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Liberal endorsement for Cuomo signals his move away from bipartisan agenda

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on May 14, 2014 in

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on May 14, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York. Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who spent years building bipartisanship that he said ended Albany's historic dysfunction, changed all that Saturday to secure a deal to get the endorsement of a liberal minor party.

Cuomo accepted the Working Families Party requirement that he actively seek to unseat Senate Republicans led by Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Cuomo also agreed to push the five-member Independent Democratic Conference back into the fold of mainstream Democrats now stuck in the nearly powerless minority.

With more than two weeks left in the legislative session, Cuomo has agreed to take on the Senate's historic bipartisan coalition, which has been his greatest ally as it ran the Senate majority.

"I have grave concerns that Governor Cuomo appears to be turning away from a record of working with Republicans and Democrats to create jobs, control spending and provide tax relief," Skelos said.

Cuomo's agreement immediately places in doubt the Senate Republicans' late-session goals of accelerating tax cuts for employers and other measures.

"That is a fight that we must wage," Cuomo said in accepting the labor-backed minor party's endorsement. He said the fight is needed to fend off "ultraconservatives" in Albany. Cuomo also said he intends to fight a bipartisan coalition that has failed to pass a progressive agenda that includes more protection for late-term abortions and college aid for those living in the country illegally who were brought to the United States as children.

"If we are unified," Cuomo said, "we can take control of our government."

In making the deal, Cuomo also energized a sizable faction of the liberal party, which pushed a political novice, Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who was treated like a rock star at the Working Families Party convention, while Cuomo was booed and called a liar.

Teachout drew more 41 percent of the Working Families Party vote near midnight Saturday night after a protracted floor fight. She said she will spend the next few days deciding whether to take Cuomo on in a Working Families Party or Democratic primary.

At the convention, his critics called Cuomo "Governor 1 percent" and said he lied and broke promises to pursue liberal goals such as higher minimum wage while providing tax cuts to big corporations, banks and other financial enterprises that are major funders of his campaign.

As Cuomo runs for re-election, he could face a mobilized force from his left as well as from conservatives, angry over his gun-control law that Cuomo called the toughest in the country.

On Sunday, an emboldened Senate Democratic majority began a new push to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, indexed to inflation, with a method to allow high-cost areas like New York City to set an even higher minimum. Cuomo led an effort a year ago to raise the minimum wage in phases against Senate Republican opposition.

Senate Republicans have said raising the wage higher would eliminate jobs and hamper the economic recovery.

Flipping Senate control will involve several Long Island races already targeted by Democrats who didn't know until Saturday whether they could count on support from the popular governor.

"It has been clear for some time that the battle for control over the state Senate runs through Long Island," said Evan Stavisky, a partner with the Parkside Group, a strategist for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. "The commitment to a unified Democratic Senate from elected officials and organized labor is clearly a game changer," Stavisky said Sunday.

In Manhattan, Cuomo downplayed the significance of the Working Families Party endorsement, which he tried hard for days to secure.

With Emily Ngo

State & Region