Cuomo promises to push for Democratic Senate

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Cuomo addresses the WFP convention by video. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
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COLONIE—Speaking in a video message and by phone, Governor Andrew Cuomo told delegates of the Working Families Party on Saturday that he wants Democrats to take control of the state Senate, and he threatened to support primaries against members of the chamber's Independent Democratic Conference if they did not re-join with mainstream colleagues.

“The truth is, also, the Senate has been a problem on many of these issues," Cuomo said, after promising to push for a higher minimum wage, public campaign finance and changes to state abortion laws. “To make this agenda a reality, we must change the leadership of the Senate.”

While Cuomo has in the past given his tacit blessing to the alliance between the 29 Republicans and five I.D.C. senators (along with Brooklyn senator Simcha Felder) who now hold the chamber majority, he laid out a sharp ultimatum for the group that drew applause from the assembled delegates. (Delegates reacted to other parts of the video with cries of "bullshit," and boos.)

“Either they announce that they agree to come back to the Democratic Party, or they will face primaries this year from our unified Democratic coalition," Cuomo said. “I don't want just a majority, I want a majority for us. I want a comfortable majority. If we have a majority, we will win, we will have a progressive agenda for this state.”

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Cuomo's statements were part of a deal with W.F.P. leaders to help him win over state committee delegates. Part of his Senate commitment, four people briefed on the deal said, is the creation of a $10 million fund that will be used to flip the state Senate into Democratic hands, according to four people briefed on the agreement.

Some of that money would come from accounts controlled by Cuomo—either his personal campaign account or accounts of the Democratic State Committee—and other funds would come from major labor unions.

W.F.P. executive director Dan Cantor declined to confirm or deny the $10 million figure, but said there would be an “unprecedented commitment of resources” toward winning a Democratic majority in the state Senate.

During a speech to delegates, party co-chair Bob Master—a top official of the Communications Workers of America—did not mention money but promised there was a “commitment to build a unified coalition” including the W.F.P., major unions like SEIU 1199 and Cuomo himself.

Republicans have traditionally outpaced Democrats in spending for Senate elections. As of January, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee's accounts had roughly $3 million, while Democrats reported less than $50,000. They had successfully focused on wiping out debt from the 2010 cycle.

Queens senator Mike Gianaris, who chairs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, declined to comment when approached at his seat in the front row of the Working Families Party's nominating convention.

Spokesmen for Cuomo also declined to comment.