Cuomo Secures Support of Working Families Party

Zephyr Teachout in The New York Times, June 01, 2014

Media Source

Defusing a tense and potentially campaign-changing challenge from the left, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo secured the endorsement of the Working Families Party on Saturday night, easing the popular Democrat’s path as he runs for re-election and solidifying his broader political prospects.

After weeks of negotiations and last-minute tribulations, Mr. Cuomo was able to mend rifts created by some of his centrist policies and ease the concerns of Working Families, a small but influential group of labor unions and liberal activists. In doing so, the governor — a savvy politician with rumored presidential ambitions — simplified a re-election campaign in which he hopes to win by a large, message-sending margin.

But the Working Families blessing was hard won, involving a full-court press by his political aides as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat who lobbied on the governor’s behalf despite the two men’s often fraught relationship.

Mr. Cuomo reached out to the party on Saturday night with a video and a subsequent phone call, promising to pursue a raft of progressive goals, most critically changing the political dynamic in the State Senate, where Republicans share leadership with a five-member group of breakaway Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference.

The governor, who previously refused to support a Democratic takeover of the Senate leadership, promised to undo that arrangement, saying the group’s members should come back to the mainstream party or “face primaries this year from a unified Democratic coalition.”

“To make this agenda a reality, we must change the Senate leadership,” the governor said.

In his remarks, Mr. Cuomo also suggested that he would work on a variety of other policy goals, including campaign finance reform; a higher minimum wage; and passage of the Dream Act, which would allow college students who are in the country illegally and meet certain criteria to access state financial aid.

The case for Mr. Cuomo was also made by Mr. de Blasio, a darling of the left, who came to the party’s convention just outside Albany to speak. He told a rapturous crowd that he — and presumably, the governor — would deliver on reforms that have long eluded progressives in the state.

“Tonight that is changing,” the mayor said, adding that he believed that giving Mr. Cuomo the party’s line was a “transcendent moment,” and that he trusted the governor. “I believe he is fully committed to taking back the Senate,” Mr. de Blasio said.

But the fight over the endorsement also appeared to be a rare moment of conciliation and political peril for Mr. Cuomo, whose administration has been noted for its canny — and sometimes cudgel-like — approach to governance, winning deals with little worry about making enemies.

There was no doubt that the Working Families rank and file were angry.

Mr. Cuomo has made a series of legislative agreements, with the help of Republicans, that have alienated many on the left, including tax cuts for corporations and reduced pension benefits for newly hired state employees. Activists have also been disappointed by the governor’s unfulfilled promises to revamp campaign finance laws and bolster women’s rights, as well as a decision this year to dismantle a high-profile anti-corruption panel with little notice.

The governor’s name was loudly booed several times during Saturday night’s meeting of party members, even as a potential challenger for Working Families’s endorsement — Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor — was loudly cheered during her speech.

“This debate is not about some skinny kid with a funny name,” Ms. Teachout said. “This is about our collective dreams.”

And while few, if any, political observers suspected Ms. Teachout could win, a poll of state voters conducted this month by Quinnipiac University showed a much more competitive race in a hypothetical matchup with an unnamed Working Families Party candidate in the mix.