By David Klepper
ALBANY— Facing pressure from liberals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed Thursday to campaign against state Senate leaders unless they pass public financing for statewide campaigns before the Legislature adjourns its session next month.
Cuomo, a Democrat, told reporters on Staten Island that he is pessimistic that public campaign financing will pass before lawmakers wrap up. If the Senate balks at the measure, he said he would "go to the people and tell them what I thought: that the coalition failed to deliver on important progressive items."
The Senate is led by a coalition of Republicans and a breakaway Democratic faction. Senate Republicans blocked broad public financing earlier this year, and lawmakers created a pilot program that only applied to this year's state comptroller race instead.
"If they do not pass public financing I will consider the coalition a failure," Cuomo said. "And I will act accordingly."
Republican Sen. Thomas Libous, deputy leader of the Senate coalition, declined to comment on the prospects for public financing and defended the coalition's work.
"We've endorsed a lot of the governor's policies," he said. "... I don't know why the governor would make such a comment."
Cuomo has long supported public campaign financing, but the ultimatum comes as he faces mounting pressure from the left-leaning Working Families Party.
The party is a coalition of liberal activists and organized labor that has emerged as a leading progressive voice in New York politics, helping to elect New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last year. The party — which strongly supports public campaign financing — endorsed Cuomo in 2010 and will nominate its 2014 candidate on Saturday.
Party members have questioned Cuomo's liberal credentials and have threatened to nominate someone else this year. Some said they might reconsider, however, if Cuomo won swift passage of public campaign financing.
"If we got it this week — and I'd be very surprised if we did — I'd probably take a deep breath and rethink what I'm going to do," said party member David Schwartz. "It could be a game changer. We could get big money out of politics in New York."
Cuomo has won progressive praise for supporting gay marriage and gun control. But he disappointed liberals by cooperating with Senate Republicans to back charter schools and tax cuts for corporations and wealthy earners and oppose proposals to let cities like New York City set a local minimum wage.
Liberal support is critical if Cuomo wants to beat his Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, by large margins this fall.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll gave Cuomo a 57 percent to 28 percent lead over Astorino. If an unnamed candidate running on the Working Families Party line was included, Cuomo's lead over Astorino dropped to 37 percent to 24 percent. The telephone poll of 1,129 voters was conducted May 14-19 and has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
De Blasio has emerged as Cuomo's leading ambassador to liberals. Joining Cuomo on Staten Island to celebrate a tax relief measure for homeowners affected by Superstorm Sandy, de Blasio said he's encouraging WFP members to back the governor.
"New York City and the progressive agenda we're pursuing are being very well served right now and supported by this governor," he said.