NEW YORK, N.Y.—New York State’s largest union local, 1199SEIU, threw its purple-and-gold hat into the ring for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election Feb. 21.
“We need champions willing to live up to their pledges and commitments,” 1199 President George Gresham told the several thousand members assembled in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “This is the beginning of us taking back our country.” He praised Cuomo for standing up for a higher minimum wage and marriage equality.
Saying that Americans are now living in “frightening times,” Cuomo lambasted the Donald Trump administration for abandoning the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, attacking immigrants and individual rights, “doing everything they can to end labor unions,” and “looking to dismantle our health-care system.” The President’s proposed budget, he said, would cut Medicaid payments to New York State by $2 billion a year—slashing a crucial source of funding for the hospitals, nursing homes, and home-care programs where 1199 members work.
The governor got his biggest applause when he quoted Biblical admonitions against apathy and indifference, such as James 4:17—“whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” He got a standing ovation when he touted his administration’s achievements, laws that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and establish paid family leave, the SAFE Act gun-control measure, the Excelsior college-scholarship program, and that “we fully funded our health-care program.”
Cuomo has only one declared challenger in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary: former state senator Terry Gipson, who served one term representing a Hudson Valley district before being defeated for re-election in 2014. Gipson is advocating a state single-payer health-care system; Cuomo has said that “would be a good idea” on the federal level, but has not actively supported legislation that would set one up in the state.
Two other potential challengers from the Democrats’ left—disgruntled with Cuomo’s failure to support stronger rent-control laws and his collaboration with the Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate—are former Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner and activist actress Cynthia Nixon. Both are “activelyconsidering” running, according to a Working Families Party official. Brooklyn City Councilmember Jumaane Williams, also mentioned as a possible challenger, decided to run against Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
1199SEIU backed Cuomo when he faced a challenge from the left in 2014, helping him narrowly win the Working Families Party nomination over Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout. Teachout won 34% of the vote in the Democratic primary, and 1199 withdrew from the WFP later that year.
The two candidates seeking the Republican nomination are Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) and former Erie County executive Joel Giambra. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua), who’d announced his candidacy in December, dropped out earlier this month.
After a break featuring a performance by ’80s hip-hop stars Doug E. Fresh and DJ Red Alert, Gresham returned to the podium to urge members to come to a rally in Albany March 14. The union’s master contract is expiring this year, and “we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the funding from the state legislature to go to our industry,” he told the crowd. “If you can’t take the time to get on a bus to fight for a good contract, then sisters, we are not going to get what we deserve.”