Democrats in the state Senate suggested Tuesday that Gov. Cuomo leveled criticisms at the legislative body because its majority leader is a black woman.
The war of words between Team Cuomo and Senate Dems erupted after the governor discussed several hot-button budget issues, including marijuana legalization, capping property taxes and a proposed pied a terre tax, during a Monday morning interview on Alan Chartock’s WAMC radio show.
The governor suggested that the upper chamber was still trying to find its feet on the issues.
“They have not yet gotten past the slogan, because it is complicated,” Cuomo said of Senate Democrats’ legalization efforts. “The big question is going to be the fiscal integrity of their budget proposals, because again, it comes back to the economy and the fiscal intelligence of where we are.”
When asked about Cuomo’s comments, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins defended her and the Senate’s record
“I think we’ve done a great job,” she said. “I’m thinking it’s SDDS – Senate Democratic derangement syndrome — at this point. I don’t understand what the problem is. He seems to be looking at our conference differently.”
Her Senate colleagues took criticism of Cuomo a step further.
“There is a gendered aspect to this, and there is a race aspect,” said freshman Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn). “She remains unseen to the governor. It offends me as a member of this conference, and it offends me as a person of color.”
Myrie’s “unseen” comment harked back to a 2017 exchange between Cuomo and Stewart-Cousins when the governor reportedly said that former Bronx state Sen. Jeff Klein, a member of the now-defunct breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, had a knack for attracting suburban voters. Klein did not represent the suburbs, but Stewart-Cousins does.
“You see my black skin and a woman, but you don’t realize I am a suburban legislator,” she said at the time.
The incident is not forgotten among Senate Democrats, but it was Cuomo’s Monday remarks that Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) took issue with, accusing Cuomo of engaging in “his never-ending telenovela.”
“I’m often asked by constituents why he continues to undermine her. Is it because she’s a black woman?” she said. “I don’t remember him attacking [former GOP Senate Majority Leader] John Flanagan this much. I really wish he’d focus on the real issues affecting working class New Yorkers.”
But lobbyist Nick Antenucci, who works at the firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, didn’t view Cuomo as deliberately bringing race or gender into the equation.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “It’s not a color issue. It’s not a male-female issue. She’s clearly in charge. She’s clearly done a good job at managing the senate.”
A Cuomo spokesman pointed to several public statements prior to Monday’s exchange in which Cuomo heaped praise on the Stewart-Cousins. In one from last Nov., Cuomo describes her as “magnificently suited” for leading the Senate. In another, from last week, Team Cuomo pointed to the governor honoring her last week during a Women’s History Month event.