Working Families Party

Cuomo’s Self-Created WFP Problem

If I were a betting woman, and let it be known that I am generally fairly risk averse, I would right now be putting money on the likelihood that the Working Families Party’s state committee members endorse upstart Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon over incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo when they gather in Albany tomorrow.

The governor will no doubt respond by going on the warpath.

He has already given us a preview of his retaliation plan, which would start out with creation of yet another third party designed to weaken the WFP – this time, with a labor focus, as first reported by CapTon’s own Nick Reisman.

Recall that in the last election cycle, Cuomo created the Women’s Equality Party – or WEP – a move widely seen in part as an effort to confuse voters – after all, E comes right before F in the alphabet – and get back at the WFP for daring to even consider backing a candidate other than Cuomo…more on this in a moment.

Also, Team Cuomo and its allies are pre-emptively accusing the WFP of dividing the labor movement in a manner that will only benefit Republicans in the fall elections.

Ironically, that is just what the WFP has been accusing Cuomo of all these years – enabling, if not quietly encouraging, the split among the state Senate Democrats, even when he promised to remedy the situation, (more on that in a moment, too), helping the GOP maintain control of the chamber and bottling up all manner of progressive policy proposals.

Behind closed doors, Cuomo will probably go quite a bit further, perhaps even threatening the WFP with extinction – most likely via financial starvation.

He could perhaps try to scuttle fusion voting in New York, though that would hurt other minor parties, like the Cuomo-loyal Independence Party, and also is something he has tried before but never followed through on. Or, he might pressure the unions that are still with the WFP – most notably CWA and SEIU 32BJ – to abandon ship, following the lead of a number of others, like HTC and SEIU 1199, who did just that a few years ago at the governor’s urging.

The reality is, however, that no matter how angry Cuomo might be with the WFP for turning its back on him this time around, he really has no one but himself to blame. We would not be at this juncture, with this configuration of WFP committee members, had it not been for string of what now clearly were ill-advised actions by the governor himself.

The governor got what he wanted out of the WFP in 2014, thanks to a significant lift by his frenemy, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longtime ally of the party and organized labor in general.

And then he didn’t bother to even pretend to try to fulfill the main promise that he made to WFP members in exchange for their begrudging willingness to back him and jettison Teachout, whom the wooed into the race to begin with, declining to force the warring state Senate Democrats to reunify. (More on this in a moment).

To “thank” the party for upholding its end of the endorsement bargain, Cuomo punished it, convincing that handful of big unions to end their relationship with the WFP, withdrawing financial support in the process.

And in so doing, because he was so focused on getting revenge in the short term and not on the long game, Cuomo unwittingly empowered the individuals and organizations that remained in the WFP, giving a far greater voice – and voting power – to its activist wing.

Those activist WFP members moved to fill committee seats left vacant when the unions departed. And they have not been satisfied by the governor’s slow yet steady move to the left since the 2014 election, including his recent forging of a peace deal among the Senate Democrats – which seemed to come together pretty darn quickly once Nixon arrived on the scene – saying it’s too little, too late.

In fact, the WFP is continuing to back the candidates who are challenging the IDC members in the September primaries despite the peace deal, and it’s a safe bet that if the party leadership tried to rescind that support now, they would have a rank-and-file revolt on their hands.

It’s possible the WFP could endorse Nixon but not give her its ballot line, putting a placeholder candidate there instead – just in case there’s a post-primary peace deal between the governor and the party that requires her to go away quietly before the November general, though, as Nick reported yesterday, there are ways of getting her name off the ballot if necessary, too.

It’s hard to see how the WFP true believers would be satisfied by any half measures the party seeks in order to preserve some semblance of a relationship with the governor, though.

It will also be interesting to see how UFT members react to the pro-Cuomo comments by their president, Mike Mulgrew, a longtime ally of the governor, though the two sometimes disagree publicly on education policy.

Given the pending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Janus case, no union leader can really afford to alienate his or her members at this point in time. There are plenty of teachers who are big backers of AQE, which, of course, is the foundation of Nixon’s early support, though she has been branching out with other progressive groups of late.

NOTE: A reader points out that the Legislature and Cuomo already moved to undercut the Janus ruling, should it be decided against the unions’ favor. There will likely be a legal battle over that effort if the Supreme Court does indeed go in that director.

WFP Has A New National Director

The Working Families Party on Monday announced Maurice Mitchell would become its next national director.

Mitchell, a Long Island-born community organizer and strategist, is taking the post from Dan Cantor, who is now chairman of the party’s national committee.

“Maurice has spent twenty years working as a community organizer, electoral operative and social movement strategist. Most recently, he led Blackbird, an anchor organization within the Movement for Black Lives — which has transformed the consciousness of the nation,” Cantor wrote in an email to supporters.

“In that role, Maurice helped to expand the limits of the possible in America. That’s exactly what we hope he’ll do at the WFP. Maurice grew up in Long Beach, on the South Shore of Long Island, NY, the son of Caribbean immigrants. His mother was a nurse and his father an electrician — both union members. He’s been part of the extended WFP family for years, working closely with the New York party on Long Island elections beginning more than a decade ago.”

The change comes as the WFP is seeking to expand its reach in states beyond New York. At home, the party is mulling its gubernatorial endorsement, a choice at the moment that is between incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo and his primary challenger, actress and advocate Cynthia Nixon.

Cantor pointed to the impact of President Donald Trump and the need to organize the left as a result.

“He’s coming aboard at a moment of immense importance,” he said. “I don’t need to tell you the kind of threat the nation faces. We have never more urgently needed a political movement rooted in justice and dignity for all working families, and that champions a true democracy.”

WFP Says Will Continue To Back IDC Challengers

As the Independent Democratic Conference moves toward being abolished, the labor-aligned Working Families Party on Wednesday in a statement said it would continue to back challengers to IDC incumbents.

“The WFP believes primaries can be healthy for the Democratic Party and our democracy writ large,” said WFP State Director Bill Lipton. “We stand by our endorsed candidates who are challenging IDC incumbents and are proud to be supporting them.”

The WFP has long been a thorn in the side of the IDC and vice versa. Under the terms of the unity agreement being reached, the IDC would fold back into the Democratic conference in the Senate as part of a broader bid to have the party take control of the chamber, potentially by the end of the month.

The challengers to IDC lawmakers in a statement said they would not back down on their primary challenges to the incumbents.

But the WFP is treading a cautious line: Backing the agreement to unify while also support the primaries.

“If this holds, the dissolution of the IDC and the acknowledgement of Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins as the sole Senate Democratic Leader are critical steps forward to building a more progressive NY. It’s a development WFP activists, our allies and our endorsed candidates should be very proud of,” Lipton said.

“In late 2012, the WFP was part of an all-out effort that won a 33 seat majority for the Democratic-Working Families coalition. A few months later, the IDC voted to make a Republican, Dean Skelos, the Senate Majority Leader. Since then, we’ve had 6 straight years of IDC-Republican control of the Senate; that’s 6 budgets where thousands were held unjustly in pre-trial confinement, nearly a hundred thousand units of affordable housing were lost, and millions of kids attended underfunded schools. Critical legislation to protect immigrants, fight climate change, advance women’s equality and more was stalled.”

WFP Endorses IDC Challengers

The Working Families Party on Thursday endorsed a trio of women running challenges to members of the Independent Democratic Conference.

The labor-aligned party endorsed Democrats Rachel May against Sen. David Valesky of the Syracuse area, Alessandra Biaggi against Sen. Jeff Klein, the conference leader, and Jessica Ramos against Sen. Jose Peralta of Queens.

The endorsements were linked to the ongoing #MeToo reckoning surrounding sexual harassment and misconduct. Klein, a Bronx lawmaker, has been accused of forcibly kissing a former aide; a charge he denies and has pushed for an investigation into the claim.

Klein has also backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed changes to the state’s sexual harassment laws, which include more money for investigations and a ban on secret, taxpayer-funded settlements.

“The WFP is putting its organizing muscle behind these three progressive women reformers — Alessandra, Rachel, and Jessica — who are ready to support Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Day 1,” said WFP Director Bill Lipton. “We will raise thousands of grassroots donations and work with activist groups across New York to make sure our message reaches every voter in these districts.”

The endorsements also come as mainline Democrats in the state Senate are avoiding support for IDC challengers as an uneasy truce remains in effect stemming for a unity deal agreed to last year that would be triggered if Democrats win a pair of special elections scheduled for April 24.

In a statement, IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove blasted the WFP.

“Since its creation in 1998 the Working Families Party has become a travesty whose objective is to destroy the Democratic Party for its sole political interests. What used to be a champion of Working Families has become a corrupt political enterprise,” she said. “The Independent Democratic Conference is happy to put its record of accomplishments — a $15 minimum wage, a $10 million dollar immigrant legal defense fund and the strongest paid family leave program in the nation — against the do nothing Working Families Party.”

Senate GOP Focuses On Governing, WFP Stokes Trump Resistance

Senate Republicans in a statement Tuesday signaled they were above the petty dispute between Democrats in the chamber while the Working Families Party took a jab at the Independent Democratic Conference.

The GOP conference sought to pump the brakes a bit, even if they don’t control the car in this instance, amid the push for Democrats to unite in the Senate.

“There’s a time for politics and a time for governing, and it’s unfortunate that some in Albany can’t ever separate the two,” said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif.

“Based on our record of delivering for taxpayers and their families, we fully expect to grow our Majority next year. In the meantime, we are hopeful that everyone involved will continue to work together to move this state forward because it is the best interest of the people of New York.”

The Working Families Party, meanwhile, sought to hit the accelerator, indicating in a statement of their own that they wanted an expedited process toward Democratic unity in the Senate. A plan floated by the state Democratic Committee and backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would not come to fruition until May.

The WFP, a labor-aligned group that has been at odds with Cuomo, want the reconciliation to take place at the start of the year. That would be difficult, potentially, given a special election to fill two Senate seats would not be called until those seats are actually empty come January.

“The attacks from Trump and his Republican allies have been nothing short of a catastrophe for our nation,” said State Director Bill Lipton. “Despite that, Jeff Klein and his IDC colleagues continue to put their personal power and perks ahead of the interests of New York’s working families.

We reiterate our demand that all Democrats come together in a unified resistance to Trump and his allies by the beginning of the 2018 legislative session. If not, the WFP remains committed to running progressive Working Families Democrats against any and all Trump Democrats.”

WFP Emails, Linking IDC To Liberty Act

The Working Families Party in an email sent Tuesday night links the internecine dispute over control of the state Senate to the passage of the Liberty Act, a measure that would designate New York as a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants.

“Republicans hold a minority of seats in the State Senate,” the petition email signed by State Director Bill Lipton states. “The only reason they control it is because of support from nine Senators who were elected as Democrats but caucus with Republicans. With Trump threatening to deport millions, we need to put them on notice right now.”

The measure is opposed by Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who said the measure, which limits state and local police coordination with federal immigration enforcement, is potentially unconstitutional and illegal.

“It would keep us all safer by drawing a bright line between state and local law enforcement and out-of-control federal immigration enforcement,” Lipton wrote. “The GOP-IDC coalition in State Senate won’t allow the bill to come up for a vote. But they’re starting to feel the heat.”

The measure was narrowly approved in the Democratic-led Assembly on Monday, with votes against the bill by upstate and suburban Democrats. Even if the sanctuary state bill came for a vote in the Senate, it would likely be a similarly tough sell for Democratic lawmakers in moderate, suburban districts.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, has not embraced the bill, saying on Wednesday his office is reviewing it.

The Republican conference has a governing majority of 32 members when including Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who is not a member of the IDC. At the same time, the IDC has pointed to a range of liberal policy victories in the Senate, including minimum wage increases and the creation of a paid-family leave program.

Still, the feud between the two sides in the Senate is expected to be an underlying battle through the session, set off by the addition of three new members to the conference over the last several months.

“The Independent Democratic Conference, made up of Democrats, conferences only with Democrats,” said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove. “The Working Families Party is an actual breakaway movement, having left the Democratic Party in the ’90s. We encourage the rogue Working Families Party to return to the Democratic Party and stop attacking other Democrats for political points.”

Mike McGuire, a former treasurer with the WFP, blasted the labor-backed party in a statement.

“The Working Families Party no longer has anything to do with working families and has forgotten their goals of bettering the lives of the working- and middle-class,” he said. “By forming a majority coalition, the bold leadership of the IDC–who throughout their existence have carried most of the legislation important to workers–protects the values and visions of the working- and middle-class and ensures that important policy advances in the Senate. I applaud their decision and look forward to working with them this upcoming legislative session.”

WFP Supports Striking Momentive Workers

With just a few hours to go before President-elect Donald Trump take office, New York’s Working Families Party is using what it anticipates will be “wholesale attacks on working people” by the incoming administration and its allies to highlight the plight of several hundred striking workers at Momentive Performance Materials, a chemical plant in Waterford.

“Many workers at the company have seen their wages slashed and their jobs outsourced,” Bill Lipton, WFP state director, wrote in an email to supporters this afternoon. “Now management wants to slash healthcare for current workers and completely eliminate healthcare and life insurance for retirees – many of whom are dealing with illnesses related to their exposure to deadly chemicals at the plant.”

“Now more than ever, we need to stand strong against all attacks on workers, whether they come from Trump or his hedge fund billionaire friends.”

Lipton’s email includes a link to an online petition that expresses solidarity with the Momentive employees.

The unionized workers, who are members of CWA, walked off the job last November after contract talks with the company failed. Momentive is owned by Apollo Global Management, a New York City-based hedge fund that acquired General Electric’s advanced materials division, which includes the Waterford operation, for $3.8 billion in 2006.

According to a TU report, the actual ownership of Momentive is fairly complicated – a corporate web that includes six billionaires on the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s 400 richest people, including Stephen Schwarzman, founder and CEO of the Blackstone Group, who was tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to serve as his chief job creation adviser.

Interestingly, though we have heard a lot from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how he plans to stand up to any Trump policies he deems harmful to New York (and also work with the new president when possible, particularly when it comes to infrastructure), he hasn’t yet said anything – to my knowledge – on this particular strike. The governor has taken actions to help end worker-employer disputes of this sort before, though usually when they are of a higher profile nature, politically speaking.

WFP Urges IDC To Block ‘Trump Agenda’

The Working Families Party on Monday expressed disappointment over the decision by the seven-member Independent Democratic Conference to side with the Senate GOP in a governing coalition while also urging the lawmakers to help bloc the “Trump agenda” in Albany.

“Many IDC members are hard-working legislators who claim to share progressive values,” said WFP state director Bill Lipton. “But they will be utterly discredited in their districts if they prop up a Republican majority that is unwilling to block Trump and instead will seek to further his agenda in New York.”

It’s not clear whether the Senate GOP would be able to instill any of the “Trump agenda” at the state Capitol given the narrow divide in the chamber and the likelihood Majority Leader John Flanagan will need to keep the IDC close should a vacancy arise.

The WFP had been among a range of liberal groups and organizations seeking to push the IDC and Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder to align with the mainline Democrats in the Senate and apply pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the same time to broker a compromise.

But IDC Leader Jeff Klein and Flanagan are extending their coalition in the Senate as the new legislative term begins this week.

“This is not a time for politicians to pat themselves on the back for making deals with Trump and his allies for a few concessions,” Lipton said. “Not when Trump and the Republicans are ready to roll back our rights and set fire to the constitution. This is the time for all leaders of conscience to unite around a progressive alternative to Trump’s dangerous and divisive agenda.”

WFP’s Guilt By Association

A common thread has emerged with the critics of Sen. Simcha Felder’s decision to stick with the Senate Republicans: Siding with the GOP is akin to siding with President-elect Donald Trump.

That was the reaction of the Working Families Party, the labor-backed organization that slammed Felder’s decision and provided a warning shot to any other Democrats (such as the unnamed Independent Democratic Conference) for aligning themselves with the state Senate Republicans.

“The election of Donald Trump is an emergency. Trump’s selection of senior advisors and cabinet officials with white supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic views only serves to heighten the threat that millions of New Yorkers are now facing — most immediately immigrants, Muslims, and women,” said Bill Lipton’s the WFP’s state director.

“The New York Republican Party has stood hand in hand with Donald Trump since the beginning of his campaign. They stood with him as he toured the nation spouting hateful, dangerous rhetoric. They used many of the same divisive and hateful tactics in their own campaigns here in New York. They’ve joined him in rejecting climate science, and have stood with him since Election Day as he has brought bigotry and white supremacy directly into the White House in the form of Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and others.”

The WFP has urged Democratic officeholders in New York to stand as a firewall of sorts against Trump and Republican congressional rule in Washington. One way of doing that is a Democratic-controlled Senate — a prospect that is further out of reach by Felder’s decision to remain in the GOP conference.

“If we are going to make New York a bulwark against Trumpism, Democratic State Senators must unite to show their unequivocal opposition to the racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and sharp departure from democratic norms that Trump is set to unleash. We must unite to show our deep commitment to transforming our politics and economy so that they work for working families everywhere,” Lipton said.

“These are not normal times. Any Democratic State Senator who makes the choice to caucus with Republicans will be abandoning those working families in New York most urgently threatened by a Trump presidency. New York Senate Democrats must unite to stand strong for all of us.”

The pressure could ultimately wind up being a moot point should Republicans win two races on Long Island that are yet to be officially declared and retain the status quo in the chamber.

WFP Warns Dems Against Aligning With Senate GOP

The Working Families Party in a statement on Friday issued a blanket warning to “any New York Democratic State Senator” who sides with Republicans in the chamber that doing so would “prop up Trumpism.”

The statement comes as the balance of power in the Senate, currently under Republican control, is yet to be officially sorted out.

Democrats in the mainline conference point out at least two races on Long Island are under an absentee ballot count.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who has sided with the Senate GOP in the chamber, is yet to formally decide which conference he will sit with in the new legislative session. Zack Fink of NY1 this afternoon reported Felder is in talks with the Senate Democratic leadership.

At the same time, the Independent Democratic Conference has grown in size to seven members with the addition of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Jesse Hamilton. The IDC, led by Bronx Democrat Jeff Klein, has aligned itself with Republicans in the past and has previously formed a power-sharing majority coalition with the GOP.

The WFP has pledged to be a “bulwark” in New York against Trump’s policies, placing pressure on Democratic state elected officials to provide an alternative policy choice to a Republican-led federal government.

Here’s the full WFP statement:

“These are dangerous times. With the election of Donald Trump, working families face multiple imminent threats,” said WFP state Director Bill Lipton. “Trump has pledged to take actions to round up and deport millions of Americans, decimate unions, take health care coverage away from millions, threaten women’s reproductive rights, and allow runaway climate change to continue — all while deregulating the economy and cutting taxes for the wealthy. He has attacked the rule of law and freedom of the press.

Despite this, the New York Republican Party has proudly stood with Donald Trump every step of the way during his campaign. In fact, they used many of the same divisive tactics to dehumanize our fellow New Yorkers in the recent election.

Any New York Democratic State Senator who caucuses with Republicans will be choosing to prop up Trumpism at the expense of New Yorkers in order to gain personal power. Some might say this is a way to “get things done,” but now is not the time to try to win some things that help some of us. Now is the time to stand tall for all of us.