How will a Democratic takeover affect Andrew Cuomo’s Albany arrangement?
Andrew Cuomo had a good thing going, in terms of his ability to make the trains run on time.
Dean Skelos, a Republican, was in charge of the Senate.
Like Sheldon Silver, his liberal counterpart in the Assembly, Skelos had firm control of his conference. But Skelos had limited leverage when dealing with the governor. That's because his party held the chamber, but only by only a narrow majority, making him reliant on Cuomo's unspoken agreement never to campaign against them, and in fact on the governor's willingness to go back on a previous promise by approving the Republican-gerrymandered Senate lines that kept the Democrats from making even bigger gains this week.
Skelos was a guy Cuomo could do business with, in other words, all while shoring up his credentials as a bipartisan pragmatist.
That working relationship seems to be near an end now, after an election that has reduced the number of Republican senators from 33 to as few as 30, in a chamber that will now have 63 seats.
It's not clear yet who will end up controlling the chamber: Four of the non-Republicans at the moment are "Independent Democrats" who aren't committed to caucus with the plain old Democrats. And newly elected Democrat Simcha Felder, who beat Republican incumbent David Storobin, has said that he'll join whichever party is in charge.
It would be overstating things to say the Senate is in a state of chaos—the standard for that was set back in 2009, when a nascent Democratic majority was hobbled by a different dissident gang of four members, three of whom turned out to be unsuited for public life altogether.
But the results-oriented Albany model Cuomo is buildling a national reputation on depends on having two strong-man interlocuters he can deal with directly, and who can keep their members in line. The governor has explicitly said that action takes precedence over debate, and he has in fact figured out that he can get a lot accomplished, for better or worse, by hammering things out with the other two leaders and then presenting the results to legislators (and the public) once they're already done deals. Impicit in all this is that action, in Cuomo's figuring, also takes precedence over party or ideology.
Effective governance. No gridlock. Not like Washington.
It's the kind of thing a guy could use to run for president.
So what now, if the Democrats take over, with their unruly caucus (maybe) and more-liberal fiscal agenda (definitely)? Does the Cuomo Express get delayed, or even derailed?
"It's something of a puzzle," David Birdsell, the dean of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, said of the possible change in Senate leadership and its impact on Cuomo. "On one hand, it's likely to help him get through cherished Democratic goals that he has either embraced or accepted, such as campaign reform and a minimum wage increase. On the other, he will find it much harder to continue to hold the line on spending, taxes or both."
One source close to Cuomo strongly disputed the idea that Cuomo's agenda would be affected by a Democratic takeover, asserting that the governor's fiscally moderate, socially progressive profile allows him to work with both parties. He's already proven his ability to work with the Republicans; if it's the Democrats, well, he already supports some of their major legislative goals, like campaign finance reform, raising the minimum wage and marijuana reform.
The source didn't say anything about the significant money behind Cuomo, but the source didn't have to: the governor has ways of compelling the Democrats to listen to him on things like high-earner tax rates, should it come to a fight.
Kathy Wylde, president and C.E.O. of the pro-business Partnership for New York City, said a Democratic takeover of the State Senate could be a challenge for Democrats, but not necessarily Cuomo.
If "the Democrats control both houses, they have to be more cautious," she told me in an email. "It puts a bigger burden on the business community to pay attention and mount a strong substantive case against bad bills, but for the Governor I suspect it will not make too much difference. He is good at cultivating the legislators he needs to advance his agenda."
Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf was characteristically succinct: "The governor will pursue the agenda he's outlned no matter who controls what."