Cohen, Longtime Dem, Makes Surprise Endorsement
In a move sure to have a damaging effect on already weak Democratic chances of winning the gubernatorial race this year, lifelong Democratic Assemblymember Michael Cohen yesterday issued a surprise endorsement of Governor George Pataki for re-election in November.
The 53-year-old, two-term Assemblymember and Democratic leader from Forest Hills/Rego Park told this reporter in an interview just prior to his public announcement yesterday afternoon that the governor deserves to be re-elected "because of his admirable record of accomplishments" on a broad range of issues.
He said the endorsement in no way denigrates the abilities or chances of the Democratic candidates seeking to oppose Pataki in November, H. Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo.
Polls from the beginning of the year to the present have shown that Pataki holds a commanding lead over both.
The Forest Hills/Rego Park portion of Cohen’s district is heavily Democratic, but the Middle Village/Glendale part is more conservative. His endorsement should not make much difference in the way his constituents will vote. In recent years, the Democratic vote went to Rudolph Giuliani in each of his two mayoral elections.
Cohen said he had informed Democrat County Leader Thomas Manton about his decision. "Predictably, he was not pleased," Cohen said. Cohen and Manton have been very close political allies over the past decade, during which Manton supported him for local party positions as well as for the Assembly.
Cohen said, "There was no yelling or screaming, but he made it quite clear I didn’t make him happy." Asked if Manton indicated he would take any counteraction against him, Cohen answered: "Threats are not in his bag of tricks. But he did ask me that perhaps I should no longer be a Democratic District Leader." Cohen agreed. He said he had circulated and submitted petitions for another term as district leader, but later declined the candidacy and was replaced by his longtime aide, Howard Pollack.
Cohen made his announcement at about 3 p.m. near the Forest Hills train station accompanied by the governor and Queens Republican leader state Senator Serphin Maltese.
After Cohen took the first-time-ever action, citing Pataki’s "vision and exemplary leadership," the governor took the microphone and stated: "Working together--in Albany and here in Queens--we’ve made a difference for all New Yorkers, making sure our families are safe, providing thousands of New Yorkers with access to affordable, quality health care and making the right decisions to grow our economy and create jobs.
"Working together, we will make New York even prouder, stronger and better than it is today. After all, whether we are Republicans, Democrats or Independents, we’re all New Yorkers. And Americans. And that is what truly matters."
Although the Queens Democratic leaders had endorsed McCall in the spring and at the party’s nominating convention at about the same time, Cohen, although a leader, was not present at either meeting and so did not vote on the McCall designation.
In the interview, Cohen said he had been thinking of endorsing Pataki early in the year, even before a Pataki intermediary asked if he would consider supporting the governor. "Given the governor’s handling of the state’s fiscal crisis, I was already mulling over that possibility," he said.
Cohen cited the governor’s record on "education, expanded opportunities for people’s access to health care, especially guaranteed coverage for any child; changes in the criminal justice system, including longer prison terms; criminal background checks for employees in vulnerable jobs, and most importantly, favorable tax cuts for individual taxpayers and businesses. And New York City people don’t have to pay a quarter percent tax on shoes and clothing anymore."
He said the governor "had inherited a state in a shaky fiscal condition in 1994 and turned it around, creating surpluses before September 11 and the stock market decline hurt the state’s economy."
Cohen’s defection to the Republican governor follows a pattern already firmly established in this campaign. The governor has won over other Democratic officials and office holders, major labor leaders who were firmly established as Democratic supporters and Hispanics, also previously committed to the Dems.
Recently, the 12,000-member New York Police Department Hispanic Society endorsed Pataki; several weeks ago, a 90-year-old Democratic Club in Brooklyn came out for him; and in recent weeks, the 55,000-member Public Employees Federation announced its endorsement of the governor.
In his quest for a third term, the governor is also far ahead of all rivals in receiving campaign contributions and has built a war chest about double the amount that McCall and Cuomo have taken in.