The Working Families Party has played an increasingly important role in New York politics in recent years, from endorsing Gov. Andrew Cuomo over progressive primary challenger Zephyr Teachout in 2014 to helping win state elections in 2017. As an institutional voice of the left, the WFP now has to react to an important development in Democratic circles – the reunification of the Independent Democratic Conference with mainline Democrats in the state Senate. The WFP had previously endorsed seven candidates challenging IDC incumbents.
The WFP’s New York state political director Bill Lipton released a statement on Wednesday saying that while he supported reunification and the ascension of Andrea Stewart-Cousins to lead a united conference, the WFP maintained its endorsements of the IDC challengers.
In an interview with City & State on Wednesday afternoon, he talked about why those two positions aren’t mutually exclusive, the timing of the reunification, and Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy for governor.
C&S: The WFP supports reunification, but you’re also continuing to support primary challengers to members of the IDC. Do you think there is a dissonance there?
BL: No, I don't. It was the pressure of these insurgent candidates whom we have been supporting that has produced this outcome. But there's still tremendous frustration about how the Democratic Party in New York state, exemplified by these eight IDC incumbents, has put their donors and alliances with the Republicans ahead of standing up and fighting for working families. And there's so many examples of that, from criminal justice reform, to protecting immigrants, to climate legislation, to strengthening our rent laws, to fair funding for education. Time and time again, the Republicans have blocked these bills from becoming law, and the IDC-Republican coalition has blocked these things from becoming law. And I was there in 2012 when we worked really hard to retake the Democratic majority, and we had 33 votes, and the IDC stepped in and took it away from us, and gave it to the IDC-GOP coalition. So after that move, there were six consecutive budget – six years – where all these things were blocked. And of course these things were DOA because the people in charge who controlled the gavel were people who are currently supporting Donald Trump and supported him in his 2016 election. So that's an issue for us looking backwards and it's also an issue for us looking forwards because we're against the Democratic Party – we don't want to see the Democratic Party engage in that kind of donor-driven behavior going forward either.
C&S: It seems that a lot of the arguments made by primary challengers are predicated on IDC members remaining separate from the Democrats. Do you think that, if the IDC agrees to reunify with mainline Democrats, that candidates challenging IDC members in primaries will have a more difficult path to victory?
BL: I don't think so, no. I think the key challenge for the candidates is to get out the message that these candidates have been conferencing with these Trump supporters in the Republican Senate, and if they get that message out, they will win.
C&S: Why do you think Cuomo urged the IDC and Democrats to unite now?
BL: Part of the reason this is working is because these challengers are gaining serious traction. The WFP's working really hard with activist groups like No IDC and Indivisible and True Blue and many other groups to build a mass base of activists who have been phone banking and texting primary voters and educating these people and saying we don't want to support these Trump Democrats. So over time, I think – apparently, the IDC have done some polling, and they realized they were in a difficult spot and they decided to hang it up. The governor also has seen it is in his interest to end this farce and support Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic leader. And I think the confluence of those factors have led to this important development.
C&S: Cynthia Nixon said this about Cuomo’s decision to urge Democrats to reunify: "If you’ve set your own house on fire and watched it burn for eight years, finally turning on a hose doesn’t make you a hero." What’s your response to that?
BL: No comment. Look, in terms of the governor's race, the 232 grassroots members of our state committee will be meeting and they have an important decision to make.
NEXT STORY: Who's up and who's down in the state budget?