For more than two years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was unassailable. Democrats and Republicans fought to be called his closest ally and stayed in line while critics kept their mouths closed publicly and Cuomo rode a reformer’s wave into Albany.
Now, the Democrat’s record-high poll numbers have sunk to their lowest yet and he no longer has the biggest stick governors can wield over legislatures: redistricting.
Yet an objective look at this third legislative year that just ended shows more successes under far tougher conditions than many give him credit for just as the echo chamber of his first two years probably gave him more cheers than he deserved.
Cuomo brought his liberal base — in New York and beyond — to its feet this year. He got the minimum wage increased, forced an expansive gun control law, enacted bold tax-free zones to lure employers and forced schools to adopt the once-unthinkable system of teacher evaluations. He resolved decades-old disputes with American Indian tribes, and was widely praised for the recovery from Superstorm Sandy while getting the fed to pick up the tab.
He also had some losses. He failed for a third year to decide whether to allow lucrative gas drilling upstate, and his liberal turn, especially on gun control, cost him the upstate vote.
He lost on the women’s bill that had no chance among Senate Republicans. Cuomo also lost his proposal to lead the nation in using public money in a voluntary system of campaign financing to limit the role of wealthy special interests.
Cuomo isn’t the only big winner in the 2013 session.
Republicans number just 30 in the 63-seat Senate, yet they reasserted the state’s last bastion of GOP and conservative influence. They struck a deal to share the majority with four breakaway Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference in an unheard-of bipartisan agreement. And it worked.
Republicans allowed the IDC to raise the minimum wage and let Cuomo’s gun control bill pass. They resurrected $350 tax rebate checks and blocked the Dream Act to provide financial aid for illegal immigrants. They were also unscathed by a federal corruption scandal this spring that hit Assembly Democrats.
“Working with the coalition has been fabulous,” said Republican Sen. Thomas Libous, the deputy majority leader. “We worked with [Klein] when we needed to, and I think at the same time we have been able to stand for what the Senate Republicans believe.”