Cuomo's endorsements of state senators remain up in the air

Jul 13, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo says he will not necessarily endorse Democrats for election to the closely divided New York state Senate, even though he’s a Democrat. He says he’ll consider candidates on a case by case basis. That stance gives the politically savvy governor a number of options.

The state Senate has been almost evenly divided for the past several years. Republicans currently hold the chamber by just two seats.  

But Cuomo, a Democrat, does not seem eager to shift the balance of the Senate to his party in the November elections.

Cuomo, who says he “prides” himself on his ability to work with both parties, says he could see himself endorsing a Republican candidate for Senate.  And he says he’s going to back candidates for the Senate based on their individual merit.

“Those decisions won’t be blanket decisions. They won’t be ‘I support every Democrat, I support every Republican, I support every Independent,'” Cuomo said. “It’s a case by case, individual by individual determination.”

Cuomo has had a good relationship with the Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, as evidenced during a news conference in the spring. The two sat side-by-side as a reporter asked about Cuomo’s upcoming choice to lead the State’s Democratic Party.  Senator Skelos jokingly suggested that the governor select a Republican.

“A Republican chair, that would be interesting,” Cuomo  pretended to muse. “Are you interested?”

Skelos laughingly declined.

“All right, I thought I’d ask,” Cuomo responded, with a chuckle.

Cuomo’s positive relations with the Senate GOP have paid off. Last year the Senate Republicans helped Cuomo persuade Assembly majority Democrats  to go along with a property tax cap and  budget cuts. And the governor was able to convince Skelos to put a same sex marriage bill on the floor for a vote in the Senate, where it passed.

Lately, there have been some tensions between the governor and the minority party Senate Democrats.  After Cuomo okayed a redistricting plan in March that favored Republicans in the Senate over Democrats, Democrats boycotted the remainder of an all night session that included many bills on the governor’s agenda.

Democrats ran the Senate for a brief time from 2008 until 2010. They were widely criticized for an era of disarray and dysfunction -- which included an attempted coup that led to a month long gridlock.  Cuomo, who was attorney general during that time period, took a shot at the Democrat’s reign in an interview with public radio.  

“During that period of time it didn’t work well, I think it is fair to say,” Cuomo said.

Further complicating things, four of the Senate Democrats have split off from their 25 other colleagues, and have formed the Independent Democratic Conference. They cooperate in many instances with the Senate Republicans. Their de facto leader, Senator Jeff Klein, gets along with Cuomo, as well.   

Political consultant and SUNY Albany professor analyst Bruce Gyory says Cuomo, by not aligning himself with either party or it’s factions in Senate endorsements, is playing it smart.

“It was interpreted as a pro-Republican political gesture,” Gyory said. “It was, but it was more subtle than that.”

Gyory says Cuomo has successfully exploited the political instability in the Senate to achieve his agenda.  While the governor got the Senate GOP to put the gay marriage bill on the floor, it was mostly Democrats and members of the Independent Democratic Conference, who provided the actual yes votes.  

Gyory say polls show that more New Yorkers want the Senate to be controlled by the Democrats than by the Republicans. If the elections do once again put the Democrats in power, Cuomo, by not making endorsements along party lines, won’t end up on the wrong side of that outcome. And he says Cuomo’s  remarks can be interpreted as offering an opportunity for Democrats to make up, saying to them, essentially, “how many Republicans do you actually want me to support, or do you want to work with me?”

“He’s created options for himself,” Gyory said.

Senate Democrats issued only a brief statement in response to Cuomo’s remarks, saying they “look forward to working” with the governor to push a number of issues that they say have been blocked by the Senate Republicans, including raising the minimum wage, campaign finance reform and gun control measures.

Cuomo is not ready to say who he will endorse yet for Senate, but there’s speculation that he will side with three Senate Republicans running for reelection who voted yes on gay marriage. The governor says he will offer varying levels of support to candidates that he ultimately backs, ranging from a paper press release to fundraising.

Cuomo was to headline a fundraiser for the state Democratic Party, the event was to feature his new co-chairpersons Stephanie Miner and Keith Wright. He’s held a fundraiser for the Assembly Majority Party Democrats’ campaign committee, but has not yet committed to do the same for the Senate Democrats.