Tensions are bubbling in Albany among lawmakers of color over just what to do with Gov. Cuomo.
On the one side are younger, more progressive members demanding the governor’s resignation. They have a powerful ally in Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. On the other side are establishment, Cuomo-friendly lawmakers who have urged holding off until a probe by Attorney General Letitia James is complete.
That rift was on full display earlier this month during a weekly Zoom conference call of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. Legislative leaders Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie do not generally attend the rank-and-file Monday meetings.
During the March 8 meeting shortly after Stewart-Cousins publicly called on Cuomo to resign, the group’s first vice chairwoman, Brooklyn Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, told members that the state Senate boss was only pushing the resignation as a way to advance her own career, according to two lawmakers familiar with the accusation.
“I was offended and I thought it was a highly inappropriate thing to say because that plays right into the governor’s claim that it’s all politically motivated,” one attendee told The Post.
Yet Walker’s remark generated no pushback from the 20 to 40 lawmakers in attendance that day, said the attendee.
Walker did not deny making the accusation.
“Andrea Stewart-Cousins has had a very important career as the first African American woman to lead the New York State Senate,” Walker’s office told The Post. “I believe that Tish James and the Judiciary Committee must complete their investigation before any decisions can be made.”
Assembly Speaker Heastie has attempted to play both sides of the fence, originally echoing the “sentiment” of Stewart-Cousins’ resignation plea and calling on Cuomo “to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York.” Yet his Assembly impeachment probe has been mired by accusations that it is unfairly tilted in Cuomo’s favor. He’s been accused of deliberately dragging out the probe, and the selection of Davis Polk & Wardwell, a law firm with close ties to Cuomo, to oversee the inquiry, has also raised eyebrows.
Walker, meanwhile, is close to James, who has been described as her political mentor. Walker served as treasurer to James’ 2013 campaign for public advocate and James returned the favor by endorsing Walker for her 2015 run for the Assembly. James is godmother to Walker’s daughter, according to City and State.
Walker also signed a letter along with 21 other lawmakers urging people to wait until the completion of James’ investigation. The signees included prominent Black legislators Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, Vivian E. Cook and Kimberly Jean-Pierre, among others.
One state senator told The Post that most of the Democrats in the chamber already see Cuomo as dead in the water, and lawmakers are now competing to fill the coming power void in Albany.
James, 62, and Stewart-Cousins, 70, are both eyeing higher office and the Senate leader has also been making moves to undermine James, said one Senate insider.
In her March 7 call for Cuomo’s resignation, Stewart-Cousins raised “questions about the construction of a major infrastructure project.” This was a reference to an Albany Times-Union investigation which broke that same day revealing a coverup of deficiencies within the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. James’ office’s initial probe of the matter made “an effort to arguably downplay the severity of the allegations, including any potential structural threat to the bridge,” the paper reported.
“Andrea was in a conversation with a labor leader where she said that she believes she has a more progressive record than Letitia James, that she has never caved to the governor in the way Tish has and that she should be the first Black female governor,” said the same insider.
One Democratic senator said all their members were “being placed in very awkward positions” and that members “have to be very careful what we say” when the topic of Cuomo comes up.
Publicly, James and Stewart-Cousins have been chummy, basking in their respective accomplishments as the first Black women to serve in their current roles.
“Attorney General Tish James is an unyielding public servant and proven champion of justice. It’s not surprising, but still pathetic, that there are those who attempt to push an offensive narrative to pit powerful women against one another for their own agenda and to mask their sad insecurities,” Stewart-Cousins told The Post.
In a statement from her office, James said she had “the utmost respect” for Stewart-Cousins and that she “look[ed] forward to continuing their work together for years to come.”
“You’re always going to have competition among political people when there is an opening — and governor jobs don’t open that often,” said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “They all smile in public but the knife is always poised in hand.”