The endgame, however, will employ a heavier hand. If the governor does need to cut a deal with Skelos, he has considerable leverage: The Long Island Republican is Senate majority leader by all of one seat, in a state where demographic trends and legally required redistricting pose an existential threat to his party. Perhaps Cuomo could find ways to help Skelos stay in power. But that would only be a last resort. A Cuomo insider says the first appeal will be to individual senators, who will be told that gay campaign money can be with them or against them. “If it gets to be a week after Memorial Day and we’re still short, you’re really going to see that kind of heavy politics,” the governor’s associate says. “That’s the only way this gets done.”
Gay political leaders claim they’re confident Cuomo isn’t simply posturing to buff his progressive credentials, and that he won’t sell them out by using marriage as a bargaining chip to gain, say, an ethics-reform bill or rent regulations. Yet that won’t keep them from growing nervous as the next three weeks tick away. The governor is routinely caricatured as a cold-blooded calculator. That’s true as far as it goes. But he has made gay marriage personal by investing his own political capital. And this is a man who hates to lose.