The progressive activists are hoping 2020 considerations will change the governor’s mind. With Hillary Clinton no longer blocking Cuomo’s national ambitions, they are holding up the legislative fight as a test of his party loyalty. “The first step for him to be taken remotely seriously as a national leader would be to demonstrate he can lead his own state party into unified opposition to Trump's toxic agenda,” said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org. “A failure to do so,” Sheyman added, “would be disqualifying.”
Groups endorsing the pressure campaign include the Working Families Party, Color of Change, and Our Revolution, the grassroots advocacy group that grew out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Perhaps the most significant statement, however, came from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee—an official party organization devoted to winning state legislative races. “New Yorkers elected a Democratic majority to represent them in both chambers of the legislature, and Governor Cuomo has an obligation to stand up and ensure that the will of the voters is respected in the New York Senate,” DLCC executive director Jessica Post said. “As head of the party in the state, Governor Cuomo needs to unify the Democratic caucus, and as a national Democratic leader, he needs to firmly establish the Democratic governing trifecta voters clearly wanted when they cast their ballots in November.”
Post’s statement was unprecedented for the committee; a spokeswoman, Carolyn Fiddler, said it was first time in her knowledge that the DLCC had publicly called out a Democratic governor in that manner. “Special circumstances call for special action,” she told me, “and in the era of Trump, Democratic leaders like Cuomo have a responsibility to fight harder than ever before to protect our freedom and rights at the state level.” The DLCC statement came four days after Cuomo was named policy chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a campaign arm headquartered one floor away in the same Washington D.C. building as the party’s state legislative committee.
In many ways, the urgent pleas from progressive activists and the DLCC are an understandable venting of frustration after a dismal election for Democrats. Beyond Clinton’s stunning defeat and the GOP’s victory in key congressional races, the party fell woefully short in its bid to flip as many as a dozen or more state legislative chambers. In New York, Democrats were briefly energized by a narrow apparent victory in a state senate race in Long Island. That win would mean that technically, candidates running as Democrats won 32 of the state’s 63 senate seats—enough for a one-seat majority.
But the politics of the state senate are notoriously complex, even bizarre. And actually securing a governing Democratic majority requires two more heavy political lifts. The first is to unify the 24-member mainline Democratic conference with the seven members of a breakaway group known as the independent Democrats who have aligned with Republicans in a coalition government. The second would be to win the support of a conservative Brooklyn Democrat, Simcha Felder, who has caucused with Republicans for the last few years. Felder, who ran on the Democratic, Republican, and conservative ballot lines, announced soon after the election that he would stay with the GOP.