ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday urged a Brooklyn Democrat to reconsider his decision to remain aligned with Republicans that is keeping the Democrats from assuming control of the 63-member chamber.
In a letter to Sen. Simcha Felder, Cuomo said his decision “is now pivotal" to getting several policy matters – from immigration to abortion expansion efforts – approved in the Senate before the 2018 session ends in June.
On a number of social policies, however, Felder is more aligned with Republicans than the Democratic conference.
“I don’t want to be unfriendly. I just don’t want to answer your questions," Felder told a handful of reporters as he breezed by into a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans at the Capitol. Among the questions he would not answer is whether he has personally discussed the matter with Cuomo.
After the Senate session, Felder said he had not read the letter from Cuomo. Asked if he might change his decision to stay with the GOP, Felder, who over the years seems to enjoy his reputation for coyness and keeping Albany somewhat on edge with his ruminations, said: "I never say never.''
Uncertain, however, is what, if any, political efforts Cuomo, as head of the Democratic Party, might be taking behind the scenes to un-do Felder’s decision.
With two special election victories on Tuesday, Democrats now have a numerical edge – 32 to 31 – over Republicans in the Senate. But Felder, hours before polls closed yesterday, said he would continue his alliance with Republicans, giving the GOP the one vote margin it needs to control the chamber.
“Through the years, governors have been criticized for meddling with Senate or Assembly leadership decisions as it violated the separation of powers policy. These are not usual days," Cuomo wrote to Felder. Cuomo in years past often said he would not involve himself, as head of the Executive Branch, in the internal affairs of the separate legislative branch.
But Cuomo warned Felder that he and fellow Democrats will be working this fall to boost their ranks in the Senate so that Felder’s future role as kingmaker, he said, will not continue.
“Let me say that the Democratic Conference will not need you in November the way they need you now. I believe there will be additional Democrats who win and are seated for the next Legislature," Cuomo wrote. He did not threaten to help a candidate launch a Democratic primary against Felder.
In a news conference in Manhattan Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo said gun safety, early voting in elections, stronger ethics and campaign finance laws, among others, hang in the balance on Felder’s decision. “I think he’s much more valuable to the Democratic Party now than November," Cuomo said.
“It’s all on him … and circumstantially imposed," Cuomo said of Felder’s power that will determine what policy matters pass or die before the session ends in June. In the letter and news conference, Cuomo said Felder’s worries about disrupting the Senate’s operations are misplaced and based on the senator’s worries about disrupting current partisan staffing.
“You have said that you act in the best interest of your constituents. For their benefit, now is the time that matters," Cuomo wrote Felder.
Republicans expressed confidence that Felder’s decision will hold and the partisan struggle in the Senate will be put off until the general elections this fall.
“I think Senator Felder … is honorable. He doesn’t make decisions lightly. I’m sure that he carefully weighed his decision and his announcement and I expect him to continue as he has, to be an honorable person putting his constituents first," said Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican.