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Round Two for Gov. Cuomo


Gov. Andrew Cuomo is likely to find his next four years in office a lot harder than his first term. With Republicans more solidly in control of the State Senate, his promise Tuesday night to make Albany “the progressive capital of the nation” sounds more challenging than ever.

One of the biggest obstacles is of his own making. He did far too little to help Democrats running for State Senate seats across the state, depriving them of financial support as well as the energy he could have brought to their campaigns. The result is an even less hospitable political landscape than in his first term; traversing it and delivering on his campaign promises will require old-fashioned political skills like patient negotiating and careful marshaling of good arguments. Threats won’t do the job.

Given his decreased leverage, he must define his objectives carefully, knowing that the most important ones will be the toughest to achieve.

First, he should figure out a way to honor his vow to reform the state’s corrupt political culture through stricter campaign finance laws and changes in the pay-to-play traditions in Albany. This task is made no easier by the fact that Mr. Cuomo himself took in $45 million in campaign contributions from real estate and communications companies and other businesses. He needs to show that he is independent from the state’s big money interests.

Shortly after the election, he noted in a radio interview that the Republicans were dead set against the public financing of campaigns, a necessary component of any credible reform program. But that resistance should serve as an incentive, not a deterrent, to a full-throated campaign on his part to get public financing enacted.

Second, Mr. Cuomo has put women’s rights high on his agenda, and it should stay there. His package of proposals — and he should continue to demand the whole package, not pieces of it — includes stronger human trafficking laws, new protections for victims of domestic violence, protection of students from sexual violence on campuses and pay equity for women. The most important piece would protect a woman’s right to choose, a state effort to reinforce the rights provided by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.

Third, Mr. Cuomo needs to address immigrants’ rights, an issue on which New York lags behind states like California and Illinois. Mr. Cuomo has given feeble support to a bill to help unauthorized immigrants get state financial aid for college, but he needs to do more. He has generally been missing on other immigrant-rights battles, including efforts to help children from Central America who came across the border over the summer. New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, moved swiftly to help with legal and other services for these young migrants. Mr. Cuomo needs to follow the mayor’s lead.

Fourth, Mr. Cuomo promised to raise the minimum wage, now $8 an hour, without specifying a number. Though increasing the minimum wage is not popular with Republican legislators, it is with voters, and it should be one of the easiest changes state lawmakers can make. The minimum should be raised to at least $10.10 an hour, with more increases going forward.

The decision on whether to authorize hydraulic fracturing for extracting natural gas along the state’s southern tier has been on hold pending a State Health Department study of the effects on the environment and human health. The study is due by the end of the year, and some environmentalists say there has been very little public input. The governor will make enemies no matter what direction he moves in, but before moving at all he should insist on a comprehensive and credible analysis.

Mr. Cuomo cannot get away with blaming a Republican State Senate for lapses in this progressive agenda, since he helped make that Republican majority possible. He has shown himself to be a canny political tactician, and he’ll need to be to deliver on his promises.