ALBANY – Democrats, publicly anyway, were gleeful, and Republicans, publicly anyway, were dismissive.
So went Day One back in Albany in the State Senate since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, breaking nearly four years of his I-can-get-along-with-Republicans mantra, won the backing of the left-leaning Working Families Party on Saturday, only after pledging to work to oust the GOP from its control of the state’s senior legislative chamber.
“I think it was a very political move, a kind of desperation type of move,” a dismissive Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, said of Cuomo’s move. “He’s worried about his political future and his political career.”
Democrats, on the other hand, after yearning for a governor who’s more favorably inclined to their positions, were sounding more optimistic than they have about their chances of taking over the Senate.
“Senate Democrats are very pleased to hear the words out of the governor’s mouth that he is going to support Democrats,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan. “We are feeling very, very good about our opportunities to have significant wins.”
By Albany standards, Cuomo unleashed a political hurricane with his public vow on a video he hastily filmed Saturday afternoon to remove what he called the “ultra-cons” that make up the Senate Republican majority. The Senate is controlled by Republicans and a breakaway group of five Democratic senators.
Since taking office, the governor has made much of his ability to work with Republicans and his bipartisan style of governing between Assembly and Senate forces, turning the page on Albany’s history of dysfunction.
What was unusual Monday was the mocking nature of the reaction from Senate Republicans, who for more than three years would have preferred to walk on hot coals than publicly criticize the governor. But then came the weekend.
“What a governor says and does are two different things,” said Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who has been one of the Buffalo area’s biggest GOP supporters of Cuomo in Albany.
“I don’t know why he went so far out for this party endorsement,”
Maziarz noted that Cuomo was abandoning 3½ years of cooperation from the Senate Republicans for “one wild Saturday night,” a reference to the Working Families Party gathering at which group of delegates booed and yelled at Cuomo during a video shown of him addressing the gathering. Cuomo did not appear before the group, and 41 percent ended up voting against him.
One Republican said he would be “shocked” if Cuomo did anything “substantial” to oust the GOP during the fall elections. “I’m going to watch what he does as opposed to what he says,” said Sen. John A. DeFrancisco, of Syracuse.
Cuomo has not exactly detailed how he intends to bring the Democrats back to power in the Senate beyond running possible primaries against the five members of the Independent Democratic Conference if they don’t return to the main Democratic fold. The governor appeared in public in Manhattan on Monday but did not take questions from reporters.
Democrats insisted that they believe that the governor will be helping them this time. “I’m sure he’ll be campaigning, and he’ll be campaigning with the senators who will be helping push forward his agenda,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, of Yonkers, leader of the main Democratic conference.
The governor has aided Republicans greatly over the last four years with legislation, budget initiatives, endorsements and, most notably, letting them draw their own legislative district lines during the last reapportionment process that created more GOP-friendly boundaries.
Still, Senate Republicans, after huddling behind closed doors at the Capitol on Monday afternoon came out with a singular theme: What happened to Cuomo?
“It was very surprising for me to hear him say that, because we have worked so well together,” said Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, who has a near-zero chance of losing to a Democrat given the GOP edge in her sprawling district.
Young called Cuomo’s embrace of the Working Families Party “shocking.”
That was the word of the day for many GOP senators. Privately, though, some said they believe that Cuomo will end up sitting on his hands when it comes to Senate Democrats because he has his own chief priority: getting himself re-elected in the face of a challenge by Republican nominee Rob Astorino.
Albany being Albany, lobbyists had differing reactions. Some were elated that the uproar made their job easier, because it will be harder for bills they are fighting to get much traction in the days leading up to the end of session June 19.
Other lobbyists were frantic that their issues were suddenly on hold, and were already devising strategies to get their causes back on track before lawmakers flee for the summer.
Senate co-leader Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, acknowledged it will be “challenging” to get many major items agreed to in the final weeks of session. He all but called Cuomo two-faced for embracing Senate Republicans for so long and then tossing them aside over the weekend in “kowtowing to the most extreme liberal Working Families Party.”