The chickens are coming home to roost. I have known all along that there would be a day of reckoning for Andrew Cuomo, who has been playing with political fire. He had good reason to suspect the tainted leadership of the Senate Democrats. After all, as attorney general, he had investigated many of them. While there are many good Senate Democrats, some of those at the top were bad news and are now under indictment.
So, Cuomo made sure that the Republicans would stay in power. First, he refused to veto the reapportionment bill that disgracefully allowed the Republican majority leader to draw districts in which he had the best chance of winning. During his campaign, Cuomo had promised to veto that bill in favor of having the Senate and Assembly districts drawn up by an outside, non-political body. As soon as he became governor, however, he gave up on that idea. That almost did the trick and kept the Republicans in power.
But then, something else happened when a group of self-serving Democrats under Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) broke away and made a deal with the Republicans so that Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his people could stay in power. Instead of using his influence to remind Klein and his followers that they were Democrats, Cuomo turned a blind eye to the situation. He would only have had to bring Klein and his followers into a room, remind them that they are Democrats, and let them know that he would find people to run against them in primaries and campaign for the challengers. That would have put a stop to the Republican control of the Senate. But the Republicans stayed in power in the Senate, despite the fact that they had fewer senators than the Democrats. Since Cuomo started out as a fiscal conservative, the arrangement suited him just fine because the Senate Democrats are more committed to spending on things like education.
Now Cuomo is in a pickle. He must establish a record as a Democrat and convince fellow Democrats in a convention now or in the future that he isn’t a Republican collaborator.
In the beginning, Skelos and his junior Democratic partners did what Cuomo asked, including passing his gutsy gun legislation. But now the Republicans have been giving Cuomo a much tougher time and war has broken out between Cuomo and Skelos. The Republicans refuse to give Cuomo the reforms that he wants and needs if he is to become the man who tamed Albany. Cuomo has lost control. If he really means business, the governor should restore the Democratic Party to the power that they won in the last election. He could then insist on reforming the apportionment process, pass meaningful ethics reform, and demonstrate that he truly is the Sheriff of Albany.
He should argue with the Democratic senators that the time has come to put their group in order. He might argue that they should put their best person, Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), in the top leadership spot and then tell Klein to get in line with the Democrats. Then Cuomo will be able to argue that he won the Senate for the Democrats and will be a hero in the larger Democratic Party.
Now is the time for Cuomo to burnish his Democratic credentials. If he doesn’t do that and he gets to a National convention, his days in league with the Republicans will surely come back to bite him. Skelos knows that his people just can’t afford to collaborate with Cuomo because they will surely face primaries from more conservative members of their party. That may mean ultimately losing to a Democratic challenger. As for Klein and his gang, the word on the street is he will never rejoin the Democratic conference unless they make him leader and that, my friends, isn’t going to happen.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/05/13