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Tension at Senate Democrats’ unity meeting

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers)

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers)

Democratic tensions over control of the State Senate spilled out in a meeting in which Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that he didn’t view her as a suburban legislator because she is a black woman, a source said.

Stewart-Cousins made the remarks during a July summit with the governor about uniting Democrats in the state Senate, The New York Times first reported. Democrats outnumber Republicans 32-31 in the Senate. But Republicans have governing power thanks to alliance with nine breakaway Democrats. Some rank-and-file party members have criticized the governor, also a Democrat, as not doing enough to unite the party in the Senate.

At the summit, Cuomo suggested that Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) — leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which includes eight of the breakaways — had a better understanding of what it takes to win in the suburbs, the source said.

That assertion prompted a sharp reply by Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).

“You look at me, Mr. Governor, but you don’t see me. You see my black skin and a woman, but you don’t realize I am a suburban legislator,” Ms. Stewart-Cousins said, according to the source. “Jeff Klein doesn’t represent the suburbs. I do.”

The governor did not reply. Most of the 23 members of the Senate Democrats were in attendance, the source said.

In a follow-up conversation on the meeting, Stewart-Cousins said in a statement: “My comments were in the context of suburban representation — there was no racial tension whatsoever;, it was a good and productive meeting.”

Contacted Wednesday, a Cuomo official pointed to the comment spokeswoman Dani Lever gave the Times in which she said: “Certainly no one took any offense because it was a friendly and positive meeting on all levels.” Further, the official said the focus of the conversation was not about Stewart-Cousins, but the mainline Democrats’ continued loss of members to the IDC and lack of success in the suburbs.


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