act, which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Senate Democrats on Monday held a news conference to push for support of the minimum wage hike as well.

In addition to those high-profile bills, there is still an effort underway to approve the medicinal use of marijuana as well as combat heroin addiction statewide. At the same time, a host of local-control bills are still on the Senate’s docket.

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos told reporters that he, too, was doubtful anything of significance could still be accomplished now that the political season of campaigning has started, albeit a bit earlier than those at the Capitol were expecting.

“We always continue discussions, but I would say most of the more controversial things would be brought up next year,” Skelos said.

A Siena poll earlier this year showed most voters backed the IDC-GOP coalition in the Senate.

But in the interview this morning, Stewart-Cousins pointed out the state’s voters in 2012 backed a Democratic Senate.

“Everybody gets the fact that we deserve leadership that is progressive… or at least transparent enough who is in charge,” she said.

Senate Democrats Confident Cuomo Will Campaign For Them

Democrats in the mainline conference are confident Gov. Andrew Cuomo will follow through on his promise and help them retake the state Senate.

Speaking at a news conference for increasing the state’s minimum wage, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins insisted Cuomo was clear in backing a Democratic takeover of the chamber, though it remains nebulous as to what form that support will take.

“I’m sure he’ll be campaigning and he’ll be campaigning with the senators who will be helping push forward his agenda,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Cuomo, along with the Working Families Party and a coalition of labor groups on Saturday announced a plan that included the governor’s support for a raft of liberal legislation as well a push for Democrats to retake the Senate.

Cuomo was endorsed by the labor-backed WFP on Saturday over Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout.

Cuomo did not support a full Democratic takeover in the 2012 election, with some liberals believing he has tacitly supported the coalition of Republicans and five independent Democrats who now govern the Senate.

On Sunday, Cuomo laid down conditions for his support of local control for a minimum wage increase, saying he backed a plan that would require a state formula for a local hike.

Both Stewart-Cousins and WFP Co-Chairwoman Karen Scharff insisted Cuomo wasn’t walking back his support for the proposal.

“He’s not changing his commitment,” Scharff said, who also appeared at the news conference this afternoon with minimum wage workers. “That’s exactly what we had wanted, he hasn’t changed that in any of his comments yesterday or today.”

Nevertheless, activists within the party remain weary over how much they can take Cuomo’s commitment to the bank.

“The governor was very clear on his position and I think what we’re doing is supporting these workers, supporting what his intentions are, what his words and giving so many avenues to how we can reach those common goals,” Stewart-Cousins said.

IDC Booed At Democratic Convention

A mention of the power-sharing coalition in the Senate elicited boos and hisses at the Democratic Convention in Suffolk County this morning.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, one of the featured speakers at the convention this morning, noted the Democratic conference has a “numeric majority” in the chamber.

“The Republican minority was empowered by some to maintain control,” the Yonkers Democrat said, resulting a round of loud boos from the audience of Democratic delegates here.

Doubling down on the awkwardness: IDC Sen. David Valesky is here for the second day of convention.

“We’re not going to let that happen again,” Stewart-Cousins said.

She said Senate Democrats will “claim our rightful place next to our Assembly colleagues as the majority.”

Despite the boos, a resolution calling on the IDC to return to the mainline conference fold was tabled by delegates at the first day of the convention.

Not everyone is as upbeat about a Democratic Senate.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not endorse a full takeover of the Senate by Democrats in 2012, and has said he believes the coalition situation is working in the chamber (leading some to think Cuomo has outright given the coalition his blessing to continue).

Newly installed party chairman, former Gov. David Paterson, said on Wednesday Democrats may have to retake the chamber in a piecemeal fashion over the next election cycles.

“It’s possible, but I don’t want to raise expectations,” he said.

Felon Ex-GOP Senator Helps Cuomo Raise Campaign Cash

A former Republican state senator and GOP power broker who pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion in 2012 is co-hosting a high-dollar fund-raiser next month in support of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election effort, Capital Tonight has learned.

Adding insult to injury, the ex-lawmaker in question – Nick Spano – hails from Westchester County. That’s home to County Executive Rob Astorino, who is widely expected to announce his challenge to Cuomo this week, and is badly trailing the Democratic governor in raising campaign cash.

In an email obtained by CapTon, Spano asks “friends” to join him at an April 3 “Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception” at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown that will be co-hosted by his lobbying firm, Empire Strategic Planning.

The email includes an attached invitation to the event, for which ticket prices start at $1,00 per person and climb to $25,000 for “sponsorship levels with host committee reception.”

The invite, which appears below, makes no mention of Spano or his firm. But Spano leaves no doubt in the accompanying email as to his involvement in the event, specifically noting his firm’s “hosting” role, and adding:

“I hope you can join me in becoming a key supporter of the Governor’s campaign. I have attached an invitation and contribution form for your use, and will be following up with you shortly in the hopes that you will be able to join with us.”

“Governor Cuomo has made a terrific difference in moving New York forward during the past three years. It’s important we keep that momentum going, and the Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception is our chance to show him we are on-board.”

“I look forward to seeing you at this key event in Governor Cuomo’s re-election campaign. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have.”

Spano lost his Senate seat in 2006 to Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who was making her second attempt at unseating the Republican lawmaker after losing to him by just 18 votes in 2004.

In 2012, Spano was sentenced to one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion.

Once one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers, Spano, a Yonkers Republican, admitted that he failed to pay more than $53,000 in federal and state taxes by not reporting income – including a $45,000 commission he received on a real estate deal and rental income from a Yonkers building he owned.

Spano was released from prison last spring. He had to do two extra months in a Brooklyn detention center after violating the terms of his release by holding a celebratory family lunch and doing an interview with Journal News columnist Phil Reisman while transferring from a federal prison to a Bronx halfway house.

This isn’t the first time Spano, known as a moderate Republican during his time in Albany, has crossed party lines to back a Democrat.

In 2009, he endorsed then-Westchester County Executive Andy Spano (no relation), citing a concern over the “extremists” supporting the incumbent Democrat’s GOP opponent: Rob Astorino.

Astorino went on to defeat Andy Spano in an upset victory in the 2009 November election.

Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception invite. by embenjamin2001

Stewart-Cousins Downplays Avella Impact

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins downplayed on Wednesday the impact of Sen. Tony Avella’s defection to the Independent Democratic Conference.

In an interview, Stewart-Cousins did admit she was “surprised” by the move of the Queens Democrat to the IDC, which is in a governing coalition with the Senate Republicans.

“At this point I’m sorry he made the decision, but clearly I wish him well and we will continue to try again and bring the progressive initiatives that New Yorkers have asked for with a Democratic Senate,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins added she doesn’t believe the move will make it harder for the mainline conference to reclaim a working majority, as opposed to its current numerical one.

“I don’t think so,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We continue to be exactly who we are. We’re representing the best interests of the people of New York. That will not change.”

The move by Avella is the latest effort by the IDC to grow its conference. When the power-sharing agreement was first reached in 2012, Sen. Malcolm Smith joined the conference. He was later booted from the IDC after being charged in a sweeping bribery scandal.

I asked Stewart-Cousins if she was tired with the IDC’s various public and private overtures aimed at converting their conference members.

“The reality is the Democrats have the majority,” she said. “We shall be the governing the majority. Our focus is going to be on the people of the state of New York and not poaching members.”

Stewart-Cousins Raises Concerns Over Common Core, Student Data Share

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a radio interview said she remains concerned over the speed of the roll out of Common Core evaluation standards as well as a plan to collect student data by the state Department of Education.

“I am absolutely in favor of looking at what we’re doing, how fast we’re doing it and really evaluating what we’re looking at putting on the broad agenda to reach extremely important goals,” she said.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State address on Wednesday called for new capital school improvements through a bond act, he didn’t mention the ongoing controversy over the Common Core implementation by the state Department of Education.

State lawmakers in both chambers have said they plan to address the implementation issues, as well as concerns over the data sharing program through contractor inBloom, in the coming legislative session.

“The amount of testing is an issue for a lot of constituents and the way the evaluation is being implemented is a real concern,” Stewart-Cousins said on the Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter. “Also this data sharing is a real concern as well. To be able to talk about letting districts opt out and not let parents opt out is something I know parents are concerned about as well.”

As for the $2 billion education bond proposal as outlined by Cuomo in the address, the Yonkers Democrat said she was supportive, but wanted to see more details.

While updating equipment in some schools through smart boards is a needed improvement, some buildings need whole sale improvements in order to accommodate the changes, Stewart-Cousins said.

“What I also want to see though is how we’re going to fund the reconstruction of so many schools that are crumbling,” she said. “We have to have a bottom line in terms of technology.”

Klein: I Was ‘Sad And Surprised’ Too

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein reacted to Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’s comments today that she was “sad and surprised” to learn of a possible primary challenge backed by the IDC, saying he too, was sad and surprised.

“Leader Klein was equally sad and surprised to learn of the attempts to recruit candidates against him and other IDC members. It is refreshing to hear that Leader Stewart-Cousins has no plans to engage in primaries against the IDC, but her Deputy seems to have other plans. Unfortunately, Leader Cousins does not appear to call the shots within her own conference. With that being said, the IDC believes the best defense is a good offense and we are prepared to defend our seats.”

Gentle reader, this reporter would like to briefly remind you that it is September 2013, a full 14 months — 14! — before Election Day 2014. That’s all, please continue reading.

News broke last week that former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky had broke bread with Klein and discussed a possible run for the Senate against Stewart-Cousins next year. Brodsky, flattered by the attention, says he won’t run against the Yonkers Democrat.

Similarly last week, the potential candidacy of Councilman Ollie Koppell against Klein in a Democratic primary was also raised. Koppell hedged in an interview, saying such a move would be a “tough race.”

Stewart-Cousins Commemorates March On Washington

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — the only black conference leader and first woman in state history to lead a legislative conference — released a statement this morning commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington:

“Today is the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. The fact that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s vision is being marked by the first African-American President reminds us all of the power of his words and the collective efforts of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who joined his call for equal rights and opportunities for all Americans.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., addressing the crowd and the nation, spoke of a time when peace would reign and when compassion and understanding between all races would be a reality. He taught us that violence never brings permanent peace, hate never brings ever-lasting change, and only compassion, civility, and togetherness will rebuild a broken community.

Today is a reminder that if we recommit ourselves to the vision spoken of on that historic day that assured voting rights, equality, opportunity, fair pay, education and equal justice for all, we can achieve the beloved community embraced by Dr. King.”