Newly elected Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins says she feels a great sense of “responsibility,” having finally broken a barrier as the first female legislative leader in state history.
Senator Cousins, who says she hopes to “do the Democratic conference proud,” admits that it’s somewhat of a disappointment to likely have Minority Leader status when the Senate meets again in January.
The chamber’s 30 Republican Senators and five members of a break away Democratic faction, the Independent Democratic Conference, have formed a joint ruling coalition that leaves the rest of the Senate Democrats out.
All of the Senate’s African American and Hispanic members, expect one, will be left out of the governing coalition. Senator Bill Perkins, a Democrat from Harlem, complained Tuesday about what he called “back of the bus politics.” Cousins says that should “concern” voters who elected Democrats to the Senate.
“When you are casting a vote thinking that the person you are voting for is going to do a certain thing and then they do other things, I think that is frustrating for everyone,” Cousins said.
Senate Democratic Leader Cousins says she has not yet spoken with IDC leader Senator Jeff Klein, but intends to in the coming days, and expects the “conversation will take many turns.” She did not directly say whether she will ask the IDC to rejoin the rest of the Democrats.
IDC Leader Klein issued a cordial but non committal statement following Senator Cousin’s election Monday.
“IDC members welcome the election of a leader in the Senate Democratic Conference and look forward to working with Senator Stewart-Cousins in the new coalition government,” Klein said.
Senator Cousins met with Governor Cuomo Tuesday afternoon. She says she’s had a “long standing relationship” with the governor. The Senate Democratic Leader elect says she expects to find common ground with the governor on a number of progressive issues, including reforming New York City’s Stop and Frisk laws, the women’s Reproductive Health Act, which would guarantee the right to abortions in New York should the US Supreme Court ever overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as campaign finance reform.
There’s been speculation that the new state budget would be decided by “four men in a room,” adding Senator Klein to the traditional three men in a room arrangement, which was previously the governor and the two major party legislative leaders.
Senator Cousins says she told the governor she does not expect to be left out, and wants a seat at that negotiating table.
“For the first time, there’s a woman leader,” Cousins said. “I expect to be in the room. I expect to be part of the discussions. I expect to be part of the solutions.”
Cousins says she “expects” that the governor will make sure that happens.
Earlier in the day, Cuomo said Senator Cousins’ ground breaking election is “exciting.”
The Senate Democratic Leader will preside over a conference that’s experienced major discord and personality clashes in the past. Cousins says she hopes the Democrats will keep their higher purpose in mind, but she says “people are people” and she won’t be fazed by any “dramatic” moments.
Senator Cousins says she considers herself an optimist, and says she believes that the Democrats “will not only be a statistical majority, we will be a functioning majority very soon.”