New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo leaves a news conference in...

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo leaves a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- State Senate Democrats increasingly are distancing themselves from and criticizing the man who leads their party -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

They went along with the governor's agenda during his first years in office, even though he presented fiscally conservative budgets. But after he made little visible effort to help them in the 2014 campaigns despite promises to do so, Senate Democrats have become more open and vocal about their disagreements with the governor.

Last week alone, Democrats held a news conference to criticize Cuomo's education policies. One Democrat, in a separate television interview, compared the governor's stances on public-employee unions to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative Republican who has backed restrictions on labor organizing. There also have been critical comments about the governor's claims of running the "most transparent" administration in state history -- all signs that the Democrats increasingly believe Cuomo hasn't supported a sufficiently progressive platform.

"We're not saying the governor has been negligent or bad. But that's not the point," said state Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn). "We've taken the good with the bad, but we think there is more that is possible and it's not getting done and that's a significant problem for us."

Democrats chafed under Cuomo's early budgets, which essentially froze state spending, and a 2012 redistricting plan that many thought helped Republicans maintain Senate control. Meanwhile, they cheered liberal initiatives such as legalizing same-sex marriage and tightening gun-control laws.

But their unrest seems more vocal this year, following an election in which Democrats lost two seats in the Senate even though Cuomo had promised to help them campaign. The governor, who has worked well with Senate Republicans and cheered bipartisan deal making, made few appearances with Democratic candidates in 2014.

Since then, the barbs have been sharper.

"The last people we will be taking transparency advice from is the administration that according to reports has racked up one of the least transparent records in history," Senate Democrats' spokesman Michael Murphy said after a Cuomo ally called the legislature hypocritical for not subjecting itself to the state's freedom of information laws.

A Cuomo official didn't comment other than to say of Senate Democrats: "Well, we all look for ways to stay relevant."

After Cuomo pushed through a new teacher evaluation law in March that teachers unions opposed, Senate Democrats began saying he was attacking one of the party's core constituencies: organized labor.

It culminated in state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) comparing Cuomo to Walker on "City Hall," NY1's political talk show: "If I wanted Scott Walker to be the governor, I'd move to Wisconsin. But we're here in New York. I think we should be a progressive champion that stands up for working people who stand up for public schools first and foremost and then we should help the entire school system."

Democrats said they want to push Cuomo on teacher evaluations, ethics and the Dream Act, which would allow children of immigrants here illegally to apply to college-aid programs, before the 2015 legislative session ends on June 17.

An analyst said Democrats are doing the only thing they can do while in the Senate minority: raise criticisms, even if they are of their own party leader.

"They cannot get attention through passing legislation so they do it by talking," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University and a longtime New York political observer.

"The only way of getting attention is by doing something counterintuitive: man bites dog," Levy said. "In this case, Democrats bite Democratic governor. The only problem for them . . . [is] I'm sure he will have a very long memory."

State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), always one of New York's most outspoken legislators, pointed out that Democrats' unrest isn't completely new, noting the state budget vote on education earlier this year. She saw their stepped-up criticism, including calling out the governor on campaign finance laws and education policy, as an evolution.

"It's a reflection of the fact that many in my conference are saying now, 'You know what? We don't think what happened in the budget was appropriate,' " Krueger said.

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