WEOS Finger Lakes Public Radio

Cuomo chooses unions over grass-roots progressives

Apr 24, 2018
Originally published on April 27, 2018 4:25 pm

The Working Families Party split up over the weekend, with some of the last remaining major unions leaving the group. The progressive political party announced it is backing Cynthia Nixon for governor, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo withdrew from consideration, saying he’s sticking with the major unions, for now.

The choice seems a safe bet for the incumbent governor.

Cuomo apparently has made the strategic political decision that he can get further in his re-election bid with established unions than the progressive activists in his party. Unions have thousands of members who often volunteer to staff phone banks, go door to door with campaign literature and help encourage voters to go to the polls.

The governor has been very supportive of unions in recent months.

At a rally earlier this month that featured United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, among others, Cuomo signed a bill to protect unions from an upcoming Supreme Court decision that could make it easier for workers to opt out of paying union dues.

Cuomo said the new law says unions can’t be forced to provide full benefits of membership to those who don’t pay for them. And he framed the issue as an attack on working people by President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress.

“This is the tip of the iceberg. We are in the middle of a big, big fight nationwide, and it is just starting,” Cuomo said. “We’re going to be the state that shows how to mobilize and how to win. And that is what this is, a metaphor for today.”

In return, union leaders at the event showered Cuomo with praise. New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento even took a veiled shot at Nixon.

“Leadership is not sending out a press release or sending out trial balloons and, ‘Oh, let’s see what people think, ’ ” Cilento said. “No. Leadership is doing what you say you’re going to do. And governor, we thank you for that leadership.”

Cuomo explained his reasoning on Long Island on Tuesday, talking to reporters, where he denied accusations that he made threats against the unions to get them to leave the progressive Working Families Party.

“I’m a middle-class guy, that’s who I am. That’s where I come from. Those are my values,” Cuomo said. “And organized labor represents the working men and women of New York.”

Bruce Gyory, a political consultant who is not advising anyone in the governor’s race, said the pure progressives are not the majority of the Democratic Party base; it’s made up of a mix of about two-thirds traditional liberals and moderate Democrats, with a few conservative Democrats thrown in. Those Democrats may be closer in their philosophy to union members.

Gyory said in 2014, Cuomo underestimated his primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout. He refused to shake her hand, permitting an aide to physically block her at a public event. And he did nothing to encourage voter turnout, which would have helped him. As a result, the little-known Teachout won one-third of the primary vote.

Gyory said he doubts the governor will make those mistakes again. And he said, right now, it’s Cuomo’s race to lose.

"If you look at the polling data, he’s overwhelmingly popular amongst Democrats and liberal Democrats and female Democrats in particular,” Gyory said. “If he just avoids looking like a bully, if he eats his sugar cookies and is a good mood throughout the whole campaign, he should do just fine.”

Siena poll released Tuesday shows Cuomo with strong support among Democratic and black and Hispanic Democrats. But it also shows Nixon gaining 16 points in the first three weeks of her candidacy. And the governor’s favorability rating among voters matches a record low of 44 percent.