Saturday, November 1, 2014

New York note: Quandary

Image via Educade.
For out-of-state readers who may not be familiar with our more exotic institutions, the Working Families Party is a New York–style fusion party founded by a bunch of leaders from unions and grassroots organizations at the end of the last century (1998), which cross-lists candidates usually with the Democrats so that you can vote for the Democratic candidate with a proviso: yes, but.

As in (for my case) yes, but I don't sign onto the Democrats' utter failure to fully fund New York City schools on par with the rest of the state as demanded by the state constitution, in the terms of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit decided in 2001 and reaffirmed in the last appeal of 2006. Or, yes, but I don't trust Democrats (and Andrew Cuomo in particular), with their donors just as rich as Republicans, on environmental issues.

So that voting for your candidate on the WFP line instead of the Democrats' is a way of saying, I'm voting for you but only because, and only as long as, these bona fide progressives say you're OK. And through the votes it commands it has acquired the political weight to get some real things done, like pushing successfully for the end of the Rockefeller drug laws and stop-and-frisk policing in black neighborhoods, and holding off fracking in the state's Marcellus Shale region, maybe.

And then came this summer and the very widespread feeling among WFP voters that Andrew Cuomo should not be the party's nominee this year, because of the ways in which he has not been progressive enough in his first term, a smell of hedge fund corruption, a refusal to consider any raise in the taxes of the superwealthy, an unwavering support for the dubious charter school program (run by nonprofit companies that contract out their services to for-profit entities in which those hedge-fund guys are investors), and at last the scandal of the Moreland Commission that the governor set up to investigate public corruption and then shut down again, rather suddenly, when it persisted in investigating people he was associated with.

He was going to win regardless, for various reasons. Some of the reasons are good, too—he has pressed the state legislature into enacting marriage equality and a good gun control law, and worked to put a lot more land under conservation (while constantly stalling on the more controversial environmental issues), and done some pretty positive economic development–type things for Western New York, for instance. And some are of course bad (he has more campaign money than God).

Anyhow it seemed to many like an opportune moment to show that WFP wasn't simply a hippie method of voting for Democrats. There was a really attractive candidate much more in sympathy with the WFP's aims, Zephyr Teachout, and they could have endorsed her instead. (I wrote about Teachout as a Democratic candidate quite a bit, especially here.)

The long and the short of it was that Cuomo strongarmed the party into endorsing him without even showing up at the convention in person (he turned up in a video promo and a brief phone call on the PA system), in return for some promises that he may or may not intend to keep or has already signally failed to deliver on (women's equality legislation and campaign finance reform), and a lot of the party's supporters were pretty disappointed and angry. I'm afraid I spoke very sharply to one nice young man who called to ask me for money (of which I wouldn't have had enough, to tell the truth, to take up quite that much of his time), who was probably completely on my side and pissed off himself, but heroically doing his duty anyhow.

And then of course Cuomo joined Governor Christie of New Jersey in the Ebola panic tag team, spreading ignorance about the disease like an epidemic in its own right, and I got really angry. I was pretty certain that on November 4 I was going to vote on the WFP line for the second-tier races (Tom Di Napoli for comptroller and the great Eric Schneiderman for attorney general) but for the Green party nominee Howie Hawkins in the governor's race.

But now I'm full of doubts.

In the first place, there's a wrinkle in New York State law about fusion parties that I didn't understand: I knew they needed x many votes in a given election year to maintain their automatic place in the ballot for the next election, but I didn't realize that it had to be 50,000 votes in, precisely, the governor's race—that is, my vote for Schneiderman and Di Napoli won't help them, and my vote for Hawkins will hurt.

And this can be a big deal. The WFP's sort-of predecessor, New York's formidable Liberal Party, more or less died when it nominated the wrong candidate one too many times in 2002 (ironically, it was Andrew Cuomo, who decided he wasn't ready to run yet) and didn't get the 50,000 votes. The Liberals deserved to die, they were an awful, corrupt, principle-free shadow of what they used to be, but that's not the point.

The point is, I wanted to see the WFP acknowledge that it had made a dreadful mistake, not to kill it. And it looks as if it really might not survive. Cuomo's people set up a fraudulent Women's Equality Party over the summer (in preparation for the possibility that the WFP would refuse to nominate him) and he is now pushing that, apparently in the hope of punishing the WFP just for thinking about not nominating him (I'm sorry to say that Nydia Velásquez, who I voted for in her first Congressional run back when I lived in Brooklyn, has signed on to this farcical venture). And meanwhile, tens of thousands of us normal WFP voters are planning to vote for the Greens.

WFP is more or less begging us to vote for Cuomo not because we like him but in order to give him a hard time, and in that sense admitting their mistake; Zephyr Teachout's campaign manager, Mike Boland, writes
I didn’t agree with the decision by the Working Families Party to nominate Andrew Cuomo for governor this summer. Like many progressives, I disagreed strongly with the Governor’s economic policies over the last four years. That’s a big reason why I left the WFP after 15 years to be Zephyr Teachout’s campaign manager. I’m proud of what we accomplished on that campaign. I believe we helped change the conversation in New York politics.
But the question facing voters on Tuesday isn’t who will be governor for the next four years — we already know the answer to that one. The real question facing all of us is how strong the progressive movement will be after the election, and if we will have the type of infrastructure necessary to hold Gov. Cuomo and legislators to the promises they have made to progressives. And I don’t think we know the answer to that one yet.
In order to stay on the ballot, the Working Families Party needs to win 50,000 votes for Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday. The more votes progressives cast for Gov. Cuomo on the WFP line, the stronger position WFP will be in come November 5th. And that is when the real work begins — when we all need to come together to fight for higher wages for workers, campaign finance reform to change Albany, full funding of our schools, and so much more.
(Though I'm not quite clear, if this is the case, why he was upset with WFP for not nominating Teachout in the first place.)

And the folks at an organization I officially belong to,, add their voices:
It is virtually certain that Gov. Cuomo will be re-elected. The practical question that we face is this: Do we want to have a strong progressive movement around to keep the pressure on Gov. Cuomo, or do we want to let Gov. Cuomo destroy a key piece of it?
If the choice is between those two futures, it should be a clear one. That's why I hope you'll join me and MoveOn members across New York State in voting for Gov. Cuomo on the WFP ballot line on Tuesday.
And The Nation tugs at an old guy's heartstrings:
Yes, this is practical politics. But it is a practical politics of the left—what author and democratic socialist Michael Harrington used to refer to as “the left wing of the possible.”
So what do I do, peeps? Vote Cuomo as Ilya and Brian and the gang urge me to do specifically because I can't trust him? Or vote for the Green Party and a candidate I admire, in the teeth of the possibility that that's just what Cuomo wants me to do? Oy.

Image via (ew!) CNBC.
Got a pretty concise answer here:
Anybody else want to say something?

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