What to watch for at the Working Families Party Convention

Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout attends a Labor Day parade in 2014.
Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout attends a Labor Day parade in 2014.
a katz/Shutterstock
Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout attends a Labor Day parade in 2014.

What to watch for at the Working Families Party Convention

The embattled progressive party has some challenges this year.
May 18, 2018

Like the phoenix, the Working Families Party seems constantly in danger of dying and losing its power, only to be resurrected with each election cycle. The party has suffered financing scandals and a feud with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but remains a crucial player in New York’s progressive politics.

The WFP holds its convention in Harlem on Saturday amid the loss of much of its union support. Several unions cut ties with the party in April, which WFP leaders said was Cuomo’s doing, as the party mulled giving its gubernatorial nomination to his challenger Cynthia Nixon.

To help you keep track of all the drama, here are the top things to watch for at Saturday’s convention.

How do you solve a problem like the AG nominee

At this extremely early stage in the race for state attorney general, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James is the candidate to beat. However, James – who was elected to the New York City Council in 2003 on only the WFP line, a victory for her and the party – said that she will not be seeking the party’s endorsement for attorney general. Sources close to James said that the governor’s campaign pushed her not to take the WFP’s endorsement, which Cuomo denied. However, there may be an unspoken deal in place for Cuomo to throw his support to James, and for her to get the Democratic nomination at their party’s convention on May 23-24, in exchange for her not appearing on the WFP line.

There were reports that the WFP might delay its endorsement for the attorney general post, with no clear candidate in mind. The party could leave the position blank, or it could nominate a “placeholder” candidate, with the hope that James would accept the WFP nomination if she became the eventual Democratic nominee. This strategy could complicate the path for Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, who has said that she is seeking the WFP ballot line.

The gubernatorial ticket

The WFP has already endorsed Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo for the Democratic nomination. It has also backed New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who is running in the Democratic lieutenant governor primary against Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. Although Nixon and Williams are not running together on a ticket, as of now, that may change after the two make an appearance at the WFP convention. Their partnership may become a political marriage of convenience.

What will they say about Cuomo?

Cuomo has long had a fraught relationship with the WFP. In 2010, he received their nomination for governor, after he gave them an ultimatum to endorse his platform or he would refuse their endorsement, which would have threatened their future ballot access. In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio famously helped to negotiate the WFP’s endorsement of Cuomo over Teachout. That year, it was Cuomo who was forced to compromise, agreeing to help Democrats regain the state Senate. The WFP felt betrayed when Cuomo abandoned his promises to the party once he was re-elected.

Now, the WFP thinks the governor has been putting the party in a political vise, using his influence to drain them of members and potential candidates. Nixon will certainly mention her opponent in her appearance before the WFP, but it remains to be seen whether the other candidates at the convention will criticize him. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is also receiving the WFP’s endorsement, and he may wish to steer clear of controversy.

IDC challengers step into the spotlight

Although the Independent Democratic Conference technically no longer exists, their primary challenges still do. Zellnor Myrie, Alessandra Biaggi, Robert Jackson, Jessica Ramos and Jasmin Robinson – who have all been endorsed by the WFP – will be appearing at the convention. Some of them are also getting some mainstream support – Jackson was just endorsed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler on Monday.

Can the WFP remain relevant?

Cuomo previously sought the WFP’s endorsement because he needed it. The party has propelled candidates such as James and Long Island Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino to victory. But with the loss of some of its membership, and the shunning by James and members of the Democratic establishment, it’s unclear if the WFP can retain its political power. The outcome of the convention – from the attorney general nomination to the gubernatorial ticket – will show if the party is on track to claim more electoral victories this fall.

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.
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