Where do progressives go from here?

The Working Families Party, Democratic Socialists of America and For the Many scored few wins this year but have no plans to shake up their electoral strategy.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (center) campaigned with Reps. Jamaal Bowman (left) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right) in the Bronx on June 22, 2024. Bowman later lost the Democratic primary to challenger George Latimer.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (center) campaigned with Reps. Jamaal Bowman (left) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right) in the Bronx on June 22, 2024. Bowman later lost the Democratic primary to challenger George Latimer. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

New York’s progressives and socialists had a mixed bag on primary night, as they successfully protected (most of) their incumbents but saw their own slate of primary challengers largely come up short. Now, as organizations like the New York Working Families Party and Democratic Socialists of America plan for upcoming elections and renewed pushes for their favored policies, they must consider a broader question: where do they go from here?

Election night saw progressive favorite Rep. Jamaal Bowman lose his 16th Congressional District primary against Westchester County Executive George Latimer in a blow felt both nationally and closer to home, while Assembly candidates Claire Cousin, Eon Huntley and Jonathan Soto lost their respective races to Assembly Members Didi Barrett, Stephanie Zinerman and Michael Benedetto. 

It was not all bad news. All of the incumbent state senators and Assembly members backed by WFP or DSA held onto their seats, and the progressive bloc in Albany grew slightly as DSA-backed Claire Valdez and WFP-backed Gabriella Romero won Democratic primaries for Assembly seats in Queens and Albany, respectively.

WFP, DSA and For the Many – a Hudson Valley-based progressive organization with close ties to the other two – all had dogs in this year’s fights. DSA spent months canvassing on behalf of Huntley, Soto and Valdez, organizing community events and distributing literature on their behalf. The WFP wielded massive on-the-ground support for Bowman’s campaign, working the phones and knocking on doors from Co-op city to White Plains. They also engaged voters on behalf of Romero during her successful Assembly bid. In the Hudson Valley, For the Many was heavily involved in Cousin’s campaign, loaning the Columbia County supervisor money and helping with operations. 

But now all three groups are left in a bit of a holding pattern, building up their bases where they can and pulling lessons from some of the losses. The year was hardly calamitous, and some progressive organizers now feel emboldened to push harder one or two years down the line. Others are focusing on how a slightly larger coalition of progressives in office may lead to policy gains for New Yorkers. And after Bowman’s loss, a fire may have been lit within the hearts of some organizers. 

“People saw how hard we defended Jamaal and stood up for progressive issues in that race,” WFP spokesperson Ravi Mangla said. “We've seen a lot of interest from people in Westchester, in the Bronx, across NY-16 who want to get involved with the WFP, and we expect that our chapter and our roots in that district are just going to continue to grow over the next couple of years.” 

The WFP is in an interesting position. Like many Democrats in Westchester, they are focused on unseating Republican Rep. Mike Lawler in the 17th Congressional District. But the Democratic nominee, former Rep. Mondaire Jones, drew the ire of left-wing forces in New York when he endorsed Latimer in June, which led the WFP to pull its support from Jones’ campaign. To make matters even more confusing, a former Republican inexplicably won the WFP’s primary in the district and will now appear on the ballot in November – which could siphon some votes away from Jones. 

According to Mangla, the party’s focus remains in upstate New York. Despite Bowman’s loss, WFP is confident it can grow its power north of New York City’s progressive enclaves. 

“We see a lot of potential in expanding throughout the state and building a stronger foothold in places like Western New York and Central New York in Ithaca and the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley, where WFP may have had a less active presence in the past, but people are looking for a party that better reflects their values,” Mangla said. 

For the Many also saw progressive potential in the Hudson Valley. The group scored an unexpected victory in 2022 when Assembly Member Sarahana Shrestha won a Democratic primary against incumbent Kevin Cahill. This cycle, the group pinned its hopes on Cousin’s primary challenge to Barrett. Although Cousin lost, For the Many said that it found that parts of the 106th Assembly District, like Poughkeepsie, responded very positively to her campaign.

The group also spun Cousin’s loss as something of a moral victory.

“We have shown the Democratic establishment that incumbents will continue to face serious primaries if they refuse to take action on the issues that matter most to our communities,” For the Many said in a statement. “This race was never just about winning one more seat in the Assembly; it was about showing incumbents they must do better for their constituents.”

The DSA backed three insurgent candidates this cycle – Valdez, Soto and Huntley. Only Valdez won, beating both disgraced incumbent Assembly Member Juan Ardila and more moderate challenger Johanna Carmona in western Queens’ Assembly District 37. Assuming she wins in November, Valdez will become the group’s ninth “Socialist in Office” in Albany – joining a bloc that currently includes three state senators and five Assembly members.

The socialist group is still considering its future strategy; leaders within the organization said that they still have months of meetings with members, not to mention next year’s mayoral and City Council primaries, to get through before landing on a path forward for 2026. But DSA's electoral organizers said that they still plan to expand their ranks in office, even in parts of New York City where results didn’t go their way. 

Grace Mausser, NYC-DSA’s director of candidate recruitment, said that the organization will continue to organize in the neighborhoods where DSA-backed candidates ran, which will leave future DSA-backed candidates with an advantage over establishment candidates.

“Campaigns aren't just ephemeral structures that disappear after the election,” she said. “They're long-term organizing projects where we teach people the skills they need to continue building in their communities. That's a huge difference between how the left and the establishment run races.”

Mausser acknowledged that places like Staten Island are unlikely to elect DSA-backed candidates any time soon, but she said that the long term effects of this election cycle – despite the defeats in the Bronx and Central Brooklyn – will leave DSA and other progressive groups in a decent spot as they further develop their electoral strategies.

“I can't say specifically, but I think there's a lot of potential for DSA,” she said. “We've grown every year.”