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Is Cuomo helping Democrats take back State Senate?

WBFO File Photo
Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo

Senate Democrats hope once again to take away leadership of the Senate from Republicans in the 2016 elections. The chief engineer of strategy for the Democrats says the Presidential candidates at the top of the ticket will help his candidates win.

The leader of the Senate Democrats, Andrea Stewart Cousins, at the Democratic National Convention to witness the historic nomination of the first woman candidate for President in a major political party, said she hopes later on this year to break some barriers of her own and become the first woman, and female African American, Senate Majority Leader.

“I know the chances are real,” said Stewart Cousins, a Democrat from Westchester. “There’s no question about that."

Stewart Cousins said Democrats always pick up seats in a Presidential election year, but this time the choices are even more sharply defined. 

“You can be with the part of Trump, which is the party that’s going backwards, and fearful and divisive,” Stewart Cousins said, “or you can be with the party that understands that the future is moving forward, in faith, together.”

Senator Michael Gianaris is Deputy Democratic Leader in the Senate and top campaign strategist. He also believes that the strength of Hillary Clinton in key Senate districts is going to help Democrats to retake the State Senate.

“There’s enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton in New York and tremendous antipathy toward Donald Trump,” Gianaris said.

Gianaris said there was already a test run of the relative strengths and weaknesses of Clinton and Trump in the suburbs during the special election in April to fill the Long Island seat held by former Senate Leader Dean Skelos. Skelos is facing prison for corruption convictions. The contest was held on the same day as the Presidential primary and the Democratic candidate, Todd Kaminsky, won.

Gianaris predicted Democrats will do very well in the suburbs of New York City, but he admitted that as you travel farther up the Thruway, support for Trump grows stronger.

Earlier in July at the Republican National Convention, Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan took the opposite view from the Democrats on Trump, saying he thinks the GOP Presidential nominee will help Republican Senators win and keep seats.

“I am supporting Donald Trump for President,” Flanagan declared, “and I’m going to do so with grace, with diplomacy, with passion, with fervor.”

Gianaris said those statements were music to his ears.

“We always knew that the Republicans would go down with the ship with Donald Trump,” Gianaris said, “but we never thought they’d sign on to be his first mates as they hit the iceberg.”

Gianaris said if the GOP Senate candidates want to align with Trump, “we’re happy to help them make that point."

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to help Democrats regain the Senate, which they held briefly from 2008 until 2010. Cuomo, asked about his support at the DNC, said he does back Democrats for Senate if they are worthy candidates.

“I support Senate Democrats, “Cuomo told reporters in a question-and-answer session at the DNC.

However, Cuomo said, they need to have “integrity” and “good character."

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to support a criminal because they’re a Democrat,” said Cuomo, who said he was not referring to anyone in particular.

Gianaris said he would welcome Cuomo’s support, but points out that the governor is not actually on the ticket this year. The next governor’s race is not until 2018, so Cuomo’s influence will have far less effect than the Presidential candidates.

Gianaris said the popularity of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who is running for re-election, as well as some hot congressional races will also have influence. However, he said the governor has a large campaign war chest and assistance with fundraising would be very helpful.

“We are always outspent by the Republicans,” Gianaris said.

The GOP-led Senate has helped the governor enact socially progressive measures, like marriage equality and gun control, as well as raising the minimum wage. Republican Senators have also helped the governor enact fiscally conservative measures not backed by most Democrats, including a property tax cap.   

Cuomo did little to help Senate Democrats in the 2014 races. He denies any accusations that he is really on the side of the Senate Republicans, saying he does not want to replicate the gridlock of Washington and will work with whoever is elected.

“The people chose a Republican Senate,” said Cuomo, who said he won’t “reject” the people’s choice. “I’m governor, not King.”

The Democrats currently have the numerical majority in the Senate, but in a complicated political scenario, one of the Democrats meets with the Republican caucus and five other breakaway Democrats meet in their own separate group.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.