With pressure building on Governor Cuomo to unify the warring factions of the State Senate Democrats and regain control over the chamber, a top aide to the governor is now blaming the stalemate on Democratic Senator Michael Gianaris.
Gianaris, a Queens-based senator who recently helped Mayor de Blasio craft his millionaire tax proposal to fund the MTA, is "working to further the divide," an anonymous Cuomo aide told the Daily News.
The aide alleges that Gianaris has a personal beef with Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the eight breakaway Democratic senators who make up the Independent Democratic Conference, which caucuses with Republicans and allows them to claim a majority in the chamber, thus acting as legislative gatekeepers. The IDC frequently frustrates the efforts of the Assembly, which is solidly in the hands of Democrats.
Cuomo's aide also alleges that Gianaris, a deputy leader of the Democrats, has worked to sink any deal with the IDC because he's concerned about losing influence under a unified Democratic majority.
"As long as this tension exists [between Gianaris and Klein], it’s nearly impossible to bring these two sides together," the aide said. The governor himself has repeated this talking point, according to four members of the state's congressional delegation who met with him in D.C. recently, the News reports.
The comments come as Governor Cuomo is facing increasing pressure from progressives on the state and national level to help Democrats take back control of the Senate. But the private meetings in service of that goal have reportedly been a disaster, with the governor reportedly offending Democratic Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who leads the mainline Democrats, by allegedly downplaying her understanding of suburban voters.
"You look at me, Mr. Governor, but you don’t see me," Stewart-Cousins, whose district includes the suburbs directly north of the city, told him, according to the New York Times. "You see my black skin and a woman, but you don't realize I am a suburban legislator."
According to Gianaris—who serves as Deputy Minority Leader under Stewart-Cousins—the recent comments are intended to draw attention away from the recently inflamed tension between Stewart-Cousins and Cuomo.
"This is a poor attempt to distract people from asking the real question of why Andrea Stewart Cousins does not have her rightful seat at the table after voters voted for a Democratic majority," Senator Gianaris told Gothamist. "And it won’t work."
Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, told Gothamist that "this has nothing to do with Senator Stewart-Cousins — the bottom line is Gianaris and his ego have continued to prevent unification so that he continue [sic] to be relevant in the minority rather then be irrelevant in the majority."
Part of the answer to that question, according to both Gianaris and anti-IDC activists, is that Governor Cuomo has at times seemed uncommitted to supporting his fellow Democrats in the Senate. "We've had a unified Democratic government in Albany," Cuomo told reporters earlier this year. "It wasn't extraordinarily successful. So I work with the Assembly and Senate that I’ve been given and I do the best I can."
In the past, activists have accused the governor of intentionally working to keep the chamber divided for the sake of his own political self-interest—an assertion echoed today by a mainline Senate Democrat, who requested anonymity so as not to further aggravate the situation.
"Andrew Cuomo needs to stop with his silly political moves, because no one is buying it. He's obviously had a very rough week caused by self-inflicted wounds, but he should stop making up stories to hide his true agenda of supporting Republican control."
A representative from Senator Klein's office did not respond to a request for comment.