Andrew Cuomo sees the light

September 23, 2015

New York City activist and WBAI co-host Sandy Boyer separates fact from fiction about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's surprising support for raising the state minimum wage.

NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo has had a sudden revelation--with Vice President Joe Biden by his side, he told a press conference that he now actually supports a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Cuomo almost sounded like some kind of progressive when he boldly proclaimed, "A minimum wage of $8.75 [the current state minimum] in New York is not a minimum wage at all. You cannot support a family on $18,000 a year in New York state."

This is the same Andrew Cuomo who shot down New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's attempt to get a $13 an hour minimum wage for New York City alone. Just this past May, he dismissed a proposal by the Democrats in the New York State Assembly to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018 as totally unrealistic. Earlier this year, he proposed an $11.50 an hour minimum wage for New York City and $10.50 statewide, but never raised a finger to stop the measure from dying in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

And yes, it's the same Andrew Cuomo who slashed New York state workers' pensions back in 2012.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo might like to pretend that he's had the most spectacular conversion since St. Paul on the Road to Damascus. As usual, he's omitting two most inconvenient facts:

He's improved his chances of being re-elected--or, in his dreams, running for president.

There isn't going to be a $15 an hour minimum wage in New York state anytime soon.

UNTIL HIS $15 an hour announcement, Cuomo was in political trouble because liberals in the state Democratic Party were finally getting fed up with him. Not only was he refusing to increase the minimum wage, but he was gutting rent regulation and destroying public education.

There was even talk of a 2018 primary challenge. Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a pillar of New York's liberal Democratic Party establishment, called Cuomo "a liar and a landlord-friendly politician." He predicted that Cuomo's attack on rent regulation "will galvanize millions of working-class people and tenants who will not forget this slap in the face when the next gubernatorial elections rolls around in 2018."

Even the Working Families Party, which faithfully endorses virtually every Democratic Party candidate, was sending signals that they weren't going to support Cuomo again--after having lined up behind him once again in the last election.

But now, after Cuomo's conversion, they've all changed their tune. Jonathan Westin announced, "Today, we are proud to stand with Gov. Cuomo." Bill Lipton of the Working Families party rushed to declare: "If Gov. Cuomo wins $15 statewide, it will be one for the history books, no exaggeration."

Even Bertha Lewis, the ACCORN founder who endorsed Cuomo's opponent in the 2015 primary, joined the chorus: "By fighting to raise the minimum wage to $15, the governor is tackling New York's poverty problem head-on, and I am proud to stand behind him in this effort."

And all of them are ignoring the other matter that Andrew Cuomo, master manipulator of New York state politics, would rather not mention: that there isn't going to be a $15 an hour minimum wage in the immediately foreseeable future.

The Republicans who control the state Senate are proud protectors of the business interests who bitterly oppose $15 minimum wage. Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of the Business Council of New York state, said it would "likely have a negative impact on job creation and individual businesses," and that the group would work with "our allies in the legislature and the business community to ensure such a drastic increase is avoided." Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan chimed in, saying it would "negatively impact many businesses who are already struggling just to keep their heads above water."

The Albany Times Union finally went on record with what most people already knew: "As long as the GOP hangs onto its narrow majority, the $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal is highly unlikely to pass."

And if Andrew Cuomo has anything to say about it, the Republicans will go right on controlling the state Senate--because it saves him from awkward things like raising the minimum wage.

Michael McKee of the Tenants Political Action Committee was one of the first to say it right out loud. Writing in the Metropolitan Council on Housing's Tenant/Inquilino, he stated: "It is not a secret that Cuomo prefers a Republican-controlled Senate, although he won't admit it, and virtually no other politician will say so in public."

It became so obvious that after the 2014 election, when Cuomo had been safely re-elected with their support, the Working Families Party's Bill Lipton lashed out, saying: "Governor Cuomo promised to take back the State Senate. Instead, he squandered millions on a fake party, and left millions more in his campaign account as New York Democrats in the legislature and in Congress withered on the vine."

Now, if Andrew Cuomo and New York politicians are promising to raise the minimum wage, it's only because of the Fight for 15 campaign.

It's time to face the fact that a $15 an hour minimum isn't going to be won by sweet-talking Democratic politicians like Cuomo or even their Working Families Party clones. It's going to mean growing the campaign to bring in labor and community groups from every corner of the state. That might take awhile, but we can start right now.

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