Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are tightly coordinated right now, both by design and coincidence. In the past month, they’ve teamed to create a bill waiving a property tax increase on homeowners forced to “improve” their homes by Hurricane Sandy. And at the ceremony to sign the legislation, this morning in Staten Island, Cuomo wore a lilac-colored necktie with dark purple dots; de Blasio’s tie was the reverse, dark purple with lilac dots.
Their political tag-teaming, though, is more fascinating — and it’s an attempt to deal with an electoral thicket facing Cuomo. The governor, running for reelection, is being challenged from the left by the Working Families Party, a small entity with an outsize ability to attract liberal votes. De Blasio helped create the WFP, and it helped elect de Blasio mayor.
Four years ago, de Blasio was a crucial broker in arranging the WFP’s endorsement of candidate Cuomo. Now he’s trying to play the same role, vouching for Governor Cuomo’s progressive “results” and stockpiling credit in the Albany favor bank. But the context is trickier than in 2010 — and, ironically, de Blasio helped create the problem, or the opportunity: His victory as a loud and proud progressive stoked liberal complaints about the centrist Cuomo, particularly on economic issues, and emboldened elements of the WFP.
The divide was inevitable, both locally and in national Democratic politics. But the tension is coming to a head in New York now because the WFP’s convention is this weekend, and the party is pushing Cuomo to advance its agenda, particularly on campaign finance reform, in exchange for putting him on its ballot line this fall.
The maneuvering has been intense for weeks. It picked up speed when de Blasio and Cuomo met with WFP leaders behind closed doors Wednesday night. Today Cuomo provided a very public sign of just how important all this is to him: He threatened to try to upend something that’s worked very well for him — coalition control of the State Senate by Republicans and a breakaway Democratic faction. If campaign finance reform doesn’t pass by the end of this legislative session, Cuomo said in Staten Island, “I will consider the coalition a failure … and I would give my opinion to the people of the state.”
That locution gives the governor plenty of wiggle room. As did his crypto-comic answer when asked if he’d campaign against senate Republicans this fall. “Maybe. Mmmmmaybe.” But Dean Skelos, the Senate Republican leader, and Jeff Klein, the architect of the Independent Democratic Conference, must be a bit anxious. Is Cuomo purely posturing, or has he sized up where the state’s politics are going and decided that the coalition is less useful to him?
Meanwhile, some WFP insiders are floating highly symbolic, if highly implausible, alternatives to nominating Cuomo: Diane Ravitch, the education theorist, and Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor and Howard Dean campaign operative. The inside baseball fun could well continue past the WFP’s meeting this weekend. The state’s arcane election laws allow the party to nominate a placeholder candidate and dangle its line in front of the governor until mid-September. If that happens, de Blasio and Cuomo are going to need bigger wardrobes.