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Cuomo Faces Potential Gridlock With State Senate Over Next Four Years

The once and future governors celebrate Andrew Cuomo's victory.
Karen DeWitt
The once and future governors celebrate Andrew Cuomo's victory.

The once and future governors celebrate Andrew Cuomo's victory.
Credit Karen DeWitt
The once and future governors celebrate Andrew Cuomo's victory.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, won another four years in office, but the Republicans also recaptured the State Senate. That could lead to Washington-style gridlock on a number of issues that Cuomo pushed in the campaign.

Cuomo, under pressure from the left of his party, pressed for a progressive agenda in the final weeks of his campaign that includes an abortion rights provision in a women’s equality package, further increases in the state’s minimum wage, and public financing of political campaigns. On election night, Cuomo promised that he would deliver on those items.

“We’re going to raise the minimum wage for working families, we’re going to pass the Women’s Equality Act, because discrimination and inequality against women stops in New York State," Cuomo shouted to cheers.

Cuomo has blamed Republicans in the State Senate for the failure of those measures in the legislature over the past couple of years. Several GOP Senators did back the Democratic governor in approving same-sex marriage in 2011, and a gun control package in early 2013, shortly after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting. But since then Senators who cast their votes for gay marriage have been ousted from office,  some faced challenges from more conservative candidates that split the vote and enabled a Democrat to win. The last of those Senators, Mark Grisanti of the Buffalo area, lost his post Tuesday night in a splintered four-way race.

Cuomo, speaking one day before elections, blamed the state’s small but powerful Conservative Party, which often cross-endorses Republican candidates and adds a key margin of votes for victory, for the failure to get the rest of the progressive agenda approved. The governor says conservative party sent a “powerful message.”

“The backlash from the conservative party had a chilling effect upon the Republican majority in the Senate,” Cuomo said.

With that history, it seems unlikely that Senate Republicans  will rush to back items like a provision to codify the abortion rights in the federal Roe v. Wade decision into law, or enact the Dream Act, which would give college aid to children of immigrants who are in the country illegally.  

But Cuomo points out that many of the Republicans who kept their seats do not live in inherently conservative districts on Long Island and in many upstate districts. And he says, he’s not giving up.

“The Republicans do not, for the most part, represent ultra-conservative districts,” Cuomo said. “So they’re out of synch.”

In a statement late Tuesday night, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos did not mention any of the progressive issues. Instead he says he wants to work with to lower taxes and create more jobs.  

The governor also received the endorsement of the left-leaning Working Families Party. In exchange, he agreed to work to get more Democrats elected to the Senate, so they could hold the majority.  Cuomo endorsed some Democrats, but mostly by press releases issued over a weekend, and he also boosted the profile of the Senator Skelos by bringing the Republican Leader with him on a trip to Israel, and speaking often of his bipartisan successes in the legislature to hold the line on spending and taxes.

After the vote was in, the Working Families Party issued a bitter statement, saying the governor had squandered his resources on a “fake” party, Cuomo’s newly created Women’s Equality Party, and that he had let Democrats in the legislature and in Congress “wither on the vine.”

In the end, though, New York followed a national trend of Republican victories as the GOP also took over the U.S. Senate.

Copyright 2014 WAMC Northeast Public Radio

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.

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