Cuomo, as a candidate, on the prospect of a Democratic Senate

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Andrew Cuomo addresses reporters. (Azi Paybarah)
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In talking about a new power-sharing arrangement between Republicans and breakaway Democrats, Governor Andrew Cuomo explained why he thought a Democratic-controlled State Senate might not be a good idea.

In an explainer in the Times Union, Cuomo wrote, "The Democratic conference was in power for two years and squandered the opportunity, failing to pass any meaningful reform legislation despite repeated promises."

He also wrote, "The Democratic Conference dysfunction was legendary."

He ended his op-ed by laying out a litmus test he would use to determine support for the coalition and individual members. 

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When he was campaigning for governor in 2010, Cuomo had a somewhat different opinion.

At a September 19, 2010 campaign event in Manhattan that I covered as a reporter for WNYC, at which Cuomo announced the endorsements of some prominent Republicans, I asked him whether winning a Democratic majority in the State Senate was "a key to reforming Albany."

"Two things," he said. "Number one: I support a Democratic majority in the State Senate. Number two: I think what's most important is a functional State Senate. We can't go through a period like we went through, where the Senate was basically dysfunctional."

That last part is consistent, in a sense, with the governor's explanation of his current stance, which is that he believes the coalition provides the best chance of a functional Senate.

But the first part, about supporting a Democratic majority, clearly isn't.

If Cuomo's concern was the Democrats' behavior the last time they were in charge, and the primary culprits are no longer in the party, the question is what else has changed since then.

That's where it gets tricky. Because yes, the Democrats are currently suffering from a discipline problem like they did last time, when they were sunk by their inability to keep a handful of wayward members in line.

But Cuomo is the governor now, and has at the very least tacitly endorsed the Democratic defections. So the only publicly known thing that could have caused the governor to change his mind since 2010 about supporting a Democratic majority in the Senate is the latest bout of internal "dysfunction," which in fact Cuomo has facilitated.

The governor obviously isn't impressed with the leadership capabilities of Democratic conference leader John Sampson, and probably wants to see someone else put in charge. But Sampson was the Democratic leader back when Cuomo made his initial statement about supporting a Democratic majority, too.

It's academic for now; the regular Democrats, despite their electoral gains this year, are not going to get to sit in the majority.

But either Cuomo changed his mind about supporting a Democratic majority after achieving a level of comfort with the pliant Senate Republicans, or is holding out for a change in conference leadership without wanting to get into the messy business of deposing the only black or Latino Democrat in a state-level leadership position.

Or Cuomo's statement of support for the his party was just another one of those things he said during the campaign because he thought he had to.