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Cuomo defends progressive record

Ryan Delaney

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is responding to a recent poll that finds support for a third party candidate from the left running against him for governor.  Cuomo says he has a progressive track record, and blames Republicans in the state Senate for stalling his agenda.

The Siena poll found that dissatisfaction among left-leaning Democrats in New York could cost Cuomo 15 points on election day, if the progressive  Working Families Party  put up its own candidate in the governor’s race.

Working Families is considering the possibility, citing disappointment and anger over the governor’s failure to deliver in the state budget on public campaign financing and other reforms, while endorsing corporate tax cuts and breaks for wealthy estate owners.

Cuomo, in his first comments on the subject since the state spending plan was approved, defended his record.

“I don’t know that there’s a lot of space to my left,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo says he’s accomplished more progressive measures than New York state has achieved in decades.

“Marriage equality, safe guns,  we have a phenomenal record of accomplishment,” said Cuomo. “Does that mean we’ve done everything we’d like to do? No.”

He admits his agenda has stalled lately in the state Senate, which is ruled by a coalition of Republicans and  Independent Democrats. In addition to failing to agree to  public campaign finance, GOP Senators  voted down the Dream Act, which would provide  tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, and also rejected an abortion provision in  a ten point Women’s Equality Act proposed by Cuomo .

“The Women’s’ Equality Act is my act, right?” Cuomo said. “The problem is not that I don’t support it. The problem is I can’t get it passed because we don’t have a Senate that supports it.”

The governor says he can’t force them. But he says there’s eight weeks left to the legislative session and he has not given up yet.

“I punch until I hear the bell,” he said. “And the bell hasn’t sounded. So I’m still working on these issues.”

Former assemblyman and now political commentator Richard Brodsky says Cuomo still has the support of many of the major labor unions, as well as the leaders in the Democratic Party, but he agrees there’s dissatisfaction  among the rank and file of the left over Cuomo’s policies.

“To deal with that, it may not be enough to take half measures,” Brodsky said.  “If he’s concerned about the political outcomes, he’s going to have to shift his ground very strongly and very quickly.”

Brodsky suggests that Cuomo could voluntarily impose a public campaign finance system on his own reelection race for governor, which he says would be a “game changer.”

He says what’s happening in New York has larger implications for national politics, and whether the national Democratic Party tacks further to the left or not. Cuomo is still considered a potential 2016 presidential contender, if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run.

“It will indicate whether or not the Democratic Party is willing to accept right wing economics and left wing social policy as a political strategy,” Brodsky said. “There’s a lot at stake.”

Cuomo has an answer to those who are unhappy with the lack of success recently on progressive items.

“Elect people to the legislative body that do support it,” Cuomo said. “And I believe most of these are going to become campaign issues.”

Cuomo has so far not offered to help personally with those campaigns, and he often prides himself on working in a bipartisan manner with the Republicans on other issues.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.