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Cuomo threatens political repercussions for minimum wage increase opponents

Gov. Andrew Cuomo launches new push to raise the minimum wage at an event in Manhattan Monday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo won’t be giving his State of the State speech for another week, but he has already begun laying out his 2016 agenda. On Monday, he held a rally to raise the minimum wage for all New York workers to $15 an hour.

Cuomo has already begun a piecemeal attempt to increase the minimum wage through executive actions to phase in an increase for state workers and fast food workers to $15 an hour over the next several years.

But, he told an enthusiastic audience of labor union members at a rally that he will try once again to get the legislature to pass a law mandating the $15 an hour phase-in for all low wage workers. He said this time, though, it will become a political campaign with repercussions at the polls.

“We’re going to knock on doors, we’re going to make phone calls,” said Cuomo, who said nearly 3 million New Yorkers would benefit from the bill. “We’re going to make sure those workers in your district know who voted for them, who’s with them, who’s against them.”

Republicans in the state Senate have opposed the measure in the past. Business groups say small employers can’t afford the increase.

Cuomo also announced that the lowest paid workers in State University of New York system, including student workers, will see their wages increased to $15 an hour. Approximately 28,000 SUNY employees will see their pay go up.

The governor was joined by the U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, actor Steve Buscemi and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who supports progressive issues, was not at the event. The governor and mayor have been openly feuding for months. 

The governor, over the weekend, also appeared to try to embarrass the mayor when he issued an executive order to require that all homeless people in New York be taken to a shelter when the temperature drops below freezing. Some homeless people objected, saying shelters aren’t safe, and a spokeswoman for de Blasio questioned whether the homeless could be forced into shelters without a state law.

Cuomo continued to implicitly criticize de Blasio and New York City’s governance at the rally.

“It’s not right to have a shelter system that is so dirty and unsafe that people have to stay on the street corner,” Cuomo said.

Afterward, Cuomo denied that he was impugning the mayor or de Blasio’s policies, saying it’s the media who is fanning the flames.

“You want to personalize everything,” he told a reporter.

Cuomo is expected to highlight his other plans for the New Year, including ethics reform, in the days leading up to his January 13 speech. In 2015, both leaders of the legislature were convicted of multiple counts of corruption.  

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.