ALBANY, N.Y. — Some of the 2,500 delegates at the New York state Progressive Party’s annual convention offered confrontational taunts and playful banter during Sunday’s two-hour meeting of the political group’s legislative caucus, while Democratic leaders maintained their silence about their planned rapprochement with Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard.
Activists shouted “Fire and brimstone” and “You don’t want to go to hell” during a tense exchange with Howard, who asked, “Is all this anger directed at me?” when a demonstration against his office’s handling of a domestic violence case spiraled into acrimony and profanity. Howard was elected to a fifth term as sheriff last month amid demands for his resignation that were led by the Progressive Party.
The withering attack on Howard emerged at the end of an hourlong session inside the Capitol Hilton where Howard and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo were expected to receive plaudits from members of the pro-democracy party for successfully working with the sheriff to implement provisions of the state’s Women’s Equality Act, which has stalled in Albany for three years.
The Progressive Party, which has steadfastly allied itself with insurgent Democratic challengers in state elections, has now successfully partnered with state Democrats in launching a similar push for an update to New York’s campaign finance law — called for in Tuesday’s midterm elections — as well as a host of other initiatives. On Saturday, it received a standing ovation from Trump-era supporters for organizing a “Rally for Political Accountability” outside of Trump Tower in Manhattan.
That event — and the scrutiny it elicited from Trump and his aides during their weekly press briefing — provided progressive activists with another opportunity to voice their displeasure over Cuomo’s party-switching and when he may walk back his embrace of Howard. The governor has denied reports that Howard is under investigation by the State Police, but progressive activists have repeatedly requested to see internal documents related to the controversy and remain unconvinced that they exist.
During Sunday’s session, activists called out Cuomo and reminded the governor that he would not receive a standing ovation for attending an event that was organized by the same political party that ended his first term in office. (Cuomo arrived at the Albany Hilton 45 minutes after the Progressive Party’s delegate count fell below a required threshold of 23 signatures to force the meeting; he did not speak.) When speaker after speaker called out Cuomo for seemingly ignoring progressive interests, the governor joked that he was not trying to win a political debate with liberals.
“I know that many of you are angry with me,” Cuomo told the chamber, which was packed to the 250-person capacity. “It’s my honor, and it’s my privilege, to come here and hear what you have to say.”
Later in the meeting, Cuomo said, “This is what I’m hearing from you today: I’m trying to win back your votes, I’m trying to earn your respect. I’m trying to earn your trust.”
Both Howard and Cuomo have insisted that they do not see eye to eye on certain policy initiatives that may become front-burners for the Democratic governor in 2019, including on retirement benefits and abortion rights. And Howard called upon his conservative critics to help him fix the state’s domestic violence laws, saying the sheriff’s office must change to stay relevant.
But during the Progressive Party’s legislative caucus session, Howard extended his hand to legislators, including those who may be criticizing him and his office — and they jumped at the opportunity.
“There’s two points that I want to make here. One is that I welcome all of you to come and talk to me in any way that you please, and any forum that you want to come,” Howard said to boisterous applause from Progressive Party members. “Number two, and this is very important, the Democrats now control the State Senate, and many of you have been new to the State Senate, in 2014 and 2015. When I ran for office in 1994, I ran for office under their banner. So your voice is very, very important to me.”
The Progressive Party’s four-member standing legislative caucus consists of Democratic and Republican members. The panel, whose deliberations have mostly remained in relative secrecy, last year approved legislation to allow legislative candidates to support abortion rights as a part of their platform. That issue is currently at the center of a closed-door battle in the chamber, with some members of the New York State Senate Democrats distancing themselves from Cuomo and Howard in response to some of