Andrew Cuomo and the shenanigan-free Senate coalition

Andrew Cuomo. (saebaryo via flickr)
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It isn't great for Andrew Cuomo, the arrest of Malcolm Smith for an alleged bribery scheme.

Not because the governor has any connection to the allegations against Smith, the chairman of the Independent Democratic Conference in the State Senate who is accused of trying to orchestrate a comically clumsy criminal scheme related to his aspiration to run for mayor as a Republican.

Cuomo actually does come up in the allegations, very tangentially: At one point in the U.S. attorney's complaint, Smith is quoted as having said to an undercover F.B.I. agent, as part of an explanation for why the Republican county chairmen were unlikely to go back on a bribe-based bargain with him, "I got them already asking me about judgeships, because judgeships now come through here, it comes through the governor."

But Cuomo will not, and should not, have any trouble convincing anyone that the influence Smith was hinting at there was a fantasy. (Do you believe Malcolm Smith has secretly been telling the popular and famously controlling governor of New York what to do all this time? Neither do I.) 

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The real reason that this arrest—and whatever subsequent allegations come out about Smith's actions—is inconvenient for Cuomo is that the governor has an undeniable stake in the political coalition Smith is, or was until yesterday, a part of. Not incidentally, Cuomo also has a lot riding on the notion, which he has done much to encourage, that Albany is a less rotten place than it was before he took over. 

In the name of keeping the State Senate out of the hands of the sorts of Democrats who used to run it, Cuomo gave his blessing late last year to the formation of the coalition of Republicans and breakaway "independent" Democrats who now lead it.

Smith joined that coalition after the election, giving the Republican-independents a slightly more stable majority and, more importantly, their only non-white member. The breakaway Democratic faction rewarded Smith with an impressive-sounding title and extra staff.

Officially, Cuomo was keeping his distance from the Senate leadership machinations, referring to the jockeying at the time as an "internal power struggle" that the governor had no business getting involved in.

But of course he was already involved, having signed off on a gerrymandered district map that gave an electoral advantage to the Republicans he had comfortably worked with since taking office, and then, after the Democrats made gains anyway, conditionally supporting the Republican-independent coalition as preferable to the type of "dysfunction" and "shenanigans" that had characterized the Democrats' last stint in charge of the Senate. (The inference was that the current Democratic conference, even under new leadership and purged of its most unsavory characters, would still revert to its old ways.)

The governor expressed support for the coalition arrangement as recently as last week, declaring upon passage of the latest budget that "government is working."

If there is any good news for Cuomo in this pathetic-looking mess, it's that it gives him a perfect excuse to begin a pivot back toward the Democrats (or at least distance himself from the current holders of the Senate), in keeping with his general movement leftward in the run-up to 2016.

Asked by a reporter yesterday about the allegations against Smith (who, as it happens, was in the Democratic Senate leadership along with Independent Democratic leader Jeff Klein back in the "shenanigans" days, and who has already been stripped by Klein of his leadership posts), Cuomo said the following:

"The allegations are very serious. I was the attorney general. I spent more time working on political reform and political corruption than probably any attorney general in modern political history. So I take it very seriously and they are serious allegations and I hope that he fully cooperates with the investigation, and I hope the investigation is thorough, and speedy, and gets to the facts. But it is very, very troubling. We have zero tolerance for any violation of the public integrity and the public trust. So, they're very serious."

It will probably not be the last thing he has to say about the matter.