The endorsement of Governor Andrew Cuomo by the Working Families Party (WFP) has sparked much discussion among PSC activists, as evident in the letters to the editor that follow below. The PSC’s state affiliate, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), will make its own endorsement decision in August, and PSC representatives will be part of that process. In 2010, NYSUT made no endorsement in the governor’s race.
A Missed Opportunity
By backing Governor Cuomo, the Working Families Party missed a rare opportunity to advance a truly progressive agenda in New York. The “deal” that was a condition of the WFP’s endorsement includes many important goals. But a basic question remains unanswered: Given his record, how could anyone believe that Cuomo can be trusted?
For years, activists have protested against Cuomo’s brand of neoliberal fiscal conservatism. “Governor 1%” had ruthlessly imposed austerity on the public sector while subsidizing big business and billionaires.
During these same years, the PSC wisely sought to advance our higher education and public policy agenda by joining the WFP. This strategy paid off most spectacularly by helping elect NYC’s most progressive City Council and mayor in decades. The WFP was central to this effort, and PSC participation in it helped win these advances.
But Cuomo has fought hard to undermine this same progressive agenda, from opposing a new tax on the rich to shoving charter schools down our throats. Both as governor and as a prospective presidential candidate, Cuomo’s brand of politically savvy maneuvering poses a clear and present danger to the interests of the 99%.
Cuomo’s macho advocacy for the rich provoked a backlash, creating an exciting opening for progressives. An April Siena poll showed that an unnamed WFP challenger to Cuomo’s left could capture 24% of the vote. In Zephyr Teachout, the party had a solid potential challenger who could give Cuomo a run for his money. The WFP had a real and rare chance to sink Cuomo’s brand of neoliberal politics and his national ambitions, while simultaneously expanding support for a real progressive agenda.
Teachout is now challenging Cuomo in the Democratic primary, and she may tap the discontent revealed in that Siena poll. She deserves our support. The WFP had a chance to help lead and build that rebellion – and unfortunately failed to grab it.
Politics Ain’t Pretty
Most progress in New York politics these days comes thanks to a certain constellation of community organizations and coalition-minded unions (including ours). At its best, this coalition is too small to win all it wants. But the right structure can amplify a coalition’s power. We’ve seen recently that in the Working Families Party – with its ballot line and campaign apparatus – the PSC and its allies have found a way to make our voices louder.
In 2013, years of WFP groundwork yielded a NYC mayor and a Council Progressive Caucus who’ve already expanded pre-kindergarten and paid sick leave. This year’s City budget debate was about how much to add to CUNY! And at its 2014 convention, the WFP moved a mountain. With its endorsement as leverage, the party got Governor Cuomo to drop his opposition to a minimum wage increase, back a broad women’s equity agenda, and support a Democratic/WFP majority in the NY State Senate, which would unblock a host of progressive policies. None of this would have happened if our labor-community coalition lacked a megaphone like the WFP.
Politics can’t always be beautiful. I’ll admit that I would’ve found it aesthetically satisfying to support a WFP protest candidate for governor. When I vote the WFP ticket this November, I know I won’t be pleased by every person on the slate. What matters more, though, is that I’ll be proud of the substance of what I’m voting for: meaningful steps toward equality and solidarity here in New York.
Pro-Wall Street Politicians
The events at the recent Working Families Party convention should be a clarion call to the members of our union and to all workers in New York that relying on politicians to act in our best interests is a dangerous mistake.
The WFP, at the behest of Mayor Bill de Blasio, endorsed Andrew Cuomo for governor, although he’s been a disaster for workers in New York, especially educators. At the same time that we are anxiously awaiting the outcome of two of the most potentially anti-union and anti-worker lawsuits in recent memory – the Vergara case in California that threatens to end tenure, and the Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court case that could financially devastate public sector unions – the WFP and de Blasio conspired to endorse a governor who weakened teacher tenure by making it dependent on standardized test scores and who is supporting and assisting the rapid expansion of non-union charter schools.
The moves by de Blasio and the WFP are a betrayal, plain and simple, and it’s time to turn our back on them as they did to us. We should, instead, be mobilizing our union to mount the most aggressive fight we can for a decent contract. Given the recent United Federation of Teachers contract, the city and state will likely offer a contract that will be a slap in the face, especially to our super-exploited adjuncts. Rather than pro-Wall Street politicians, we should rely on our 25,000+ members who, if organized and prepared to fight like hell, could make history.
Bronx Community College
The Impact on Local Races
As an activist in the Working Families Party and one of its founding members, I was both disappointed and unsurprised by the WFP state committee’s decision to endorse Governor Andrew Cuomo. I wish that the WFP had followed its activist base and endorsed Zephyr Teachout, but the financial pressure of large unions such as 1199, SEIU 32BJ and the United Federation of Teachers was too great for the WFP to risk endorsing Teachout.
I ask PSC members not to despair, but to see the WFP endorsement of Cuomo as an opportunity. Four years ago, the WFP had to ask Cuomo to be on its ballot line. This time around he made concessions and promises to get the WFP line.
The real action, though, is lower down on the ballot. Unless activists can defeat Republicans in swing seats and defeat the five members of the “Independent Democrats” who have kept Republicans in power since 2013, none of those promised reforms – public financing of elections, increasing the minimum wage, and passage of a NY Dream Act – can be a reality.
The WFP and PSC can be most effective on this local level, where we helped to elect a progressive majority in the City Council and can now help create a real Democratic majority in the State Senate. I will begrudgingly vote for Cuomo on the WFP line to ensure that the WFP keeps its ballot line to elect progressives.
The PSC needs to stay in the WFP to be a progressive voice with it. I ask my PSC brothers and sisters not to despair at the endorsement of Cuomo, but to use the money that he and the large unions have promised to make a Democratic Senate a reality and so pass the progressive agenda that Cuomo has committed to sign into law.
LaGuardia Community College
"Don’t Back “Governor 1%”
I am incredibly disappointed by the WFP’s endorsement of Cuomo, a decision it made in spite of the spirited opposition of its grassroots membership and much of its state committee, albeit not a majority. Cuomo’s attempted backpedaling on his commitments the very evening of the nomination made this choice even more questionable, given his steady record on behalf of New York’s 1%.
This reflects the impact, possibly the stranglehold, on the WFP of the risk-averse leadership of New York’s largest unions and their willingness to cut a deal that may be in the short-term interest of their membership but is to the detriment of New Yorkers generally – including their own members’ interests in the longer run.
Some argue that the WFP could not afford to go against these union’s wishes. But while backing an independent, progressive candidate against Cuomo would not have been easy, it would have given the party an opportunity to dramatically expand its base, its number of activists and its political impact – in the process, becoming less dependent on the largest, and conservative, New York unions that are still calling the shots. Many unions that might have left in the short term would find it in their interest to come back to a larger, more dynamic WFP in the long term.
In endorsing Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout, the WFP lost a major opportunity to build a grassroots movement against the pro-corporate, pro-market neoliberalism that dominates the Democratic Party.
[Letters to the editor on other topics can be found here.]