Selling their soul to Cuomo
New York City activist and WBAI radio co-host looks at the message the Working Families Party has sent by endorsing Andrew Cuomo--and why it isn't working.
WHEN NEW York state's Working Families Party (WFP) nominated Andrew Cuomo for governor last Saturday, it proved that all its talk about pushing the Democratic Party to the left is just that--talk.
Founded in 1998 with the support of a coalition of unions and several activist and community organizations, the WFP has a ballot line in New York state elections. It has occasionally run its own candidates, but more often, it endorses a Democratic Party candidate and lists their name on its ballot line.
The WFP states that "We stand with candidates who stand with us" and "When you vote on the Working Families Party ballot line for these candidates, you know you're voting your values." But its cross-endorsement of Cuomo, like other establishment Democrats in the past, shows that the party's claimed independence is a lie.
FOR HIS part, Cuomo has had four years as New York's governor to show exactly what his values really are. His many "accomplishments" include:
Funding privately owned charter schools at the expense of public schools.
Forcing state workers to take a two-year wage freeze, pay more for their health benefits and take nine days off without pay over two years.
Exempting manufacturers from New York state's corporate income tax.
Preventing New York cities from setting their own minimum wage.
Cuomo has yet to produce anything substantial around core progressive values like preserving a woman's right to choose or campaign finance reform to take the money out of politics.
But ahead of the November election, Cuomo, who has the reputation of being one of the country's shrewdest politicians, badly wanted the nomination of the "progressive" Working Families Party. Although his re-election is virtually certain--the Republicans have no serious candidate with a chance to beat him--Cuomo wants to roll up the largest possible majority in preparation for a possible presidential campaign.
Many Working Families Party supporters bitterly resent Cuomo's record. There was talk about the WFP running its own candidate for governor against him. Cuomo was loudly booed when he spoke briefly to the WFP convention via videotape on May 31.
But the WFP leadership engineered a deal. Cuomo got the nomination, and they got promises. Cuomo pledged to let municipalities set higher minimum wages and back the decriminalization of marijuana.
He also, wonder of wonders, said he would help Democrats win control of the New York State Senate. The Republican majority in the Senate regularly blocks legislation supported by the Democratic-controlled State Assembly, a state of affairs that benefits Cuomo since he can give rhetorical support to a policy while knowing full well the Senate will shoot it down.
If Cuomo actually did set out to win a Democratic majority in the Senate, it would change the character of state politics. But the governor had only been the WFP nominee for a few hours when he began to "clarify" his promises.
For its part, the WFP declared in a statement: "Last night, we secured a major win...Faced with a challenge...for the Working Families Party endorsement, Gov. Cuomo declared for the first time that he will join the effort to secure a Democratic-Working Families majority."
But Cuomo was sending a different message. Capital Tonight television reported that he had said nothing had changed with the WFP endorsement, and he would only support allowing municipalities to raise their minimum wage within a set formula. As for Democrats and the State Senate, he told WXXI News, "It's not as easy as saying all Democrats are good, and all Republicans are bad, or vice versa."
Michael Powell, in his New York Times "Gotham" column, wryly observed: "In fact, the governor may be intent on gunning his car and leaving behind this convention and his grudging compromises, as easily as one might toss old candy wrappers out the window."
Cuomo himself may have said it best when he told the Times, "At these political conventions, you win or you lose. I won."
CUOMO OBVIOUSLY understands that behind the rhetoric, the WFP is really about delivering progressive voters to Democratic Party politicians.
The WFP tells people that they can have their cake and eat it, too. It says people don't have to choose between the supporting the "lesser of two evils" or "wasting their vote" on a third party. Instead, they can vote for Democrats who "stand with us" on the Working Family ballot line, and send a message for progressive change.
The Democrats get the real message. They don't have to deliver on their progressive promises because they have the "progressives" in their pocket. They can count on the Working Families nomination every four years, no matter what they do in between.
If you don't believe it, just ask Andrew Cuomo.
Even on its own electoral terms, the Working Families Party hasn't exactly been a bastion of liberalism.
Its first candidate for governor was Peter Vallone, who was best known for giving up New York City's right to set affordable rents in return for contributions from the real estate industry. Hilary Clinton's support for the Iraq War in 2006 didn't stop the WFP from backing her against an antiwar challenger. When liberal Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer was running for mayor against billionaire incumbent Michael Bloomberg, the WFP sat on its hands until it was too late to actually get him onto the ballot.
Fortunately, for New York voters this November, there's a much better alternative to voting for Cuomo, whether as a Democrat or the WFP nominee. The Green Party is running Howie Hawkins, a working Teamster from Syracuse, for governor, and Brian Jones, a union teacher from New York City, for lieutenant governor.
They are for a $15 an hour minimum wage, fully funded public schools, health care for all and 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030.
Funding tells the difference between Hawkins and Cuomo. Most of Cuomo's $33 million-plus war chest comes from $10,000 or more contributions from less than 1,000 super-rich people. Howie Hawkins and the Green Party take no corporate money. They rely exclusively on support from ordinary working people.
A strong vote for Hawkins and Jones would shift the political spectrum to the left. Suddenly, the establishment parties would have to take progressives seriously, in a way they don't as long as the WFP is able to claim their speak for the left.
More importantly, a vote for Hawkins-Jones would send the message that working people can stop choosing between the Democratic Twiddledee and the Republican Twiddledum. They can have their own candidates who will fight for them.