There Is a Progressive Alternative for NY Voters: The Working Families Party

Since its founding in 1998, the Working Families Party (WFP) has emerged as New York State's liveliest progressive political force. It has helped Democrats take back both the US Congress and the State Senate by bringing disaffected Democrats, union members and independents into a coalition with insurgent Democratic candidates.

In 2009, a WFP-backed slate of unusually good progressive candidates for New York City Council, Comptroller and Public Advocate (Nation contributor Bill De Blasio) all won in a landslide. And this September, the party helped defeat notorious state senator Pedro Espada, who had held Albany hostage by threatening to become a Republican and almost single-handedly blocked tenants’ rights legislation from coming to the floor.

Most importantly, the WFP has maintained a laser-like focus on advancing a policy agenda informed by a commitment to fairness, democracy and equality. Victories at the ballot box have translated into victories in the legislature. The WFP has been instrumental in raising New York’s minimum wage, reforming the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, passing one of the most ambitious state-wide Green Jobs programs in the nation, raising taxes on the wealthy instead of cutting schools and healthcare for the poor and holding moderate Democrats’ feet to the fire to make sure health care reform did not fall apart this past spring.

Right now, the WFP is campaigning for a universal paid sick days bill in New York City. Without the WFP, the bill—which would give 1 million New Yorkers paid sick days for the first time—might languish in obscurity. Instead it has over two-thirds of the council signed on as sponsors.

The Nation has not only covered the WFP's advances and progress over these last twelve years, but also played a small but significant role in the party's birth. We mobilized our readers and community through editorials and outreach to help the party reach the 50,000 votes needed in 1998 to secure a line on the New York State ballot.

But the WFP's hard-earned victories have also earned it powerful enemies. Over the past year, the party has come under withering attack from the New York Post, right-wing blogs, the Real Estate Board of New York, Chamber of Commerce, New York Daily News, RNC operative Roger Stone and various other malefactors of wealth.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York also investigated the WFP for alleged campaign finance violations in last year’s municipal races. That investigation was closed in August and no charges were filed.

The WFP is now able to focus on what it does best—mobilizing people for an election which is now just three weeks away. Among its candidates, Andrew Cuomo is taking the WFP line for governor, Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General and Tom DiNapoli for Comptroller.

The Cuomo endorsement is a complex one, and revealed the WFP navigating between compromise and principle in order to keep its ballot line. In the end, after months of tough negotiations, the man who is likely to be New York’s next governor took the WFP’s line. 

As WFP executive director Dan Cantor told New York Magazine, “We’re looking to get a good vote on the Working Families line and use the power that accrues to that vote to influence outcomes.”

The party’s continued success is a marker for facets of progressive politics that I care deeply about: the importance of being principled and pragmatic—striking a balance between a transformative politics aimed at a fundamentally different, humane and sustainable society, and the compromises often necessary to address people’s immediate needs and begin moving towards bolder reforms.

But there’s also a potent sense that through the WFP working people can indeed stand together against corporate and big-monied forces in order to claim some justice and security. A very savvy, spunky organizing and electoral strategy has paid off in building power for people who are neither well-heeled nor well-connected.

As the business class, and both conservative Democrat and Republican circles, maneuver to try to knock the WFP out of existence, it’s critical that we ensure this progressive force can keep fighting and winning for years to come.

That means New Yorkers voting the WFP line on November 2. If you vote for Cuomo, for example, do so on the WFP line rather than the Democratic line. If you select both bubbles only the majority party will receive your vote, and the WFP needs to reach that 50,000-vote threshold to continue receiving its own line on the state ballot.

The WFP is also on the ballot in five other states—Connecticut, Vermont, Oregon, Delaware and South Carolina. In Connecticut, votes on the WFP line could be the margin in some high-profile races like Attorney General Richard Blumenthal versus Linda McMahon for US Senate, and Democrat Dan Malloy versus Tom Foley for Governor.

So if you can vote for the WFP this election, do it. And all of us can tell our friends and colleagues about this once-ragtag group of unions, community groups and progressives that has grown into a force, electing progressive candidates and advancing progressive causes.


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