Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Democratic State Senate candidate Adam Haber of East Hills said he hasn't heard from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo about how he intends to help elect a Democratic Senate this fall.
Environmentalist Adrienne Esposito and attorney Joseph Fritz, who are vying in a primary for the Democratic line in the 3rd Senate District in Suffolk, also haven't heard from Cuomo's campaign. Neither has Nassau County Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who is seeking the 8th District seat.
All three are involved in some of the most competitive races for State Senate across New York. Until last week, Cuomo showed little interest in winning a clear-cut Democratic majority.
Yet, to get the backing of the labor-backed Working Families Party a week ago, Cuomo pledged to work for a Democratic Senate to end decades of Republican domination. The GOP is clinging to a narrow majority with the help of six dissident Democrats.
The question is how will Cuomo's pledge play out at the grassroots level: Will local Democratic contenders be like the characters in the Samuel Beckett play "Waiting for Godot" -- where the title character never shows up?
Haber, a retired Wall Street executive who is challenging freshman Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), said he supports Cuomo and is optimistic the governor will get personally involved in key races.
"I'd hope he'll come down and together we could go to some civic or business group like the Long Island Association -- [for] meaningful face time with people who are decision-makers," Haber said.
Esposito, who is seeking Democratic support but is not a party member, said she has to rely primarily on her own efforts.
"What I'm doing is running a grassroots campaign and talking about working-class issues," she said. "If anyone wants to help they're welcome, but I'm not tying myself to anyone."
Fritz said, "I give Cuomo credit, foregoing his own party to a limited extent, to make things work." But he said Cuomo now sees, "It's time to move on."
Denenberg said it was too early to forecast what role the governor could play. But he said the push by Cuomo and labor leaders for a Democratic Senate and for initiatives including a "circuit breaker" for school taxes, which would limit how much homeowners pay based on income, would benefit the 8th District.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he does not see Cuomo stepping directly into local races. "I think the governor is putting his major effort into getting himself re-elected and if he does well all our candidates will be the beneficiaries," Schaffer said.
Cuomo's office did not respond to a call for comment last week. On Wednesday Cuomo seemed to back off his May 31 attack on Republicans as "ultra cons." He said in Rochester, "We've reversed that partisanship that existed in Albany . . . I'm not going back."
But State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), chairman of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee, said discussions are underway about Cuomo's role in upcoming campaigns. Gianaris said he expects Cuomo to make campaign appearances and give financial help.
Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, said the best thing Cuomo can do is help local candidates financially. "It's a lot less about endorsements and a lot more about putting mail into people's homes, telephone banks and field operations to get the vote out," Jacobs said.
Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), said he expects "minimal impact" from Cuomo's backing of a Democratic Senate and expects the GOP to hold all nine Long Island seats.
Lisa Tyson, Long Island Progressive Coalition director and a Working Families Party activist, called the prospect of long delayed progressive bills reaching the Senate floor vote a "real game changer."
Tyson, who initially was reluctant to back Cuomo for the Working Families nod, said, "Ultimately the question is can we trust" Cuomo. "But as progressives, we have to hope."