ALBANY – The ugly split among Democrats in the state Senate got even uglier this week, courtesy of comments by a billionaire hedge fund executive who has helped bankroll one of the sides in the nearly decade-long fight.
The whole affair has left some Democrats and Republicans elbowing each other to see who could place greater distance from the controversy.
It began with a New York Times story about a meeting last month between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrats who leads the mainline group of Democrats who have been urging Cuomo – unsuccessfully – to get involved in party efforts to bring a breakaway group of Senate Democrats to end their alliance with Republicans.
“You look at me, Mr. Governor, but you don’t see me. You see my black skin and a woman, but you don’t realize I am a suburban legislator,’’ Stewart-Cousins reportedly said to Cuomo.
Enter Daniel Loeb, a Manhattan businessman who has unloaded more than $1 million into the state’s political system over the past 15 or so years. Among the top and regular recipients of his money: Cuomo and Senate Republicans, who have stayed in power through an alliance with a breakaway group of Senate Democrats headed by Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat.
Loeb turned to Facebook to praise Klein, according to the Times, but then added:
“Meanwhile hypocrites like Stewart-Cousins who pay fealty to powerful union thugs and bosses do more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.”
Recipients and non-recipients of Loeb’s money quickly separate themselves from Loeb.
“We have no connection with these comments whatsoever, and in our opinion they are entirely inappropriate and have no place in the public discourse,’’ said Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman.
“The statements are wrong and have to be repudiated. I dissociate myself from such statements,’’ Klein said Friday morning.
A spokesman for Stewart-Cousins and the other mainline Democrats called the Loeb comments outrageous for someone “with such wide political influence."
“This whole episode speaks volumes about the state of our politics right here in New York,’’ added Mike Murphy, the spokesman.
Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, said the remarks by Loeb "crossed the line and were clearly inappropriate. He was right to apologize.''
Loeb, founder of hedge fund Third Point and whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $3.2 billion, has since taken down the comments from his Facebook page.
Loeb's name shows up on state elections board records as donor to New York political causes topping $150,000. He has contributed at least $1.7 million to a variety of New York State political campaign efforts over the past 12 years, election records show.
Loeb, along with his wife, has donated at least $143,000 to Cuomo’s political campaigns. Loeb is also a major donor to groups that are major donors to Cuomo, such as the pro-charter Great Public Schools PAC, which last spring gave $50,000 to Cuomo in the days before the state budget was being finalized.
Loeb also has given significant sums to keep the Senate Republicans and Klein’s Senate Independent Democratic Conference in power in the 63-member Senate. He and other pro-charter hedge fund executives have pumped millions of dollars into PACs that have financed efforts to prevent a takeover by Stewart-Cousins’ mainline Democratic group.
His donations have been spread from battleground races on Long Island and Western New York, including $18,000 last fall to the successful campaign of Sen. Chris Jacobs, a Buffalo Republican.