After seemingly interminable equivocation over whether he would like to see his own party fully in charge of Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo conceded under questioning yesterday that full Democratic domination of the State Senate would be an “optimal”—if unlikely—arrangement.
Brian Benjamin‘s victory last week in the special election to fill Harlem’s vacant State Senate seat will once again leave registered Democrats with a one-member numerical majority in the upper chamber of the State Legislature. However, Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder has caucused with the Republicans since his election in 2012, handing the advantage to the GOP—a slender majority bolstered by the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, which has held a power-sharing arrangement with the Republicans in 2012.
Benjamin’s victory has brought renewed pressure upon Felder and the IDC to return to the Democratic fold, although not so far from Cuomo, the titular head of the state party—though he indicated at an unrelated event on Staten Island yesterday that he would prefer such an arrangement.
“Well look, if they all went back, and the Democrats unified, right? That would be the optimal Senate majority,” the governor said, stressing repeatedly that Felder would. “If there was a majority, yeah.”
Though Cuomo gave no indication he would apply political pressure to any of the renegade Democrats, the comments mark a departure from Cuomo’s previous responses. When the Observer pressed him earlier this month about whether a Democratic State Senate would be better for New York, worse or make no difference, he prevaricated and pointed to the chaotic period of 2008 until 2010 when his party controlled the body.
“We’ve had it. It wasn’t extraordinarily successful,” the governor told the Observer at the time, before adding upon further inquiry. “Well, I am a Democrat, so I support Democrats.”
Despite that disclaimer, Cuomo would not commit yesterday to campaigning for Democratic candidates in Staten Island—a Republican-tilting borough where the governor is nonetheless popular—in the upcoming municipal elections this fall.
“When there is a Democratic candidate who I support and wants me to come campaign on Staten Island, I’ll come,” he told the Observer.
Since the Assembly enjoys an invincible Democratic majority and the governor is himself a Democrat, a Democratic takeover of the State Senate would make New York only the seventh state nationwide with solid-blue capital
The IDC entered the arrangement with the Republicans shortly after Democrats won a majority of seats in the State Senate in 2012. This deal allowed the turncoat coterie’s leader, Bronx State Senator Jeffrey Klein, to assume the title of co-leader and enjoy tremendous influence over legislation and over the chamber’s inner workings.
It also allowed the members of his caucus to enjoy committee chairmanships and the special salary stipends that came with them.
The governor pledged to push for a Democratic State Senate during the 2014 election cycle, and briefly forged an accord between the mainline Democrats and the IDC to run the body jointly should they win a majority of seats that fall. But Cuomo never campaigned nor lent resources to members of his own party, and the deal fell apart when the GOP gained several seats and captured full control of the body.
Klein entered a new pact with the Republican leadership which stripped him of many of the perks and perquisites he previously enjoyed, although he has taken part in budget negotiations, a privilege previously reserved for the governor, Assembly speaker and State Senate majority leader.