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Cuomo, Progressives Disagree On Who Is The Left In The Democratic Party

ALBANY, NY (WSKG) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has made no secret in recent weeks of his lack of respect for the progressive wing of his party, frequently disparaging them as not being realistic or pragmatic enough. Now some New York Democrats on the left have begun to answer back.

The 2019 legislative session was dominated by a newly elected majority of progressive Democrats in the legislature. They oversaw passage of several bills, including strengthening abortion rights and transgender rights, instituting early voting, and allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses.

Cuomo’s policies have leaned to the left in recent years, including pushing through the legislature a $15 minimum wage, and enacting paid family leave. It would seem that Cuomo should be pleased that the legislature furthered many policies that the governor also supports.

But Cuomo, in recent months, has frequently disparaged the left of his party, saying their ideas are unrealistic, and they are too preoccupied with social media.

"There’s an intelligence to being a progressive, it’s not political , you can’t do it in a tweet," Cuomo told reporters, after a bill signing ceremony on a farmworkers rights bill passed by the legislature.

Cuomo called the 2018 primary win of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) a "fluke," and he has frequently disparaged top Senate Democrats. Cuomo wrote an Op Ed in the New York Daily News, where he did not mention any of the accomplishments of the Democrats in the legislature, and instead focused on issues they did not deal with, like closing New York City’s infamous jail on Riker’s Island.

"And it’s located in New York City that like to call itself the most progressive capital in the nation," Cuomo said. "How hypocritical."

Rikers is under the purview of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive Democrat who is running for president and who has also at times feuded with the governor.

Cuomo, speaking on Albany public radio station WAMC on July 9, went a step further. He was commenting on the close race for Queens District Attorney between mainstream Democratic candidate Melinda Katz, whom Cuomo backed, and progressive challenger Tiffany Caban. Just 16 votes separated the candidates. He told host Alan Chartock that he believes that he is "one of the most progressive leaders in the state", but he said it all depends on the definition of the term.

"How do you define 'progressive'? By pontification, by rhetoric? By aspirational goals with no realistic plan or knowledge or analysis? And who, doctor, has actually gotten more done," Cuomo said. "I like to say you can’t be a progressive without making progress."

"That sounds like a shot at the left – is that a shot at the left?" Chartock asked.

"No, I am the left," Cuomo answered "I am the left."

Progressive Democrats have had varying responses to the governor’s pronouncements.

Some freshman Senate Democrats, including Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-New York City) decided it was best to take the governor "at his word," for now and see how he follows through later.

"Action always plays out and shows us that words actually mean something," Biaggi said.

Biaggi sponsored a number of bills that were approved in the recently concluded session, including an expansion of equal pay rights for women.  Cuomo signed the measure into law at the victory parade for the U.S. women’s soccer team. Bill sponsors are normally invited to such events, but Biaggi did not get an invite.

Sen. Julia Salazar tweeted that she is "pleased to hear this from Comrade Cuomo." And she said she looks forward to working with the governor to enact items like universal health care.

The Deputy Senate Leader, Sen. Mike Gianaris, also wrote an Op Ed in the Daily News, which seemed to be in part a response to the governor’s remarks. Without naming names, Gianaris wrote that "too many of our established officials" are overly "cautious" in their political approach, and he said they "take turns deriding new voices that advance aggressive reforms."

Gianaris said his article is about a larger fight going on for the soul of the Democratic Party, that is also playing out in tensions between U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the four freshmen Democratic Congresswomen, including AOC,  known as "the squad."

"Many of us have drawn the conclusion that, when you present yourself as just a slightly different version of the Republican Party, people will chose the actual Republican Party," said Gianaris, who said Democrats need to draw a "stark difference" between themselves and a party led by Donald Trump.

Gianaris said he disagrees with the governor’s declaration that Cuomo himself is the left. He said the newly energized progressive movement is not really about any one individual.

"This is a movement being led by people, not individuals," said Gianaris. "I have never seen in my time in politics a more effective grassroots effort that is decentralized and is simply people rising up and recognizing that they need to be greater participants in their government. They are the left."

Cuomo, speaking on Rochester public radio WXXI’s Connections with Evan Dawson on Friday, did not back down from the rift within the party. He compared progressives to the "super-heated right," which he said are pandered to by President Donald Trump.

"You also have a super-heated left," Cuomo said. "That sensationalizes and hyperbolizes."

Cuomo, like Gianaris, refused to mention any names.