Working Families victory in NYC vote

NEW YORK – History was made here on Nov. 4 as Letitia James running on the Working Families Party line, swept the polls in a landslide as the first third-party candidate to be elected to City Council since the 1970s.

James’s campaign for 35th District seat received 76 percent of the vote. Her closest competitor, Geoffrey Davis, running on the Democratic line, received 19 percent of ballots cast. The vote was split four ways – in addition to James and Davis, there were also a Republican and a member of the Conservative Party. Their totals were negligible, with only 3 percent and 2 percent of the ballots respectively.

James’s victory over Davis can be attributed to two things: her emphasis on working-class issues and her grassroots organization.

She focused on issues important to working people: labor rights, housing, health care, funding for education, and defense of city services. She campaigned on themes that housing is a basic human right, and that the market would not provide affordable housing for all without government intervention. She also said that welfare recipients should be allowed to fulfill their public service requirements through educational coursework.

In addition to focusing on people’s needs, James was propelled to victory by a major, grassroots street operation. On Election Day alone, she had over 400 volunteers, more than the total number of votes received by her Conservative Party competitor.

Geoffrey Davis, a machine Democrat and brother of James Davis, who held the seat until he was slain at City Hall in July by a political rival, ran a campaign that was tarnished by allegations that he solicited a prostitute and did not pay child support.

The Working Families Party was founded in June of 1998 and currently includes city transportation workers union, TWU Local 100; Communication Workers of America; United Auto Workers Regions 9 and 9a; and many others. Also included are community organizations such as ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

Another labor victory in this year’s city council races was the election of Annabel Palma, in South Bronx District 18. Palma ran on the Democratic party line and had strong backing from labor. She is a former home health care worker and currently works as an instructor in the Occupational Health and Safety department at Service Employees International Union Local 1199. She defeated Democratic Party machine candidate Pedro Espada Jr. in the primary and, with 84 percent of the vote, easily beat her Republican, Independence, and Conservative Party challengers in the general election.

Palma had the support of SEIU Local 1199 and many other unions, as well as the Working Families Party. She has been a dedicated labor and community activist for a number of years.

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.org