Cuomo pushes to reunite party as Nixon challenge grows

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 24: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo talks to reporters at the March For Our Lives, March 24, 2018 in New York City. Thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers and parents are gathering in Washington, New York City and other cities across the country for an anti-gun violence rally organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead. More than 800 related events are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(CNN)Facing pressure from progressive groups and primary challengers up and down the ballot, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced an agreement to end a controversial power-sharing deal between state Republicans and a breakaway group of Democratic lawmakers.

The new pact ends the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference's 7-year-old agreement, which helped guarantee GOP control of New York's state Senate. Their outsize influence has fueled aggressive campaigns, which will persist in spite of the accord, to unseat both the incumbent governor and IDC senators.
Critics of Cuomo on the left allege that he has actively encouraged the IDC, playing the factions off each other, in a bid to tighten his grip on state government and stifle progressive priorities like sanctuary state legislation and universal single-payer health care.
Cuomo's gubernatorial primary challenger, "Sex and the City" actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, dismissed the agreement earlier in the day as a maneuver by the party "establishment" to derail the progressive insurgency by "throwing voters a bone."
    "For eight years, Cuomo claimed that he was powerless against the IDC that allowed Republicans to rule the New York State Senate," she tweeted. "And then since launching our campaign he -- surprise! -- found the power, and this morning the IDC announced they would caucus with the Democratic Party."
    But Nixon, who has excoriated Cuomo for failing to deliver on past promises to unite Democrats, also framed his action as a sign her campaign is growing in influence.
    "If this is what we can accomplish in just two weeks," she said of the deal in a fundraising email, "imagine what we can do with four years."
    Asked about Nixon's comments during a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Cuomo told reporters there was no connection between his push to seal the deal now and her campaign.
    "It had nothing to do with it," he said. "The special election is the driving force, and we want to make sure that we're all working together for that special election and, frankly, having the IDC join with the mainline Democrats I think is going to make us much stronger (on) April 24th."
    Word of a long-awaited breakthrough, which had roots in a successful negotiation late last year, emerged overnight, after Cuomo -- during a meeting on Tuesday in New York City -- secured a handshake deal between the IDC's Jeff Klein and mainline Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
    The pact preserves Stewart-Cousins' position and installs Klein as her deputy.
    At a small-dollar fundraiser for Democratic candidates on Tuesday night in Harlem, with Stewart-Cousins present, Cuomo called for Democrats to come together in Albany, the state capital, as they closed in on a majority in the 63-seat Senate chamber.
    "Frankly, I don't give a damn about somebody's ego or somebody's title or what position they insist on -- the Democratic agenda comes first," he told supporters. "And if they're not willing to unify, as 32 Democrats, then let them get the hell out of the Democratic Party because they're not Democrats."
    But he also sought to downplay the IDC's power and, implicitly, his inability -- or lack of desire -- to forge a reconciliation years earlier.
    "It didn't matter as much when we're not in the majority," Cuomo said. Democrats, even if the IDC's eight lawmakers returned to the fold, would remain in the minority. "It's easy to have intramural politics when you're not in the majority because it doesn't matter. But when you hit 32, now it's serious."
    Cuomo had frequently minimized his sway with the rogue Democrats, telling a curbside inquisitor last summer, "I can perform marriages, but I can't force them."
    "It takes two to tango," he added, walking off.
    Activists working to unseat IDC members also cast doubt on Cuomo's motives -- and whether he'd push progressive priorities when the primary season had past -- while arguing that seven years of "collaboration" with Republicans by IDC Democrats made them unacceptable going forward.
    Sean McElwee, a progressive organizer and writer on the steering committee of No IDC New York, keyed in on the timing of the announcement.
    "The budget has already been decided without Democrats being in the room, so the damage has already been done," he said of a deal agreed, after extensive negotiations, in Albany a few days ago.
    The IDC lawmakers, he said, could no longer be trusted -- and pointed to their potential ouster as a message that would reverberate in and outside New York State politics.
    "We know their true colors," McElwee said. "We've seen who they are, we've seen how calculating they are. There is a very good reason for the Democratic Party and the Democratic base to hold members accountable for collaborating with Republicans as a sign to Democrats across the country, (to say) this is not behavior that is acceptable."