Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has come off the sidelines in what for him is a major effort to flip the State Senate to Democrats by endorsing more than a half-dozen of the party’s candidates statewide.
Unlike past election cycles, Cuomo’s campaign committee said last week that the governor is directing the state Democratic Party to mount a “robust” coordinated campaign with field troops, telephone banks, digital messaging and mailings in competitive races statewide to help state Senate and congressional Democrats.
On Sunday, he plans a get-out-the-vote tour of the state to support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton that will include down-ballot Democrats.
The Democratic governor attended a rally for candidates, and hosted fundraisers for two Democratic candidates while giving maximum campaign contributions to five. He also threw a fundraiser for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
Cuomo took heat from many Democrats during his first term for supporting some Republicans who helped him achieve his policy objectives.
Members of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party have said Cuomo had to work to flip the Senate to Democrats if he is to gain their full support in a 2018 re-election bid.
“It’s a good move politically,” said Doug Muzzio, political scientist at Baruch College. “That counts big in 2018. You have to get your chits for the political capital.”
It also will work for the legislative session beginning in January, if Democrats reverse the Republicans’ narrow majority.
“He’s made enough deals with Republicans that they will cut him a little bit of slack before they hammer him,” Muzzio said. “He must have made a calculation that he could win enough seats to turn the body.”
That would involve working with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, which has worked closely with Republicans. Members have said they will remain an independent conference, working with a Republican or Democratic majority.
This year is Cuomo’s biggest foray into backing candidates for State Legislature. Although he heads the state Democratic Committee, he has never automatically endorsed Democrats. Instead, he has backed candidates who support his specific policy and spending goals.
Cuomo requires those he backs to support initiatives including renewal of his landmark 2-percent cap on property tax growth — a difficult issue for schools back in the candidates’ Senate districts.
Past governors going back to Republican George Pataki have embarked on pre-election statewide tours in which they campaigned for more legislative candidates from their parties.
The liberal Working Families Party that pressured Cuomo to flip the Senate said Cuomo’s limited effort isn’t a match for big-money business donors backing Republicans.
“This should be a wave election for the Senate Democrats here in New York State, but just 17 hedge fund and real estate interest billionaires have spent $13 million dollars tilting the playing field toward the Republicans,” said New York Working Families Party state director Bill Lipton. “It’s good the governor has made endorsements and made some modest contributions, but it hasn’t been nearly as much as he could and should be doing.”
Cuomo has been particularly reluctant to commit to endorsements amid the seesawing power battle in the Senate, where Republicans have a razor-thin majority.
“The governor’s support for a candidate — helping to raise money, galvanize party and other support — is always beneficial,” said Steven Greenberg of the Siena Research Institute, which conducts polls on state politics. “His endorsement can certainly be helpful in districts where he is popular, particularly with swing voters.”
Last month’s Siena College poll found that 56 percent of voters viewed Cuomo favorably, and 41 percent saw him unfavorably.
State Republican chairman Ed Cox said Cuomo’s endorsements cut both ways. Citing recent federal investigations involving a former top Cuomo aide and a lobbyist who had long been close to Cuomo, Cox said Cuomo has a “cloud of corruption” over him that will turn off voters.
Senate Republicans say they aren’t concerned Cuomo’s level of participation will sway any races against them.
So far Cuomo has backed:
- Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach). He is running against Republican Christopher McGrath, an attorney who lost to Kaminsky in this year’s special election to fill the 9th Senate District seat. The seat became vacant upon the conviction this year of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on corruption charges.
- Sen. George Latimer (D-Port Chester), who is facing Rye city Councilwoman Julie Killian, a Republican, in the 37th Senate District.
- Businessman Adam Haber, a Roslyn school board member, a Democrat who is running against Republican Flower Hill Mayor Elaine Phillips. They are vying for the 7th Senate District seat vacated by Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury), who is running for Congress.
- Democrat James Gaughran, Suffolk County Water Authority chairman, who is facing Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) in the 5th Senate District.
- Anthony Eramo, a Democratic Long Beach city councilman, for the 20th Assembly District seat on Long Island vacated by Kaminsky when he won a special election to the Senate. Eramo faces Melissa Miller, an Atlantic Beach Republican, who has worked to help special needs children such as her son.
- Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) against Republican Michael Conigliaro in the 15th Senate District.
- Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) in her successful September primary against Democrat S.J. Jung in the 16th Senate District.
Cuomo’s campaign has also donated the maximum $11,000 each to the Kaminsky, Latimer, Haber, and Gaughran campaigns and to Democrat Ryan Cronin in his campaign against Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City.) Cuomo hasn’t yet formally endorsed Cronin.