The Working Families Party, which began in New York and has attempted to spread to other states, stirred up considerable controversy in 2014 by supporting Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign for New York Governor. Cuomo has done much to anger New York progressives, including breaking a promise to support independent redistricting and vowing to fight labor unions in his second term.
The Working Families Party’s decision to endorse Cuomo a second time has raised questions about their strategy of urging progressives to vote for right-wing Democrats like Cuomo, as well as possible links between this strategy and the WFP’s sources of funding.
From In These Times, “Andrew Cuomo and the Sad State of the Working Families Party”:
To demonstrate the party’s weakness, one need only look at how far out of its way the WFP went to win voters by not mentioning the candidate at the top of the ticket. Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) President Stuart Appelbaum on his Facebook simply said that he was voting for “Governor of New York” on the party line—no mention of who that governor was. Party mailers featured not an image of the governor but of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose plan for progressive taxation to fund universal pre-kindergarten was thwarted by the fiscally conservative Cuomo.
And there are many reasons why the party couldn’t talk about him. Cuomo failed to make good on a central promise he made in exchange for the WFP endorsement: to push for Democrats to regain control in New York’s State Senate.
From Socialist Worker, “The Working Families Party Charade Unravels”:
By 2014, everything had changed, however. WFP leaders faced an angry rank and file that was balking at nominating Cuomo. Union leaders delivered an ultimatum–they would cut off the party’s funding unless the WFP nominated Cuomo. Even so, Cuomo was forced to present a video message promising to work for progressive policies like a higher minimum wage and public funding of elections.
Most important of all, he pledged to go all-out to elect a Democratic majority in the state Senate. For years, Republicans, sometimes with Democratic support, have used their control of the Senate to ensure that nothing threatening to business or the right wing becomes law. This has enabled Cuomo to avoid vetoing bills that conflict with his real pro-business agenda–the progressive legislation never makes it past the Senate.
Every observer of New York politics knows perfectly well that a Democratic state Senate is the very last thing Cuomo wants. As Michael McKee of Tenants PAC wrote, “It is not a secret that Cuomo prefers a Republican-controlled Senate, although he won’t admit it, and virtually no other politician will say so in public.” Since the WFP convention, Cuomo has studiously avoided campaigning for Democrats for the state Senate, as he promised he would.
From Howie Hawkins, “Working Families Party’s nomination of Cuomo betrays working families”:
“The WFP is a tool of the Democrats and their corporate sponsors to confuse voters into supporting the agenda of the 1%. They literally have sold their souls to the devil. And the reality is that they have delivered only a few minor reforms during their 16 years of existence while doing their best to undercut the development of a true independent progressive movement in New York,” noted Hawkins.
“After all their noise and handwringing, they once again turned their back on their grassroots supporters and did the bidding of those who pay their bills. It has been a great fundraising and GOTV team for hire. Money talks when it comes to the WFP,” noted Hawkins.
NYPIRG recently noted that the biggest source of money for the WFP is not the unions, but transfers, usually from candidates they have endorsed (52.36%). This means that much of WFP funding is actually laundered donations from corporate and special interests who gave to Democratic Party candidates.
One major problem is that, increasingly, the WFP chooses candidates not based on whether they are progressive but on whether they are incumbent Democrats. For instance, while urging voters to support peace, they run candidates for US Senate who support war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They adopt the Green agenda in their outreach to voters but actually embrace the Democratic Party corporate agenda with their candidates.
The power of the WFP is greatly exaggerated. What they have evolved into is probably the best door-to-door political campaign organization in NYS, probably only exceeded in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts by the money and phone banking of union organization 1199 SEIU. But the WFP’s canvassing operation allows them to go into unorganized districts – for a substantial fee – to help elect Democrats.
The WFP is an aggressive lobbying organization and has won some good reforms over the years but fairly routine ones – less than other well funded lobbying groups; a few crumbs here and there while the 1% wins the real power and rewards. Income inequality, for instance, has greatly increased during the WFP’s existence….
Now the WFP, despite the rebellion from their membership, has decided to re-nominate Cuomo and his bad agenda. They made the wrong choice 4 years ago; they made a horrible choice this time. And now they want progressives to join with them in their disempowerment and protest Cuomo by voting for him. I wonder if George Orwell would have found this logic plausible to include in 1984 if he was around to update it.