A key progressive third party in New York splintered Friday, as two major unions withdrew from the Working Families Party. Those still in the WFP say it makes it more likely that the activist groups remaining in the party will endorse Cynthia Nixon over Governor Andrew Cuomo in a party meeting on Saturday, as Cuomo announced that he is dropping out.
Two key unions, SEIU 32BJ and the Communications Workers of America withdrew their support from the Working Families Party, on the eve of what was to be a contentious meeting in Albany on whether to endorse incumbent Andrew Cuomo, or his Democratic primary challenger, actor and education advocate Cynthia Nixon.
Cuomo received the party’s nomination in 2010 and 2014, but this year, many grassroots activists in the party said they were inclined to back Nixon, saying that Cuomo had done too much to enable Republicans to remain in control of the State Senate, and block votes on a range of progressive issues.
WFP’s executive director Bill Lipton, who has officially remained neutral on the endorsement, now accuses Cuomo of laying the groundwork for the split, saying that in a meeting Lipton attended earlier in the week, Cuomo had “threatened” people. Lipton says Cuomo said he’d refuse to take calls from any unions who continue to financially support the progressive groups who are backing Nixon.
“He’s the governor of New York State,” Lipton said. “Obviously if he tells people to lose his phone number that means that they’re not going to be able to communicate with him on issues of vital concern to their members.”
Lipton says he knows the unions are “in a tight spot” and say he respects their decision. But he acknowledges that it’s a “tough day” for the party. Unions provided a significant amount of money for the party’s activities and even funded some of the activist groups’ work. But he remains optimistic.
“The dust hasn’t settled yet,” said Lipton, who said perhaps something new and better can be built. “We might be in one of those moments.”
Jessica Wisneski, a Working Families Party committee member who is also a member of the activist group Citizen Action, says it’s much more likely now that the party will endorse Nixon over Cuomo when it meets at an Albany hotel on Saturday afternoon.
“Those that will be there I think are overwhelmingly in support of Cynthia Nixon,” Wisneski said.
Cynthia Nixon’s campaign issued a response saying “Cuomo will do absolutely anything to win except become a progressive.” Rebecca Katz, senior strategist for the campaign, adds that it “shows just how terrified he is of Cynthia Nixon.”
A spokeswoman for Governor Cuomo’s campaign denies that the governor has anything to do with the Working Families intra-party split.
Spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer says “the schism in the WFP is between its founding labor unions and their organizing groups.” But she says “the Governor stands with organized labor and will follow their lead” and is “100 percent” focused on “maintaining democratic unity and on taking back the House and the state Senate this year.”
Lipton’s statements also received blowback from a union leader who is not with the WFP. Stuart Applebaum, with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union says 90 percent of the original member unions have already left the party, and that “this is nothing more than a diversionary tactic”. He also says labor left the party because “Bill Lipton is using it for his own personal agenda”.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew chimed in, saying “Mr. Lipton is misguided and delusional if he believes the Working Families Party still represents the voices of labor and working people in New York."
Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU says the union’s decision to leave “shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the leadership of the party”, and denies that the union was forced to make its decision.
“We fundamentally believe that endorsing Andrew Cuomo is the right thing to do in this election and for the future of the party,” he said.
Late in the day Friday, Governor Cuomo’s campaign announced that he was dropping out of contention for the Working Families Party nomination altogether, saying “Given the announcement today that the remaining unions will no longer be a part of the WFP, we stand in solidarity with them and will not be seeking the endorsement of the 3rd party line at their convention next month.”