Keith Wright pitches Cuomo to Manhattan progressives

By: Azi Paybarah
May 9, 2014

Keith Wright. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Last week, Assemblyman Keith Wright made the rounds to several Democratic clubs in Lower Manhattan, urging some of the party's most active members to back Andrew Cuomo for re-election, despite their concerns about his commitment to progressive priorities.

“I need you to support Governor Cuomo,” said Wright, in his role as chairman of the state Democratic Party. “He’s going to win. He’s going to win. But he can only win if he has us behind him.”

Wright highlighted Cuomo’s work in passing a same-sex marriage bill, saving nearly 30,000 units of affordable housing, and ending the practice of fingerprinting recipients of certain public benefits.

But the crowds did not seem enthusiastic about Cuomo. Satirist Randy Credico, who is running a protest challenge to Cuomo, was applauded when he suggested, quite seriously, that Assemblywoman Deborah Glick of the West Village also run against Cuomo.

Wright was challenged by several club members on parts of Cuomo’s agenda: not taxing high-earners, not passing the Dream Act, opposing medical marijuana, forcing some public unions to forgo raises under threat of layoffs, and, in the words longtime Democratic activist Allen Roskoff, giving “comfort” to Republicans in the State Senate.

“Expectations have been high for this governor because of what he did with the Marriage Equality Act,” Wright told the crowd. “Why can’t he do that everywhere? I mean, that’s the question. This governor is in firm support of the Dream Act. I’m going to tell you quite frankly, the New York State Senate doesn’t like it. They hate it. And the Dream Act really doesn’t poll that well. So, you have senators that just won’t do it, just won’t do it. You’re giving tuition, financial aid to children of undocumented immigrants. Every place is not Greenwich Village."

“So the expectation is that he can do that with each and every piece of legislation … I do believe the Dream Act will pass, especially after this election when we get some more real Democrats in the New York State Senate,” said Wright.

Afterward, I asked Wright if he or the state party had a specific plan to elect more "real" Democrats to the State Senate. He said he didn't have a specific plan, and that he wouldn't tell me even if he did.

On medical marijuana, Wright told the crowd he is hopeful the governor will drop his opposition, but added, “I don’t know if medical marijuana … would be the litmus test for all progressives.”

"This governor has some good, progressive credentials," Wright said, by way of summing up. "He has some great progressive credentials. He has some moderate credentials. But he also deserves to be endorsed by these clubs."

Wright didn't get much help from Pete Grannis, the former Assemblyman from the Upper East Side, who now works for state comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Grannis said DiNapoli does “an extraordinary job of looking after the well-being of the two thousand employees in the comptroller’s office. It’s a message that does not ring well with the governor and his staff, who seem to have a total disdain for the public workforce.”

Later, Credico asked Grannis, “How is the comptroller’s relationship with Andrew Cuomo? Seriously.” After a few moments of silence from Grannis, who had a knowing smile on his face, Credico added, “Be honest.”

“I know the answer to the question," Grannis replied. "It’s a strained relationship and that’s unfortunate because we … could be a much more aggressive and productive partner with the governor.” He added, “the governor has this approach: my way or no way.”

“You’re killing me Pete,” Wright replied from the back of the room. Later, as Grannis walked by, Wright shook his hand, and repeated, “You’re killing me, Pete,” and laughed.

Wright failed to sway at least one of the clubs.

Last night, the Village Independent Democrats voted to endorse DiNapoli and Eric Schneiderman for re-election, but voted "no endorsement" in the governor's race.



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