Gov. Cuomo Suffers Discomfort Even as N.Y. Democrats’ Power Swells

Andrew Cuomo’s primary challenger isn’t an electoral threat, but she has become an outlet for some liberals’ concerns about New York’s Democratic governor.

ALBANY, NY - JANUARY 08: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014 in Albany, New York. Among other issues touched on at the afternoon speech in the state's capital was the legalization of medical marijuana, and New York's continued economic recovery. Cuomo has been discussed as a possible Democratic candidate for the 2016 presidential race.
National Journal
Sept. 8, 2014, 12:29 a.m.

NEW YORK—New York Demo­crats could be on the verge of an un­usu­ally rare feat, con­sid­er­ing their state’s blue hue: total con­trol of state gov­ern­ment. Yet para­dox­ic­ally, the months lead­ing up to this ex­pec­ted tri­umph have been the most dif­fi­cult peri­od of Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s first term.

Cuomo is ex­pec­ted to win re­nom­in­a­tion next week, des­pite a chal­lenge from the left by law school pro­fess­or Zephyr Teachout. After that, he and oth­er Demo­crats are likely to not only sweep the state’s elec­ted of­fices again in the fall but also take com­mand of the state Sen­ate again, too. Demo­crats have only man­aged to con­trol all the levers of state gov­ern­ment once since the days of Frank­lin Roosevelt—and even that time (much of 2009 and 2010) was in­ter­rup­ted by a few Demo­crats’ brief de­cision to caucus with Re­pub­lic­ans.

But Teachout be­came an out­let for some New York pro­gress­ives’ long-sim­mer­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Cuomo, who they say has been too ac­com­mod­at­ing of Re­pub­lic­ans in the state Sen­ate, for ex­ample, in his quest to main­tain a middle-of-the-road im­age and high ap­prov­al rat­ings. Along with stor­ies about his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s med­dling with its own anti-cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion and more lib­er­al op­pos­i­tion to Cuomo’s pick for lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor, it’s made for an un­com­fort­able few months for the gov­ernor.

To be clear: Cuomo’s gov­ernor­ship does not ap­pear to be in any danger. The most re­cent pub­lic polling high­lighted un­as­sail­able pop­ular­ity, es­pe­cially among Demo­crats, and a large gen­er­al-elec­tion lead. But Cuomo has had to work harder than many ex­pec­ted to main­tain that in­ev­it­ab­il­ity. Earli­er this year, the Work­ing Fam­il­ies Party, a lib­er­al group with a pop­u­lar bal­lot line in New York State, ex­trac­ted nu­mer­ous con­ces­sions from Cuomo for its en­dorse­ment in the spring. Had an­oth­er can­did­ate got­ten the WFP line, it could have siphoned pro­gress­ive votes from Cuomo in the gen­er­al elec­tion.

Among those con­ces­sions: Cuomo fi­nally agreed to work to­ward turn­ing the state Sen­ate blue. There are more Demo­crats than Re­pub­lic­ans in the cham­ber now, but a small num­ber of “in­de­pend­ent Demo­crats” caucus with Re­pub­lic­ans to con­trol the state Sen­ate, pre­vent­ing the ad­vance­ment of cer­tain pro­gress­ive pri­or­it­ies—and giv­ing Cuomo some cov­er for not chas­ing them harder.

“It al­lowed a Re­pub­lic­an voice to be heard in gov­ern­ment, which, if there wasn’t that ar­range­ment, that would not have been the case,” said Jason Weingart­ner, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the New York State GOP. The in­de­pend­ent Demo­crats have since prom­ised to re­join their party.

That’s part of the reas­on WFP act­iv­ists con­sidered nom­in­at­ing Teachout to chal­lenge Cuomo this year. When that fell through after Cuomo’s prom­ises to the lib­er­al base, Teachout de­cided to take her op­pos­i­tion to Cuomo to the Demo­crat­ic primary, a long-shot ef­fort.

But Teachout and her lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor “run­ning mate,” Tim Wu, have still man­aged to cause head­aches for Cuomo. Al­lies of his tried to use a res­id­ency re­quire­ment to dis­qual­i­fy her from the bal­lot; ul­ti­mately, it just gave Teachout more at­ten­tion. The New York Times even with­held its Demo­crat­ic primary en­dorse­ment from the gov­ernor. More not­ably, The Times en­dorsed Wu over former Rep. Kathy Ho­chul, Cuomo’s pick to be his next lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor, while sev­er­al power­ful uni­ons have joined the un­der­fun­ded push for Wu.

“I’m a tra­di­tion­al Demo­crat,” Teachout said in a brief in­ter­view after a press con­fer­ence on the Up­per West Side in late Au­gust. “An­drew Cuomo has wandered off in­to the Re­pub­lic­an Party. It is An­drew Cuomo who has be­come a Re­pub­lic­an, and I have stayed at the cen­ter.” Wu said at the press con­fer­ence that Ho­chul “is run­ning in the wrong primary.”

Their ad­voc­ates feel the same way. As sup­port­ers and New York me­dia took their place for the photo-op in front of a statue of Elean­or Roosevelt, an eld­erly wo­man, seated on her walk­er and be­decked in cam­paign but­tons, re­peatedly chanted: “Cuomo’s a DINO: Demo­crat in Name Only.”

The New York Post re­por­ted that Cuomo’s cam­paign had been forced to pre­pare for the even­tu­al­ity of Wu beat­ing Ho­chul, who com­piled a con­ser­vat­ive re­cord dur­ing one House term in a GOP-lean­ing dis­trict. Ho­chul is already on the WFP and oth­er third-party bal­lot lines with Cuomo for the fall, but if Wu wins the Demo­crat­ic primary, there will be a dif­fer­ent tick­et on the Demo­crat­ic line. Be­cause of the way New York counts its bal­lots, that scen­ario would ul­ti­mately di­vide primary-elec­tion sup­port in ex­actly the same way Cuomo sought to avoid by nail­ing down the WFP en­dorse­ment earli­er this year.

Even if the more lib­er­al Wu, a pro­fess­or who coined the term “net neut­ral­ity,” doesn’t notch a sur­prise up­set of Ho­chul, Cuomo’s second term looks set to have a more lib­er­al tinge than his first, thanks to the com­prom­ises he made to se­cure pro­gress­ive sup­port this year. Demo­crats are set to con­trol the state Sen­ate by only one vote right now, and both parties have dif­fi­cult le­gis­lat­ive races this fall that will fill out the bal­ance of power there. Con­trol would give the Demo­crat­ic Party more lee­way to push more le­gis­la­tion in 2015.

Not that Cuomo gets any cred­it for that ap­proach­ing real­ity from Teachout. The pro­spect of great­er polit­ic­al power on the ho­ri­zon hasn’t been a com­plete boon for the gov­ernor. “It should not take the pres­sure of a chal­lenger for a Demo­crat­ic gov­ernor to say that he’s in fa­vor of a Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate,” Teachout said.

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