Cuomo Can Craft Winning Campaign Plank From Abortion Loss

Governor Andrew Cuomo couldn’t get a bill aligning New York and U.S. abortion law past Republican state senate leaders. By pushing the issue in next year’s campaign, he can still come out ahead politically in Albany while burnishing his image among female voters nationwide.

The abortion measure scuttled the 55-year-old Democrat’s 10-point Women’s Equality Agenda, as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, refused to coordinate with the senate after key Republicans there blocked a vote on that part of the proposal. Lawmakers had passed the nine other elements, including tougher penalties for human trafficking and failing to provide equal pay for jobs done by women instead of men.

Cuomo says he plans to promote his 10-point agenda to voters, including the majority of Republicans who favor abortion rights, heading into an election year. He’ll be backed by about 850 advocacy groups such as the National Organization for Women’s New York City branch as he tries to counter a national trend among Republican-led states to limit abortion.

“This will give him an enemy to fight against next year -- the anti-choice forces across the country,” Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant based in New York City, said by telephone yesterday. “This is a case where Governor Cuomo wins, in fact, by losing.”

Presidential Element

Republicans in states from North Dakota to South Carolina have pushed a record number of laws to restrict when and how women can obtain an abortion in recent years. Cuomo, considered a potential presidential contender in 2016, has said he wants to take New York in the opposite direction.

The governor was blocked in the legislative session that ended last week, as Republican senate leaders, joined on June 21 by longtime abortion opponent Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, prevented a vote on that part of Cuomo’s plan. Lawmakers won’t return to work in Albany until January.

“At the moment, the governor, the speaker and the women’s groups are all losers substantively on the issue of abortion,” said Steven Greenberg, a pollster for Siena College in Loudonville, New York. “Politically, the governor is in a strong position because he’s advocating both what the public supports and what the women’s groups want him to do.”

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s communication’s director, said the protections in the governor’s agenda have broad bipartisan support.

“The public will hold individual legislators accountable if they stand in the way of finally achieving equality for women in New York state,” DeRosa said in a statement e-mailed today.

Protecting Women

The abortion measure Cuomo is pushing would decriminalize the procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy when a woman’s health -- not just her life -- are at risk. The bill would maintain the status quo if the U.S. Supreme Court rolls back its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision making abortion legal, the governor has said.

“People have a right to know if a politician is pro-choice,” Cuomo said in a June 17 radio interview. “This is going to be an electoral decision, and it’s going to be in the re-election campaigns of these senators.”

Trying to change New York law on abortion is an “unnecessary and purely political maneuver,” said Kelly Cummings, a spokeswoman for Dean Skelos, the Rockville Centre Republican who co-leads the senate.

Legislators Balk

Lawmakers also balked at passing anti-corruption measures Cuomo pushed following the arrests of two senators and an assemblyman since April.

Cuomo has said he’ll respond this week with a commission that’ll hold subpoena powers to investigate lawmakers. He used a similar commission after Hurricane Sandy to examine the response by utilities. Yesterday, that panel referred to federal prosecutors questions regarding billing practices of the Long Island Power Authority, which left thousands of customers without power weeks after the Oct. 29 storm.

Skelos, whose suburban New York district is on Long Island, said in a June 11 radio interview that the senate has its own investigations committee to look into official corruption, if needed.

Cuomo had sought to create a system for publicly funding political campaigns modeled after one used in New York City. Skelos, whose party holds sway in the senate thanks to four breakaway Democrats, has said he thought the money for the program could be better spent on education.

The gridlock on the corruption and abortion measures was a departure for Cuomo’s relationship with senate Republicans. The two sides have worked together to make same-sex marriage legal and pass some of the nation’s toughest gun laws.

Democrats around the state used the abortion issue to attack Republicans in the November election, helping them retake a senate majority even as they were outspent about 4-to-1, according to Bruce Gyory, who teaches politics at the State University of New York at Albany. By a 5-to-1 margin, voters in a March Siena College poll favored Cuomo’s abortion measure, including a majority of Republicans.

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