Progress in Albany

Ordinarily a Republican victory in a heavily Democratic State Senate district would be seen as a blow to a Democratic governor. It only makes sense, right? Wrong. After all, these are not ordinary times. The apparent victory of Republican upstart David Storobin in a special election to fill Carl Kruger’s former Senate seat is, in fact, an enormous win for Governor Andrew Cuomo. Why? Because Senate Democrats under the retrograde leadership of Brooklyn’s John Sampson remain opposed to the governor’s aggressive and necessary leadership on pension reform. Mr. Sampson has characterized Mr. Cuomo’s recent pension reforms as an “assault on working men and women in New York State.” This no doubt will come as a surprise to those working men and women who otherwise would have to pay for out-of-control public-employee pensions in the decades to come. Mr. Sampson’s rhetoric, however, actually is no surprise. He and his colleagues remain stuck in a time warp. They still think it’s acceptable to lard up public-employee contracts in exchange for union support and contributions. The special election in Brooklyn was not solely a referendum on Mr. Cuomo and the astonishing changes he has implemented or negotiated over the past year. Voters no doubt sought to send a message to the political establishment after the longtime incumbent, Mr. Kruger, resigned in disgrace in a corruption scandal. Mr. Kruger became a poster boy for all that is rotten about the status quo in Albany. His former constituents had every reason to turn their backs on Mr. Kruger’s party and onetime allies. Still, though, it is hard not to conclude that this special election captured the mood of an impatient and exhausted electorate fed up with business as usual. And that’s precisely what the Senate Democrats stand for, and why they clearly deserve to remain on the outside looking in when important decisions are made in the statehouse. Mr. Cuomo has shrewdly aligned himself with those lawmakers, public policy advocates and union leaders who understand that the old ways of governing are over. Party labels and outdated dogma are unimportant­—what matters is flexibility, creativity and an open mind.  As a result, Mr. Cuomo has enjoyed support from more than a few Republicans in the Legislature as he attempts to put the brakes on public-employee benefits that simply should never have been granted in the first place. Many of Mr. Cuomo’s fellow Democrats, including a small but influential group in the State Senate, understand that the state simply cannot sustain the level of benefits and perks handed out in the past. Unfortunately, top Democrats in the Senate remain wedded to the policies of the past. They play the class card because they have no other argument. Voters in Brooklyn made it clear that they will not stand for a return to dysfunctional state government. Mr. Sampson and his colleagues had better pay attention.