Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday rallied Suffolk Democrats to retake the state Senate and defeat Republican members of Congress, highlighting his administration’s progressive record against Republican policies coming out of Washington.
Facing a Democratic primary against actress Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo railed against President Donald Trump and a Republican Party that he said had been taken over by “extreme conservatives” on immigration, the environment and anti-union rules.
“This is a much different election. It’s not really an election, it’s a defining moment for our nation,” Cuomo said to a packed room of elected officials, political activists and union members at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1049 in Holtsville.
It was his first Long Island campaign stop of the cycle.
Cuomo and Democratic legislators announced last week the dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference, a band of Democrats who had helped shore up Republican control of the Senate.
The split in the Democratic Party, as well as Cuomo’s tepid support for past Democratic Senate candidates from Long Island, has raised the ire of some local activists and skepticism about how hard he will work for local candidates.
Cuomo did not mention his own primary during his half-hour speech.
Nixon campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Katz said in a statement that Cuomo “helped orchestrate” the deal to give Republicans control of the state Senate.
“It’s nice that he’s finally seeing the light and supporting Democrats now — funny what a tough primary challenge will do to a calculating politician,” she said.
Republicans, meanwhile, said Democratic control of the Senate would hurt Long Island by giving power to New York City Democrats.
Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif said in a statement: “Senate Republicans have served as the voice for Long Island — delivering for taxpayers, delivering for schools and delivering on the environment. If the New York City Democrats take over the State Senate, Long Island gets nothing.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in an interview said, “Andrew’s probably trying to firm up his Democratic base.” But he said Cuomo asks him for help with issues including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Gateway tunnel funding and Sandy recovery. “Whenever he wants anything in Washington, he calls me up,” King said.
State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), who won election two years ago without help from the state or Suffolk County Democratic parties, said he believed Cuomo and Democratic Party chairman Rich Schaffer would back Long Island Democrats this year.
“I think we’re going to have real candidates,” Brooks said. “I believe this is real.”
Schaffer, who introduced Cuomo, has long maintained that Republican control of the Senate is good for Long Island. But he said this year he would back qualified candidates, including Brooks and Suffolk Water Authority chairman Jim Gaughran, who is running again against Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset).
“I trust the governor and rely on his analysis that he needs people like John Brooks and Jim Gaughran, two suburban Democrats who’ve showed they can’t be rolled by New York City,” Schaffer said.
Among candidates Schaffer is supporting is Bailey Spahn, a 20-year-old Hofstra student from Bay Shore, against Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore).
Some activists remained skeptical that Democrats were doing enough to retake the Senate.
“It’s April. Elections are around the corner and we’ve seen little evidence of any change in behavior,” said Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party.
Cuomo in his speech ticked off liberal accomplishments since he took office in 2011, including raising the minimum wage to $15, passing marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, gun control, family leave and protections for unions.
Cuomo called Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “bullies.”
“There’s only one way to defeat a bully. And that is to stand up to them,” he said.
He promised a Dunkirk-like flotilla of private vessels to “deconstruct” any offshore oil drilling or natural gas platforms off Long Island’s coast.