Andrew Cuomo

Does Cynthia Nixon’s loss kill the WFP?

Now that Cynthia Nixon has lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary, the Working Families Party must decide what it will do about its ballot line for governor.

Gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon delivers her concession speech at the Working Families Party primary night party in New York City.

Gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon delivers her concession speech at the Working Families Party primary night party in New York City. Jason DeCrow/AP/Shutterstock

The Working Families Party may be in trouble.

Now that Cynthia Nixon has lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary, the party must decide what it will do about its ballot line for governor. Currently, Nixon still holds its nomination, but that could change. And no matter what decision party leaders make, the outcome does not look great for the WFP.

Before the primary, WFP leaders said they had a plan in place to remove Nixon from their party line if she lost so as not to play the “spoiler” by taking votes away from the Democratic nominee and potentially electing Republican Marcus Molinaro. In New York, a candidate can only be removed from the ballot if he or she dies, gets convicted of a crime, moves out of state or gets nominated for a different office. The WFP had said it would nominate Nixon to run in the 66th Assembly District, currently held by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, so that Nixon could be removed from the gubernatorial ballot line. This is not because Nixon or the WFP wants to beat Glick, a solidly liberal legislator, but just because Nixon happens to live in Glick’s district and it’s one of the few positions she could be nominated for.

Glick told City & State that members of the WFP had not yet been in touch with her following last week’s election.

If Nixon did run for Glick’s Assembly seat, even if she does not actively campaign, she risks unseating a longtime progressive assemblywoman who was the first openly gay person elected to the state Legislature.

And the problem for the WFP isn’t just getting Nixon off its gubernatorial line, but getting someone who will get at least the 50,000 votes needed for the party to retain its ballot line but not take too many votes from Cuomo and risk winding up with a Republican governor. Normally, the WFP simply endorses the Democratic nominee.

But, after years of bad blood between the WFP and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that looks unlikely this time. According to a Friday story from the New York Post, the WFP last week rejected a deal to back Cuomo, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the talks. WFP State Director Bill Lipton told the Post that the party was in the midst of “nonstop discussions” about what to do, and that no decisions had been made. In an emailed statement to City & State, Lipton said, “We’re going to meet in the next few weeks with our grassroots leaders, Cynthia, and Jumaane (Williams, the party nominee for lieutenant governor) – and together we’re going to make this decision.” The Nixon and Cuomo campaigns did not immediately return requests for comment.

There are different scenarios that may play out, depending on what decision the party makes:

  • Nixon stays on the ballot line. Although she has expressed the desire not to play the spoiler, if the party does not accommodate that by nominating her for something else, the only feasible way off the ballot is to move out of state. At the WFP election night party, party activists expressed a desire for her to continue running. Nixon could still receive the 50,000 votes needed to keep the WFP alive, even if she does not actively campaign. That would probably be the best outcome for the party, but pursuing it could be a risky strategy: If too many progressives voted for Nixon, she could draw so many votes away from Cuomo she could give Republican Marc Molinaro a path to victory. That would tarnish the WFP’s record of never being a spoiler and contributing to a Republican governorship. On the other hand, given how strongly Democratic New York is, it’s unlikely to result in a Molinaro victory.
  • The party strikes a deal to back Cuomo and it runs Nixon in the Assembly race. This would ensure the WFP’s survival for another four years, but risks turning party activists against the leaders for having betrayed its progressive ideals. Several powerful unions that originally helped found the WFP split with the party when it decided to back Nixon over Cuomo, so angering the activists with the party could further weaken it. Some liberals soured on Cuomo during his first term due to his centrist policies. In 2014, the WFP almost backed then-gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout for governor. After tense negotiations, and promises from Cuomo to pursue a progressive agenda, the party endorsed the governor. It did not take long for the WFP to feel Cuomo betrayed their deal by, among other things, not forcing the Independent Democratic Conference to disband, and the already contentious relationship worsened, which led to this year’s decision to back Nixon. This time, party officials have little bargaining power and would lose even more by repeatedly supporting a candidate that they say betrayed them.  
  • The WFP gets Nixon off the ballot, but does not back Cuomo for governor. This route is the most likely to cause the WFP to lose its status as a qualified political party in the state. However, it may not: According to multiple polls from 2014 taken before the Democratic primary that year, an unnamed WFP candidate would have cut into Cuomo’s margin of victory without costing him the contest, while also providing the WFP with the votes needed to automatically qualify for ballot status in the next election. If the party puts up an unknown candidate who does not campaign, that person could potentially provide the necessary votes to survive without playing spoiler. This would be the riskiest move for the party, with both the worst and best potential outcomes. On the one hand, the WFP could survive without yielding to Cuomo while also not taking away votes with a big-name candidate. On the other hand, the candidate they put up could fail to perform well enough and the party could die.

As the WFP meets in the coming weeks, as Lipton says they will, the party would appear to have a lot to weigh in making a final decision.