New York Working Families Party Takes Its Lumps, Endorses Cuomo

The largest and most prominent Working Families Party, in New York State, had a rough year.

On the heels of a lawsuit alleging campaign finance violations (eventually settled) and a federal investigation (ultimately withdrawn), a WFP drained of money and momentum fell into line behind Andrew Cuomo, Democratic candidate for governor.

In September Cuomo accepted the WFP endorsement, but only after the party agreed to back his austerity agenda for public services and public workers. Cuomo has called for a “permanent campaign” against public unions in the state, along with a cap on property tax increases that would force huge cuts to services. He signaled cuts to Medicaid and home health care, and backed a “Race to the Top”-style competition for the scraps that remain.

WFP leaders said they submitted to Cuomo’s demands because the party agrees that public union members have to share in the pain of dragging New York out of its billion-dollar budget hole.




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Behind the scenes, party insiders characterize the Cuomo endorsement as a hold-their-noses survival strategy, a way to get enough votes to maintain the WFP’s legal right to a line on the ballot—which required at least 50,000 votes.

Several of the state’s biggest public sector unions, the WFP’s key allies, endorsed no candidate. The state AFL-CIO endorsed Cuomo, who was 18 percent ahead in polls a month before the election.

The party turned in its best showing yet. More than 140,000 voters, roughly 4 percent, voted for Cuomo on the WFP line.

The WFP had moved aggressively in recent years to replace roadblock Democrats in the legislature and New York City Council with more progressive ones, and to install its chosen candidates in the city’s public advocate and comptroller spots.

Sources close to the WFP said the party’s accord with Cuomo won’t last more than a few months, as the WFP takes up the fight against budget cuts. That fight might fizzle, however, if the state’s public unions try to cut side deals.

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #381, December 2010. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.