Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently came under fire after being accused of giving the few Blacks and Latinos serving in the state Senate little if any power. However, with the selection of Black female Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday as minority leader of the Senate Democrats, this might be Cuomo’s way to divert some of the criticism.

One of Cuomo’s most vocal critics is NAACP New York State President Hazel Dukes, who said the governor was blatantly discriminating against the 15 Black and Latino senators. In an open letter to Cuomo she sent earlier this month, Dukes pointed out that the coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and Republicans was leaving some out.

“We are, quite frankly, stunned at the idea that you, the governor of this state, would, if true, ‘sit back and watch what happens’ in the chaos of the New York state Senate leadership,” Dukes said in the letter. “If what I read is true, there is one African-American, no Hispanic and 35 white members in this important leadership group. This ‘cozy’ little cabal excludes women, gay and Hispanic legislators from most important leadership positions.”

Queens Sen. Malcolm Smith has joined the IDC, making for an even bigger complication. He is the only Black senator to join the IDC-Republican coalition.

In an interview with the AmNews, Dukes said she had concerns over the Republican-IDC ruled state, stating that the coalition will not

have the interests of many New Yorkers.

“I want to see what the Republicans are going to do about things like gun control.” she said. “What is the coalition going to be made of and what are their principles? For 40 years, the Republicans were in leadership and blocked everything that is progressive.”

Assemblyman Keith Wright visited the AmNews office to address the situation and said that it’s more about power than a racial issue.

“I really don’t know how racial it is or how much influence the governor had,” he said. “Race is not a factor here.”

News of Stewart-Cousins’ selection as minority leader could have been Cuomo’s way of pointing out that he does care about diversity in leadership in the state Senate. Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson said Stewart-Cousins’ selection is “historical,” and doesn’t believe Stewart-Cousins’ race was a factor.

“I think in terms of new leadership, she has a different managerial style. I know her leadership, and having been deputy of the county board of legislators, she did extraordinary things,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to make difference in color. I think it’s because of her ability to be a good candidate and to reach across the party lines–as well as color lines–and get things done. That has to be part of the resolution to some of the issues that have developed.”

The AmNews requested a response from Cuomo about diversity concerns in the state Senate as well as Stewart-Cousins’ new role as minority leader. Officials from the governor’s press office sent a 50-minute recording from the Dec. 18 cabinet meeting, with comments toward the end of the recording pertaining to the request.

“I think it’s exciting that the Democrats have picked the first woman leader. I know Andrea, I know her well. I’ve supported her for a long time. I think she is a competent, able person. Again, I think it’s exciting she’s a woman, but I will leave that up to them [Senate Democrats]. They picked their leader, that’s their business and my opinion isn’t all that relevant,” said Cuomo.