NY Senator Details Tense Race-Based Exchange With Governor in Meeting

As the nation reels over racial tensions after Charlottesville and the president's response to the violence, one Westchester lawmaker has been embroiled in a local controversy over race involving Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says she felt undermined by Cuomo in a meeting last month, when he suggested that she had a worse understanding of the suburbs than the white leader of the breakaway state Democrats, according to The New York Times. 

Stewart-Cousins said she looked him in the eye and told him, "You look at me, Governor, but you don't see me. You see my black skin and a woman, but you don't realize I am a surburban legislator." 

Cuomo didn't answer her, Stewart-Cousins said. 

"I said what I said, and we moved on to the next topic," Stewart-Cousins told News 4 in a one-on-one interview. 

Stewart-Cousins didn't think Cuomo was angry, necessarily: "He, too, is a personality who says what he thinks." 

Cuomo's spokeswoman tried to downplay the senator's words, saying her comments were "not of particular note." 

"She wasn't in the room," Stewart-Cousins said of the spokeswoman's response. "I suppose it was notable enough because obviously now that it's in the public domain, people are talking about it." 

Making matters worse, one of Cuomo's top donors, hedge fund manager and charter school backer Dan Loeb, said on Facebook last week that Stewart-Cousins had "done more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood," an apparent KKK reference. 

Stewart-Cousins called Loeb's comment "so outrageous, so egregious, so inappropriate." Loeb has since deleted the post and apologized. 

Asked if she thought Cuomo should make a statement by returning Loeb's donations, Stewart-Cousins said, "Once those donors tell us who they really are -- maybe we thought they were someone else -- people have to make a decision, whether or not they actually want to be supported by those people." 

If Stewart-Cousins seemed to be biting her tongue a bit with that statement, she says that's because her greater goal right now under the Donald Trump presidency is to unite Democrats in Albany and re-take control of the state Senate. While Democrats have a majority, eight breakaway Democratic senators have sided with Republicans.

Stewart-Cousins says making waves in public with the governor right now won't help achieve her goal -- so she and he went out for dinner. Stewart-Cousins said they went to a public restaurant -- "we had fish, and it was good!" -- and that it was "really all business." 

Cuomo agreed, "We had dinner the other night, and it was very good and very positive." 

A spokeswoman for Cuomo later sent a statement talking about the shared goal of reuniting Democrats in Albany -- but it didn't address the apparent racial slight.

"The governor fully supports Senator Stewart-Cousins and Democratic unification," Dani Lever said. "He spent a lot of time and energy and successfully brought the two sides together in 2014 and is working very hard again to end the personal agendas and infighting that is causing the divide and unify the factions, which is more important than ever when our Democratic values are under attack by the Trump administration." 

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