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Cuomo critic threatens primary run against Hochul for lieutenant governor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to face a challenge from left-leaning members of his own party, which will play out at the end of the week during the Working Families Party convention. In addition, a progressive Democrat and wealthy businessman who’s been a harsh critic of Cuomo is threatening to try to get on the ballot for lieutenant governor.

Bill Samuels, a passionate oppponent of Cuomo, says he’s seriously thinking about challenging the governor’s hand-picked running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, in a Democratic primary.

Samuels supported Cuomo when he first ran for governor in 2002, but has become disenchanted and has begun his own reform group to try to pressure the governor to, in Samuel’s words, return to the Democratic Party’s progressive roots.

Samuels spoke in an interview with New York State Public Radio and Television previously about the disappointment among the left with Cuomo’s policies.

“We’re sending a message,” Samuels said. “Andrew Cuomo has failed. He’s not our leader. We’re disappointed with him.”

Samuels is particularly angry over the failure to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform, including a small donor matching program in the state budget. He says Cuomo must do something dramatically different in order to win support back from left-leaning Democrats.

The threat by Samuels caused an immediate response from several well known Democratic women in New York. In a coordinated email campaign, Yonkers assemblywoman and former counsel to Senate Democrats Shelly Mayer, and former Democratic State Party Chairwoman Judith Hope, among others, said it would be unbelievably misguided and would offend women in the party.

Samuels says he has nothing against Hochul, a former congresswoman and Erie County clerk, and says she’s a totally qualified choice. He says he’s met with Cuomo and his aides several times in recent weeks, and they have not listened to his concerns, so he believes a political challenge is the best way to get their attention. He says he’s giving the governor a chance to improve upon his own legacy. Otherwise, he says, “when history is written he’ll just be a mediocre governor that had a Nixon personality."

Cuomo, speaking in New York City, says he’s unconcerned with the possible challenge to Hochul for the lieutenant governor’s post. But he seemed to take a shot at Samuels’ personal wealth when he was asked about the possible challenge from the Canandaigua native and now Manhattan-based CEO.

“This is democracy, anybody can run for anything, obviously,” Cuomo said. “Especially if you have the money, in this system.”

Samuels says he won’t make a decision on whether to launch a primary challenge for lieutenant governor until after the progressive leaning Working Families Party meets at its convention May 31. Working Families is still deciding whether to endorse Cuomo for reelection or select another candidate instead.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an ally of the Working Families Party, has been weighing in with his advice. He thinks they should endorse the governor, saying the governor has had a progressive agenda and has accomplished a lot.

“If they nominate anybody else, whatever votes that anybody else takes will only be votes that belong to the governor,” Silver said. “They’ll be helping the Republicans. I don’t think that’s their intention.”

Cuomo could still wrap up Saturday’s nomination if he were to convince Republicans in the state Senate to go along with a matching small donor public campaign finance system. Talks are ongoing, but there’s been no agreement yet.

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.