Working Families Party

New York WFP: ‘Proud’ To Endorse Sanders

After the national Working Families Party announced it was formally backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, the founding New York chapter of the labor-backed organization praised the nod.

“Bernie Sanders is right when he says it will take a political revolution to make the real change working families need,” said State Director Bill Lipton. “The Working Families Party is fighting for the same thing across our state and our country, and we are proud to stand with him today.”

Endorsing the liberal Sanders over a mainstream Democrat like Hillary Clinton in many respects was the opposite outcome from the New York governor’s race in 2014, when the state WFP ultimately backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo (who is identified with the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party) over Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout.

Teachout would go on top challenge Cuomo for the Democratic nomination later in the year.

But unlike the WFP’s endorsement in the race for governor, which could have held real consequences for Cuomo’s general election match up against Republican Rob Astorino, the impact of the national endorsement for Sanders over Clinton is more of a symbolic statement of purpose for the party.

In essence, the Sanders endorsement allows the WFP in many respects, especially for New York, can return to its liberal roots without having to compromise.

“Today, working families across New York and the nation are showing their eagerness to stand with a candidate who has brought fighting inequality and injustice to the center of our national conversation,” said Javier H. Valdés, the state party’s secretary and co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “From calling for a $15 minimum wage to demanding an expanded immigration relief effort and reining in the greed of Wall Street, Bernie Sanders is leading a political revolution to win the hearts and minds of progressives across this country.”

WFP Backs Sanders

In its first-ever national endorsement, the labor-backed Working Families Party has snubbed former Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom it has backed when she ran for office in New York, in favor of her 2016 Democratic primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“We want to live in a nation that allows all people to live a decent life, no matter what is in their parents’ bank account or who is in their family tree,” said WFP National Director (and WFP NY co-founder) Dan Cantor.

“But the super-rich have used their economic muscle to buy political muscle, and unless you’re one of them, what you think government should do basically doesn’t count. That’s why we’re standing with Bernie Sanders to build the political revolution and make our nation into one where every family can thrive.”

According to the party, which has been polling its members online for weeks now, Sanders won the support of an “overwhelming supermajority” of WFPers – 87.4 percent – compared to 11.5 percent who choose Clinton and 1.1 percent who backed former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The final endorsement decision was dependent on both the membership vote and the votes of the WFP’s national advisory board, which includes representatives from all state organizations.

The WFP says its backing will bring Sanders’ campaign the support of the party’s activist base and skilled operatives, which will no doubt come in handy for the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary – both right around the corner.

Though the party is making much of its decision, it isn’t a big surprise.

The WFP has a history with Clinton, supporting both her first 2000 US Senate run (her first attempt at seeking elected office) and her re-election campaign in 2006, though she faced a primary challenge from the left from labor activist Jonathan Tasini.

But back in February, the WFP formally joined the effort to draft Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the 2016 race, even though she has said repeatedly that she’s not interested in running for the White House next year.

The WFP is also closely allied in New York with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who initially withheld support of Clinton’s 2016 run even though he managed her 2000 US Senate campaign. De Blasio said that he was waiting to hear more from the former secretary of state and ex-first lady about bridging the economic gap – a signature issue for him.

In October, de Blasio formally announced his support for Clinton during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, though he didn’t make much news in the process.

WFP’s Lipton: Don’t Lash Tax Cut To Minimum Wage

fastfoodWorking Families Party State Director Bill Lipton on Friday urged against linking an increase in the minimum wage to a tax cut — a proposition Gov. Andrew Cuomo floated to business leaders last week.

“I think linking the two is a mistake,” Lipton said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “I think we should have a smart, progressive tax code policy. I think it should be discussed separately from the minimum wage. The minimum wage really stands on its own.”

Last week at the state Business Council’s annual meeting, Cuomo floated the possibility of a tax cut linked to the wage proposal as a way to make the measure more palatable.

“That is an issue that I just wanted to put on the table for them,” Cuomo told reporters after his remarks before the council. “I’ve proposed tax cuts almost every year. I think that’s one of the most positive things we can do. It says New York is open for business.”

But Senate Democrats, too, have been cool to the idea of a wage-increase-for-tax-cuts, which the governor has proposed in the past.

If the idea is to help employers making millions of billions of dollars a year…I don’t see why the state should step in to subsidize the minimum wage so their employees can get paid a fair salary,” Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris said last week on Capital Tonight. More >

Cuomo Huddled With WFP Leadership In December

Gov. Andrew Cuomo met privately with the leadership of the Working Families Party about a month after Election Day, newly released public schedules show.

Cuomo met with Co-Chairs Bill Lipton, Karen Scharff and Executive Director Dan Cantor on Dec. 4, according to the schedules posted on Cuomo’s open government website.

The meeting came after significant election-year friction between Cuomo and the Working Families Party.

WFP leaders had accused Cuomo of creating the Women’s Equality Party ballot line last year as a way to potentially undermine the left-leaning, union-backed party. Cuomo and his allies had gone as far as urging voters to cast votes on for the new ballot line.

At the same time, the WFP had blasted Cuomo on the night of Election Day for not doing more to help Senate Democrats, who did not gain full control of the chamber after a trio of freshman lawmakers lost their seats to Republicans.

Cuomo received the WFP’s ballot line after intense negotiations and a challenge from Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, who would go on to challenge Cuomo in a Democratic primary.

Cuomo’s girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee and New Yorker scribe Jeffrey Toobin were among Cuomo’s passengers on state aircraft that month as well in separate trips.

Records show Toobin was a passenger on state aircraft with Cuomo, Communications Director Melissa DeRosa and aide Stephanie Benton on a flight from Albany to Westchester County Airport. Toobin, who was writing a profile of Cuomo that would be published in February, is shown to have reimbursed the state for the trip.

In a separate trip, Lee and Cuomo took the state helicopter from Albany to New York City on Dec. 31. Cuomo was sworn in the next day in lower Manhattan for a second term.

An opinion from the ethics and lobbying regulators at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics found Lee would not have to reimburse the state for rides on state aircraft as long as it is being used for state business.

December 2014 by Nick Reisman

Progressives Seek ‘Pause’ on Education

As the budget clock ticks down, a host of progressive/left-leaning organizations and the labor-backed Working Families Party is making what amounts to a Hail Mary attempt to stop the Legislature from passing the education portion of the budget deal.

The WFP issued a joint statement with its allies – the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, Make the Road Action Fund, and New York Communities for Change – saying the Senate and Assembly should “hit the pause button on the education budget bill and get things right before voting.”

“Over 2.7 million public school students are counting on the Senate and Assembly to do their homework when it comes to education – not cram for the exam,” the statement continues. “We are asking the Senate and Assembly leadership to renegotiate the education budget bill before they bring it to a vote.”

“At a time when Governor Cuomo is making and breaking promises at lightning speed, it’s imperative that legislators demand the time to negotiate, clarify, and listen to the parents, teachers, and students they’re here to serve. Full funding for a sound basic education is a CFE mandate, not a bargaining chip.”

“…”So, let’s slow down and get this right. There’s no extra credit for rushing through bills that legislators haven’t even had time to read for the sake of a bad but on-time budget. That’s especially true for bills that impede our obligation to provide all of our students with a high-quality public education.”

This comes on the heels of a memo circulated yesterday by the state’s largest teachers union, NYSUT, that called on legislators to reject major provisions of the education reform proposals that are in the spending plan’s framework. The biggest sticking points for the union: Changes to the teacher evaluation system, tenure and the 3020A proceedings which make it easier for districts to fire poorly performing teachers.

And THAT memo came after NYSUT President Karen Magee issued a call for parents to opt their kids out of state tests, which, of course could – assuming enough people heed that call – undermine the results on which the teacher performance evaluation system is based.

It does not appear at this moment that the efforts to halt the budget proceedings will bear fruit. The education bill – known as ELFA – is in print. School aid runs are out. And lawmakers are moving forward with plans to start voting on the remaining budget bills later today in hopes of coming close to meeting the midnight deadline.

Dem Legislators Make Education Funding Push In WFP Video

The Working Families Party last night released a video online featuring several Democratic state lawmakers criticizing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education proposals.

In the video, which features Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblywoman Addie Russell, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, and Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, Cuomo is knocked for his posture toward the state’s public teachers union.

“We all share serious concerns about the governor’s education proposals, because by only targeting our teachers and ignoring the real issues, our schools will be taken in the wrong direction,” Stewart-Cousins said in the video.

Also singled out for criticism is the governor’s push to make it easier for the state to take over struggling schools.

“That would only punish many of the same students who have seen their schools underfunded for years,” Stewart-Cousins said of the receivership proposal.

Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, has been at odds this legislative session with Cuomo on a variety of issues and is also pushing to be included in the closed-door leaders meetings, which typically feature the Assembly speaker, Senate majority leader and the Independent Democratic Conference leader, Jeff Klein.

Cuomo’s push to have an independent monitor assume control of a school deemed to be failing has become an increasing point of concern for lawmakers, especially in the Democratic-led Assembly.

Allies of the state’s teachers union this week were emboldened by a Quinnipiac University poll that found voters trust the teachers unions over Cuomo to help improve education.

Cuomo would increase education aid in the state budget by as much as $1.1 billion, but much of the funding is linked to his policy proposals, which also include a strengthening of the state’s charter schools.

WFP’s 11th Hour Education Aid Push

Also from the Morning Memo:

The Working Families Party made a final frantic push yesterday in hopes of getting the Legislature to add a significant amount of education funding to the $377 million or $1.1 billion (depending on whether his reforms are accepted by lawmakers) that Cuomo proposed in his executive budget.

“The New York State Assembly and State Senate will be releasing their budget bills on Monday — including their proposals for education funding,” WFP State Director Bill Lipton wrote in an email sent to the party’s supporters last night.

“And we’re hearing that those proposals may end up containing significantly less than the $2.2 billion required to fully fund all of New York’s public schools and provide our kids with the small class sizes, full curricula, and other resources they need to succeed.”

“The budget proposals will shape the terms of upcoming negotiations between the Assembly, Senate, and Governor. The decisions on education being made by lawmakers over the next 48 hours are critical, and it’s just as critical that you make your voice heard before then.”

Lipton’s email included a link to an on-line petition calling for the Legislature to fully fund public schools and reject Cuomo’s “over-reliance on testing and privatization.”

It’s a safe bet that both the Assembly and the Senate will include additional education aid in their respective one-house budget proposals. Senate Education Committee Chairman Joh Flanagan, for example, has repeatedly called the $1.1 billion Cuomo proposed a “floor.”

But there will be some big differences in the one-house plans when it comes to education policy.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said during a radio interview late last week that there is not sufficient support in his Democratic conference to include the Education Investment Tax Credit in the chamber’s one-house budget bill. Heastie sponsored the tax credit in the past, but it is strongly opposed by NYSUT, which is closely allied with the Assembly Democrats.

Cuomo initially linked the tax credit and the DREAM Act, which the Assembly Democrats strongly support, in his 2015-16 executive budget, and then went one step further in his 30-day amendments, connecting both initiatives to TAP funding.

The Senate Republicans are big backers of the tax credit, but do not support the DREAM Act. Not only did the measure die on the Senate floor last year, but a number of the Republican conference’s new members actively campaigned against it during the 2014 election cycle.

The Assembly Democrats have already passed a stand-alone version of the DREAM Act, and say it should rise or fall on its own merits outside the budget process.

WFP Gains Gala Support (Updated)

Fresh off a win in its multi-year legal battle with a special prosecutor, the Working Families Party is attracting some big-name support for its 17th annual gala, which will be held in June.

Over 100 politicians, labor leaders, progressives and celebrities – from hip hop mogul/activist Russell Simmons and Planned Parenthood Federation President Cecile Richards to Fordham Law Professor and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout and WFP co-counder Bertha Lewis – have signed on as members of the gala host committee.

Also on the host committee list: US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, who are new additions to the event since last year.

NYS Working Families Party Director Bill Lipton said he is “thrilled” about the host committee, which is the “most impressive…we’ve ever had.”

The renewed interest in the WFP could be seen as a testament to the labor-backed party’s success in rebuilding its political brand. That’s thanks not only to the end of the legal cloud that has hung over the WFP’s head since the 2009 NYC elections; but also to the success of its longtime ally, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and renewed national focus on its top agenda item: Bridging the income equality gap.

The WFP is also poised for another potential victory: Electing the first-ever WFP-only member of the state Legislature.

Thanks to a paperwork problem, there is no Democratic candidate in the four-way May 5 special election battle for former Assemblyman Karim Camara’s Brooklyn seat. The WFP is backing community board member Diana Richardson, who is gaining support in the race.

UPDATE: Here’s a copy of the gala invite:

WFP Gala invite by liz_benjamin6490

WFP Claims Victory in Special Prosecutor Probe

From the Morning Memo:

The Working Families Party is celebrating the end of a protracted legal battle over its efforts in the 2009 NYC elections that lead to the demise of its for-profit arm, Data & Field Services, but ultimately resulted in no charges against the labor-backed party.

Special prosecutor Roger Adler announced yesterday that his investigation of the WFP’s involvement in Councilwoman Debi Rose’s campaign resulted in the indictment of two former aides to the Staten Island Democrat, but no allegations of wrongdoing against the party itself or any of its officials.

In a lengthy statement released late last night, New York WFP Director Bill Lipton slammed Adler, calling him an “unqualified prosecutor with a political axe to grind” who had spent “three years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to reinvestigate allegations…that had already been debunked.”

“This matter never should have been the subject of a criminal investigation in the first place,” Lipton continued. “It should have been treated as a routine administrative matter and examined by the Campaign Finance Board, and Roger Adler himself has admitted as much.”

“Instead, he pressed forward with a full-scale criminal investigation to attempt to inflict political damage on his opponents, while keeping the meter running for himself. By the end, we have no doubt that he’ll have billed half a million dollars in public money for himself.”

“The indictment of a defunct corporation that has been out of business for more than three years is bizarre. But the indictments against the Rose campaign and two campaign workers are especially outrageous.”

“Councilmember Debi Rose is the first and only African American elected official on Staten Island, and it is wrong that her campaign and her volunteers were subject to a different standard than everyone else.”

The US Attorney’s office and the NYC Campaign Finance Board also both investigated the WFP’s 2009 efforts and found no significant violations.

A lawsuit brought by Randy Mastro, a former Giuliani administration deputy mayor, was settled in 2010, requiring some restitution by Rose for “alleged undercharging” by DFS for services provided to her campaign and also structural changes to how DFS operated. Under the settlement, there was no finding of wrongdoing by the WFP.

The WFP hired former Chief Judge Judith Kaye to review DFS, and she recommended that it reconstitute itself as a taxable, nonprofit corporation. The WFP ultimately opted to shut down DFS altogether and pony up $100,000 in legal fees to settle its long-running dispute with Mastro.

WFP: Enact Moreland’s ‘Number One Recommendation’

The Working Families Party in an email to supporters on Monday is pushing the Legislature in the wake of the Sheldon Silver corruption scandal to enact the “number one recommendation” of the defunct Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption, which it was says public financing.

“Now is the time to demand that Albany fix the problem,” said State Director Bill Lipton in an email to supporters sent on Monday. “They can start by enacting the Moreland Commission’s number one recommendation: passing statewide public financing of elections to level the playing field between wealthy donors and working families.”

The commission’s preliminary report did list public financing first among its recommendations, which included lower contribution limits, stronger disclosure requirements and better enforcement of anti-corruption laws.

But the Moreland Commission was actually split on whether public financing should be included as a cure for corruption in state government.

In its preliminary report issued in 2013, the anti-corruption panel had a seven-member dissent that was skeptical of whether public financing would have prevented cases like that of former Sen. Malcolm Smith, accused of trying to bribe his way onto the GOP ballot for mayor of New York City.

“Adoption of public financing would not prevent this type of abuse and thus the commission should not endorse it on the erroneous belief it would be a solution,” the dissenters write.

Among the dissenters was Republican Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, a close GOP ally for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he later would nominate to chair the state Thruway Authority.

(There is also some question over the timing of the report’s dissent on public financing, first raised by City and State last year).

With Republicans in full control of the state Senate, the prognosis for public financing continues to be a grim one.

Nevertheless, the WFP continues to push the public financing system, and pushed Cuomo to ensure a system remained in his ultimatum made to state lawmakers on ethics reform.

“If the Governor is serious about fighting corruption in Albany he’ll insure that all five points of the plan he outlined today–including the number one recommendation of the Moreland Commission, public financing of elections–remain in the budget,” the party said.