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7 Questions About What's Next For New York State's Working Families Party After Its Cuomo Endorsement

Whether progressives extract real concessions, like public financing, remains to be seen.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Lev Radin

 

On Saturday, the Working Families Party voted to provide its November ballot line to Governor Andrew Cuomo following several weeks of negotiations between him, party leaders, labor leaders, and prominent elected officials. Zephyr Teachout, who announced her candidacy just on Friday, contested the party’s endorsement. Zephyr – a former board member of PCAF and a friend – mounted an aggressive challenge to Cuomo with the WFP delegates at the convention and lost a floor vote 59-41%, while winning the hearts and minds by 99-1%.

I’m not a dispassionate observer about what happened at the convention or the events leading up to it. While I have remained on the sidelines for the nomination fight, I have spoken with colleagues and friends who spent the better part of the last few weeks navigating all of this. In addition, the actions of the WFP, Governor Cuomo, and Zephyr Teachout all impact our work to win comprehensive change in the way elections are financed in New York. So I feel compelled and well informed enough to answer publicly what many have asked me privately, in the following Q&A format.

1. Wait. WFP endorsed Cuomo? WTF?

Yes. The most important big picture thing to keep in mind is this: In 2010, then candidate Cuomo forced the WFP to endorse his agenda before he would appear on their line. This year he’s endorsing theirs and he’s pledged to work to elect a state Senate that will deliver on these agenda items.

2. What did Cuomo pledge specifically?

Governor Cuomo appeared before the conventioneers on Saturday night via video and phone and pledged, among other things, to work to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 and to index it to inflation; to allow municipalities to increase the minimum wage by 30% more than the state level; to pass the DREAM Act for children of immigrants to go to school with the same tuition as other instate students; to pass the entirety of the Women’s Equality Agenda; to increase funding for community schools and rectify funding inequities across the state; to decriminalize minor marijuana possession; and, of course, to pass public financing of campaigns. Many will react that they’ve heard all this before. Some of these items are new promises, like the local control over minimum wage.

Most importantly, the Governor pledged to use his considerable political influence to get these policies through the state Senate by working to elect Senators this fall who subscribe to it. Currently led by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats called the Independent Democratic Conference (the IDC), the Senate has blocked action on all of the policies above. To be clear, the Governor is clearly not blameless for the past inaction in this chamber. He could have, for example, used the leverage afforded to him by the budget to adopt public financing this year.

3. How do we know Cuomo will actually work to elect a new Senate?

There are reports that Governor Cuomo and some of the unions have pledged $10 million in a fund to focus on electing new Senators. It won’t take many seats. Most importantly, we need a new Senate leadership. In addition, a handful of champions like Senator CeCe Tkaczyk must be defended and re-elected.

4. What did Zephyr accomplish?

From a distance, what is exceedingly clear is this: Zephyr showed tremendous resolve and is a rising star. She got into the race on Friday when there was no deal and it appeared there wouldn’t be one. I, for one, am convinced the agreement the WFP reached with Cuomo was only possible because of her entry onto the scene. According to her public statements, she didn’t think a new set of promises from the Governor that looked like the old promises made for a good deal. Time will tell if she is right.