As it became clear that the Republican primary election in the 43rd Senatorial District was going to result in defeat for the Republican incumbent, Roy McDonald, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the unusual, even unorthodox, step of announcing his willingness to endorse the sitting senator were the latter to pursue retaining his seat as the already-endorsed candidate of a third political party.
It turned out that McDonald declined to further actively contest the election, even though his name will remain on the ballot. This took the governor “off the hook,” as it were, even if he truly never saw himself as on it in the first place.
After all, he had pledged to support those who voted for passage of the signal legislation that prompted McDonald’s primary in the first place — same-sex marriage.
Break with tradition
Nonetheless, this gesture of loyalty directly conflicted with another, more commonly practiced one — that of supporting the nominee of one’s own political party.
Claverack Supervisor Robin Andrews is the officially endorsed Democratic Party candidate for that Senate seat.
As its highest state elected official, Gov. Cuomo is the acknowledged leader of the state’s Democratic Party. How is a duly and officially endorsed candidate of that party supposed to take things when her leader not only declines to endorse her for election, but actively endorses her opponent from the party opposite?
Proving once again that politics and irony are close traveling companions, Andrews is openly gay and a grateful beneficiary of the legislation Cuomo and McDonald supported. She praised both the governor and the senator for being willing to cross party and ideological lines in the thoroughly practical interest of pursuing results perceived by each to be ultimately beneficial.
Is that not what many are complaining is virtually non-existent in Washington? In a governing system expressly built in a manner that requires mutual compromise as really the only means of accomplishing anything significant, that word — “compromise” — has actually become an epithet in some quarters.
In that regard, and to add to the irony, Andrews is the first Democratic supervisor elected in Claverack in 35 years and has displayed an acumen for crafting and arranging the mutually agreed solutions necessary in an environment of divided politics. She would seem to be the kind of legislator Cuomo would most want to see in the Senate.
Nonetheless, it’s possible one can make too much of things. The circumstances were certainly unique, public guarantees of support were made and the chance that McDonald would choose to challenge the Republican Party, the causes of which he had championed for decades, was always low.
Still, some might find it curious that Cuomo would make such an announcement in a so public and pre-emptive way before it actually was necessary to do so.
Not isolated incident
Also, this is not the only time the governor has acted in a manner that, at least on the surface, would seem to be at odds with the best political interests of the party he ostensibly leads.
As this decade dawned, the state’s changing demographics put the Senate in electoral play for Democrats after a long period of Republican domination. The Assembly had been and would be solidly in Democratic hands for years. Yet Cuomo seemed unwilling to use the powers of his office, his own popularity with the public, or clearly available and compelling legal arguments with the courts to redistrict the Senate even more favorably in the direction of Democrats.
Again, maybe it was only the ambient circumstances in play. The Senate Democratic leadership that took over the chamber briefly during the Paterson administration had distinguished itself mostly with dysfunctional and embarrassing conduct. At a time of crisis, it would be reasonable for any governor to be wary of further empowering such an emerging majority. It’s not difficult to make the argument that the governor’s actions were more statesmanlike than personal and political.
When a sitting governor garners approval numbers in the 65 percent range from voters in both major parties, however, the tendency appears to be not to look too deeply below the surface of things. Perhaps — and this is not meant entirely facetiously — that’s because we are too busy marveling at the rare occurrence and too invested in seeing it continue.
We do still have serious problems and issues in New York and the fact the Republicans and Democrats on the state level seem to working somewhat in tandem to tackle them is a refreshing departure from things as they were very recently here and still are elsewhere.
Time will tell
A more sober observation may be that anyone controlling the prerogatives of a powerful executive branch, while carrying the political clout that an electoral landslide, a weak opposing political party and a two-thirds public approval rating gives, is not going to be seriously questioned or challenged on any score by anyone, regardless of any legitimate feeling of concern that might be harbored privately.
So what’s actually at work here? Is it raw power or intelligent compromise; personal advantage or unselfish foresight? Is this a brilliantly conceived triangulation strategy a la Bill Clinton, in whose administration the governor previously served? Or is it an indecipherable mélange of all of these?
One surmises that only time can tell.
John Figliozzi lives in Halfmoon and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.