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Cuomo neutralizes a potential progressive challenge

Governor Andrew Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo
Spencer Platt, Getty Images News

A potential left-wing challenge to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo fizzled out Saturday night, as the progressive Working Families Party narrowly voted to endorse the governor for reelection during its state convention.

The vote came after a last-minute deal between Cuomo and the party's leadership, brokered with the help of Mayor Bill de Blasio and several labor unions with close ties to the party. Cuomo agreed to push several progressive priorities, including an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a statewide system of public financing for campaigns, and a bill to let the children of unauthorized immigrants get state tuition assistance. Cuomo had been on record supporting many of these priorities already, but many progressive activists doubted his sincerity on and commitment to them — and even after this new deal, it's unclear whether any of these measures can pass a GOP-controlled state Senate.

So another aspect of the deal was that Cuomo pledged to help retake the Senate for Democrats. It's rather odd that a Democratic governor had to have his arm twisted before fighting for his own party to retake the Senate. But Cuomo had a good working relationship with the GOP Senate leader, and had reportedly approved a 2012 deal that kept the GOP in charge, with the help of a breakaway group of Democrats. Last night, though, while addressing the WFP convention via video, Cuomo called for a change in Senate leadership — "This is our moment to seize," he said. And according to Glenn Blain of the New York Daily News, Cuomo privately promised to deliver up to $10 million for Democratic senate campaigns.

While Cuomo was always expected to win reelection, a third-party challenger could have dramatically weakened his margin, tarnishing his appeal in a potential future presidential run. Late last week, it briefly appeared that Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham Law, had a shot at winning the WFP's endorsement — but in the actual vote, about 58 percent of the WFP's state committee ended up backing Cuomo. It's not yet known whether Teachout will still try to run, in the Democratic primary or under some other party's line. For now, though, the man many New York progressives angrily call "Governor One Percent" has forestalled a potentially dangerous challenge from his left.