Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during the New York State Democratic...

Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during the New York State Democratic Convention at the Huntington Hilton in Melville Thursday, May 22, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

Hearing a governor endorse his own party's efforts to control a legislative house sounds like less than a big deal.

In New York's capital, however, it marks a much-hyped shift of talking points by the top Democrat.

What it means beyond that becomes the murky question of the hour.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week told the Working Families Party by video, "Let's unify around a simple goal -- taking back the Senate." Then the WFP cross-endorsed him for re-election, even after some in the organization blasted him as a DINO -- Democrat in Name Only.

One operative squarely on the side of the Senate Democrats argued for its significance by saying: "Will Andrew Cuomo spend five months campaigning for the candidates? Who cares -- as long as he's not doing anything to undermine them."

Two years ago, Long Island Republicans were putting Cuomo's photo on Senate election mailings and touting mutual support for the property-tax cap, without evident protest from the governor. Cuomo in 2012 also supported veteran Republican Sens. Roy McDonald and Steve Saland for their risky same-sex marriage support.

Both still lost -- McDonald to another Republican, Saland to a Democrat. But Cuomo did nothing then to dispel the rather sweet message that, unlike Washington, D.C., Albany had found its way to bipartisan functionality.

A loyal Cuomo ally insisted this week that the governor's popularity can help the Democrats he chooses to support, but added: "It matters -- with the caveat that every race is local."

Last month, after he became Democratic state chairman, ex-Gov. David A. Paterson said he didn't want to unduly lift expectations about the prospects of winning the Senate this year.

There is also talk of unions and others committing $10 million to the Senate Democrats. Theoretically they were free to do this before Cuomo -- never known to spend political capital on other politicians -- began urging unity for the cause. But it won't impede them.

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester), the Senate minority leader, wasn't inflating expectations, either, saying Cuomo would campaign for Democrats who support his agenda.

And this isn't as simple as the Democrats electing a majority of the 63 senators. They've already done that. But five of their registrants now belong to the Independent Democratic Conference, which runs the Senate in a unique coalition with GOP leader Dean Skelos' conference. Cuomo spoke of "telling the IDC that they must agree to return to the Democratic Party or face our unified opposition." If these breakaways plan to comply, they haven't hinted as much.

Foes of a Senate turnover note that the first Democratic majority leader in 40 years, Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), who took the helm in 2009 and lasted in power only a short time, was in federal court Tuesday as jury selection began in his trial on corruption charges. U.S. authorities also have indicted Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), who succeeded Smith as the house's top Democrat.

Three weeks ago, Skelos said at the GOP state convention he expects to gain GOP seats this year. Also on hand was a well-placed party official who said privately that Cuomo signaled through intermediaries he would be backing other Democrats all the way this time out.


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