Cuomo, Backed by Working Families Party, May Chip Away at Its Clout at the Polls

By Thomas Kaplan
October 31, 2014

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to win as many votes as possible in the election on Tuesday. Some liberals suspect he has a second goal: to weaken the Working Families Party.

The party, made up of liberal activists and labor unions, has irked Mr. Cuomo for years by trying to push him to the left, though the governor will still appear on its ballot line on Election Day.

But Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, is threatening to cut into the party’s share of the vote by promoting his own political party, the Women’s Equality Party, on whose ballot line he will also appear.

“I think everyone knows that Governor Cuomo is trying to kill the Working Families Party, because it’s the only group that has ever really stood up to him,” said Anita Thayer, a Working Families Party state committee member from Albany. “Just the fact he’s trying so hard to get rid of us obviously means we’re a thorn in his side and doing something right.”

The election will test the wisdom of an uncomfortable political truce that the Working Families Party reached with Mr. Cuomo in the spring, after it had threatened to run a candidate against him. Instead, the party agreed to endorse the governor after he promised to push for a number of its goals, including a Democratic takeover of the State Senate.

But Mr. Cuomo has been less than forceful in following through on that promise. The candidate that the party had recruited to run against him, Zephyr Teachout, challenged the governor in the Democratic primary and won a third of the vote.

The predicament facing the party is a product of New York’s unusual voting system, which allows candidates to appear on multiple ballot lines. Parties must receive 50,000 votes in the race for governor to preserve their ballot line, and the number of votes they receive determines their position on future ballots.

Mr. Cuomo and his allies formed the Women’s Equality Party over the summer, and he has placed women’s issues at the center of his campaign. He has sought to draw a sharp distinction with his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, who opposes abortion rights.

“I’m a man who has seen Albany disregard women, and I’m sick of it,” Mr. Cuomo wrote in an email to supporters on Thursday, asking them to vote for him on the Women’s Equality Party ballot line. He has echoed that request at campaign rallies focused on women’s issues, to which he has traveled on a bus branded the “Women’s Equality Express,” and in advertising financed by his re-election campaign.

In a radio interview on WNYC on Friday, Mr. Cuomo offered a quip that seemed to minimize the Working Families Party.

“We’ve formed every kind of fringe party for every kind of reason,” the governor said. “We have Democrat, Republican, Green, red, white, blue, working people, working short people, working tall people. We’ve never had a women’s party. This is the home of Seneca Falls. Let the women make their voice heard.”

Mr. Cuomo said the suggestion that he was trying to damage the Working Families Party was “really tortured analysis,” adding, “I am less concerned with the internal political machinations of who has political power, and I’m more interested in social change.”

In addition to the likelihood of losing votes to the Women’s Equality Party, the Working Families Party also faces the risk that some disenchanted liberals will protest Mr. Cuomo by voting for Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate.

Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, which has endorsed Mr. Hawkins, said the Working Families Party had “defeated its own purpose this year by coming out for Andrew.”

“If they had endorsed Zephyr Teachout, they would be riding high, and their numbers next week would be tremendous,” he said.

The Working Families Party is pressing voters to stick with its ballot line. The party has sent mailers featuring the image of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, and on Friday it released a video from Whoopi Goldberg urging voters to send “a clear progressive message.” This weekend, the party also plans to roll out a robo-call featuring the actress Cynthia Nixon.

Bill Lipton, the party’s state director, said the party decided to stick with Mr. Cuomo because he promised to support some of its top goals, such as raising the minimum wage and providing public financing for state political campaigns. “But we’ll never hesitate to criticize him when he’s wrong,” he said.



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