As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gears up for a fall re-election fight, he is waiting for the left-leaning Working Families Party to decide whether he will get its nomination and ballot line.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, entered the second half of the legislative session having riled the liberal establishment on fiscal issues in the budget as well as with related actions, including his decision to shutter a commission investigating public corruption.
The Working Families Party, comprised of labor unions and liberal activists, was incensed in particular over the outcome of campaign-finance proposals. Rather than a robust overhaul with lower contribution limits and a broad public-matching program, the budget included only a limited pilot program to publicly finance one statewide race—for the comptroller’s office.
In the weeks since, the Working Families Party and other liberal-leaning parties have threatened to abandon the governor at the polls and on the ballot, where the appearance of a third-party candidate could siphon votes from Mr. Cuomo.
A Siena College poll in late April found that a candidate perceived to be more liberal than the governor, running on the Working Families Party line, would win up to 24% of the vote, knocking Mr. Cuomo’s lead over Republican challenger Rob Astorino to 15 points. Without a third-party candidate, Mr. Cuomo’s lead over Mr. Astorino would be 30 points, the poll showed.
With the WFP scheduled to decide by the end of May on whether to give Mr. Cuomo its ballot line, the governor has focused his public rhetoric on a liberal wish-list of agenda items, most prominently a more comprehensive system of public financing for state political campaigns.
Other items include the Dream Act, which would offer public college financial aid to illegal immigrants, and a measure that would amend state law to match federal law by allowing late-term abortions when they protect women’s health.
But with the state budget completed and an election on the horizon, many key legislators are content to ride out the session, which ends in late June, without much action. That means the governor may have to rely more on his rhetoric than on new legislative achievements to appeal to the Working Families Party.
Behind the scenes, the governor is already preparing for the likelihood that none of those liberal agenda items will see any action, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Cuomo has said privately that, if by the end of the legislative session the Senate governing coalition doesn’t pass the Dream Act, public financing or a package of women’s-rights bills that includes the abortion policy, he will “consider it a failure and campaign against” the coalition, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Senate coalition comprises Republicans who share power with a breakaway faction of Democrats.
The Working Families Party leadership also appears to be shifting its expectations to the campaign season rather than the legislative session.
“My understanding is that he’s working to pass public funding of elections before the end of session, but he’s not sure if it’s going to pass or not,” said Karen Scharff, co-chair of the Working Families Party. “And if it doesn’t get done, he’s going to campaign on it.”
In recent weeks, Mr. Cuomo has engaged in conversations with Senate Republicans about a more modest matching system, which would give those who participate in public financing either $2 or $3 dollars in public funds for every $1 they raise in donations, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“Discussions are ongoing,” said Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican. “We have to make sure that whatever we do is a common-sense approach.”
But many in the liberal establishment believe the governor won’t make any headway.
“It’s not going to happen,” said Bill Samuels, a New York City-based political activist. “He had the opportunity in the budget. He didn’t have the [courage] to do it,” Mr. Samuels said, using a vulgar term. “End of story.”
Such views might well cost Mr. Cuomo crucial support from the left.
“I think it is at best 50/50 whether he can pull it back together,” Mr. Samuels said, speaking not just of the Working Families Party endorsement, but of having “people like myself give him another shot to tell us that he can finally start performing as we expected him to do when he announced in 2010.”
But as Mr. Cuomo sees it, that perspective ignores his accomplishments to date.
“I don’t know if there’s a lot of space to my left,” Mr. Cuomo said recently, ticking off the legalization of same-sex marriage and a new gun-control law as examples of his liberal credentials.
“I think we’ve accomplished more progressive measures than this state has accomplished in decades and decades and decades,” he said.
Write to Erica Orden at email@example.com