New York Working Families Party pulls through difficult election night

In New York, the gubernatorial vote determines a political party’s ballot status and position. On election day, the progressive Working Families Party garnered 120,000 votes, well over the 50,000 required to maintain ballot status – although it slipped from fourth to fifth position behind the Green Party, which rode a wave of anti-Cuomo sentiment and got 175,000 votes.

Some feared that the WFP would lose ballot status after endorsing Cuomo in a controversial political deal, soon after which Cuomo set up his own ‘third’ party — the Women’s Equality Party — which many saw as a direct challenge to the WFP. The Women’s Equality Party delivered 50,900 votes for Cuomo, so it now has ballot status as well. Governor Cuomo received a total of 1,942,700 votes, as against Republican Rob Astorino’s 1,453,634.

These numbers must be viewed in the context of the low turnout, which was only 30 percent of the electorate, six percent lower than in 2010.

WFP’s New York State Director Bill Lipton said “even as voter turnout was down significantly, and even as Democratic performance lagged overall, [the] WFP’s share of the overall vote for governor yesterday looks like it matched or exceeded our number from 2010. And our share of the vote in the other two statewide races [for Comptroller and Attorney General] increased significantly compared to four years ago.”

The big winner of the night seemed to be the GOP, which regained majority control of the State Senate, raising questions about the possibility of moving a progressive agenda forward. But after 16 years on the NY political scene, the WFP, besides helping elect progressive politicians to office, has built a track record of groundbreaking legislative victories, on issues from campaign finance reform to raising the minimum wage, reforming racist drug laws and paid sick leave. WFP was an early fighter to “tax the rich,” and led a campaign which resulted in NY state enacting such a law in 2009.

In his victory speech, Cuomo said, “We are going to raise the minimum wage for working families. We are going to pass the Women’s Equality Act because discrimination and inequality against women stops in New York State,” two key issues of the deal made with the WFP, but he also positioned himself as a centrist saying he had avoided “the extreme forces of the left and the right.”

Cuomo faced sharp criticism from the WFP election night. “Governor Cuomo promised to take back the State Senate,” Lipton said in a press release. “Instead, he squandered millions on a fake party, and left millions more in his campaign account as Democrats in the legislature and in Congress withered on the vine.”

Despite this, Lipton expressed optimism and readiness to continue the fight, saying, “There’s no way around it, losing the Senate is a tough blow for all of us hoping to see a progressive agenda enacted in Albany next year. But politics is about more than just elections, and New York progressives aren’t about to run and hide for the next four years. The only place we’re going is back to Albany, to fight tooth and nail to win on the big issues we care about and to continue to give working families a voice in a system dominated by big corporations and billionaires.”

Photo: Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for governor garnered enough votes to win a higher place on the ballot than the place held by the Working Families Party. Mike Groll/AP