The fight for Democratic State Senate majority reveals political duplicity from City Hall to Queens to Albany


With about three weeks to left before the November general election, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NYC) are scrambling for the last vestiges of good press as their political marriage to one another continues to crumble.

Gov.  Andrew Cuomo  (D-NY) cast his vote in the Democratic primary election at the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco.  Source :  Official Photograph/New York Governor's Office.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) cast his vote in the Democratic primary election at the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco.  Source :  Official Photograph/New York Governor's Office.

Facing an angry electorate, Gov. Cuomo feels hampered by a campaign promise he made to restore the State Senate to Democratic Party control, and Mayor de Blasio faces the prospect that Gov. Cuomo lied when he made that promise, possibly leaving the mayor to have to clean up the political aftermath of the governor’s dishonesty.  

Whilst Gov. Cuomo has transferred monies from his massive campaign war chest to the State Democratic committee to spend money on campaign mailers in coordination with State Senate candidates, it is not known how much of that money is being specifically targeted to benefit key State Senate races.  Earlier in the year, the State Democratic Committee spent nearly $2 million in advertising to attack Gov. Cuomo’s rival for governor, County Executive Rob Astorino (R-Westchester) during the height of Gov. Cuomo’s Moreland crisis.  Because of this distraction, now five Democratic candidates currently face double-digit polling deficits in their races against Republicans.

The election year problems for the Cuomo campaign and the de Blasio camp can be traced back to the shady backroom deal to secure the WFP nomination.  Gov. Cuomo has derided what he calls the Democratic Party’s “extreme left," who basically comprise the same progressive spectrum that the WFP purports to represent and who nominated him for reëlection.  Indeed, in order to secure the WFP nomination, in order to achieve Gov. Cuomo’s vain goal of winning a reëlection race with a higher percentage than did his father, Gov. Cuomo begrudgingly promised, amongst other things, to help the Democratic Party win majority control of the State Senate. 

However, Gov. Cuomo has barely publicly campaigned in his own race, much less in the Democratic State Senate races that would matter to make good on his promise to the WFP.  Furthermore, questions still remain whether Gov. Cuomo will betray the spirit of his campaign pledge to the WFP by endorsing Republican State Senator Mark Grisanti.  Already, the governor has formed his own third party, which he called the Women’s Equality Party, to directly appeal to women’s voters.  Now, the WFP is being forced to support a governor, who may be trying to dilute the WFP’s influence in the November general election.

For all the problems associated with their politically-expedient partnership, the WFP and the WEP walked each carry around a lot of baggage.  The WFP has been exposed to be willing to go to great lengths to win political campaigns, even going so far as deploying a controversial, party-controlled campaign consulting service that has been reportedly provided at discount rates to favored candidates, triggering an independent counsel investigation.  But the WEP is no house of purity, either.  It is seen as a creation by the corporate wing of the Democratic Party to retaliate against the WFP for the humiliating concessions extorted from Gov. Cuomo in exchange for having received the WFP endorsement, some activists say.  Although the WEP sees as its focus to enact a package of proposed legislation called the Women’s Equality Act, which has been stalled in the state legislature ostensibly because of Republican control, the WEP has been stacked with political operatives loyal to the governor, such as former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  Although the WEP has been shamelessly been advancing itself under the guise of identity politics, Will Bredderman from The New York Observer pointed out that 11 of the 17 candidates running on the WEP ballot line this year are men, revealing an embarrassing situational irony and a major clue that the WEP is essentially an astroturf group. 

But the WFP is not lying down in the face of the WEP’s efforts to siphon away women voters from what could generally be described the WFP base :  working mothers.  “Women should be voting on the WFP line,” said WFP Co-Chair Karen Scharff, adding that, “The WFP line is what’s going to elect the state senators who will actually pass the Women Equality Act.”  Escalating the response to the machinations of the WEP is State Senator Liz Krueger, who wrote an e-mail admonishing Ms. Quinn over the WEP’s shameless tactics.  “Dear Christine, Please know that I do not participate in W.E.P. events because I think the whole idea of attempting to create this party was a mistake and have told several at Team Cuomo my opinion,” wrote Senator Krueger, adding that, “Since you have become the 'face' of this effort, I thought I should share my opinion with you as well."  It remains to be seen if the WEP can siphon enough votes away from the WFP base to weaken the WFP.  The WFP exerts influence over state elections, because its union backers can rally over 50,000 general election votes to keep renewing the party’s slot on the state’s general election ballot.  If the WEP can overcome the 50,000 vote threshold on its own, or jeopardize the WFP’s threshold in the process, that would weaken the WFP influence on state politics, a move Gov. Cuomo and his Republican backers would like to see happen, some government reform activists say.  Adding to the dueling power play, there is a lot of resentment from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party directed at the WFP for its shady endorsement deal of Gov. Cuomo and his neoliberal agenda.  There are sour feelings amongst both the corporate and the progressive wings of the Democratic Party.

Complicating matters are the optics that many seek to maintain.  The WFP orchestrated a general election pep rally in Manhattan, but that rally was seen as solely trying to secure a dedicated voter turn-out amongst New York City voters for Gov. Cuomo on the WFP ballot line, enough, at least, that would secure the WFP’s ballot for the next four years.  That pep rally would almost certainly have no spill-over effect on the State Senate races that is the focus of everybody’s attention.  The same criticisms apply to a Manhattan WEP rally, which some thought might cannibalize on the same Democratic voters that were being courted by WFP operatives.

State Senator  Tony Avella  (IDC-Queens) promises to rejoin with the Democratic Party in the next legislative session. Source : Official Photograph/New York State Senate

State Senator Tony Avella (IDC-Queens) promises to rejoin with the Democratic Party in the next legislative session. Source : Official Photograph/New York State Senate

While the media trains its attention on Gov. Cuomo’s seemingly uncommitted efforts to elect a Democratic Party majority in the State Senate, voters let other politicians off the political hook for all the duplicity running rampant in the state’s Democratic Party.  Here in Queens, no Democrat is expending any effort in State Senate races that matter.  When former City Comptroller John Liu was challenging State Senator Tony Avella (IDC-Queens) in the September primary, Mayor de Blasio endorsed the incumbent, State Senator Avella, even though State Senator Avella had caucused with the breakaway group of Democratic State Senators that had swung the majority in the State Senate to Republican control.  In exchange for receiving the mayor’s endorsement, all State Senator Avella did was give voters his word that he would rejoin with Democrats in the next legislative session, and no more was asked of him.  While five other Democratic State Senators struggle to win key races with less about 3 weeks to go before the November general election, many colleagues, like State Senator Avella, waste time doing nothing to advance the goals of the Democratic Party.

In New York politics, politicians know that they can lie to just to win an election, and the tight control of the two party system makes it difficult for the public to rise up to vote the lying politicians out of office.  This explains why the WFP and WEP have held rallies in Manhattan :  to achieve general election wins for the respective political party leaders, but but do nothing to win the races for the five troubled State Senate Democratic candidates.  Critics of corrupt incumbents further point to how easily Mayor de Blasio lied about his commitment to save Long Island College Hospital when he was running for mayor, and how quickly he turned his back on one of the central promises to his mayoral campaign once he was sworn into office.  Warning signs exist about State Senator Avella’s own lack of campaign integrity after he accepted $40,000 in campaign donations through a loophole in state regulations from a wealthy real estate developer, Glenwood Management, which, in turn, supports a controversial real estate industry lobbying group that wants to see the State Senate remain in Republican control.  With all these mixed motivations, it is difficult for voters to see who is telling the truth about their real intentions.  Contacted yesterday, an official with State Senator Avella’s office issued a statement, claiming that State Senator Avella was going to follow through on his campaign promise.  “Senator Avella, along with the rest of the IDC, is fully committed to forming a Democratic majority coalition in November," wrote Heather Sager, Communications Director for State Senator Avella.

By standing beside Gov. Cuomo and the rest of the breakaway Democratic Senatorial group, Mayor de Blasio is endorsing the slimy political status quo in Albany.  Dissatisfaction from Democrats is so great against what has been described as Gov. Cuomo ‘s neoliberal agenda that a protest candidate, Zephyr Teachout, won nearly two dozen upstate counties in the September primary election, including Albany County, home to the state’s capital.  Unfortunately, voters will have to wait until after the November general election to see whether Gov. Cuomo and the rest of the breakaway State Senate Democrats will keep their word and recaucus with the Democratic Party.  If the incumbents violate their campaign promises, by then, however, it will be too late for voters to do anything about it.  Incumbents like Gov. Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and State Senator Avella are counting on that buffer.