After an intense debate, the Working Families Party voted to give Governor Andrew Cuomo its ballot line on Saturday night, turning back a challenge by academic and activist Zephyr Teachout.
The final tally was 41.34 percent for Teachout, 58.66 percent for Cuomo.
The vote was framed by both sides as a referendum on the essence of the party. Cuomo partisans insisted the party needed to recognize the magnitude of the promises the governor made to secure the nod. Teachout supporters argued that Cuomo’s performance over his first term, when he often failed to deliver or even resisted progressive change, necessitated a break with the governor.
One committee member backing Teachout called out his vote after noting that “I have a conscience.” A Cuomo supporter countered a moment later, “I have a conscience and good sense.”
Cuomo agreed to work for a Democratic Senate and a list of progressive policy changes, like the DREAM Act and marijuana decriminalization. His foes argued that an energized WFP could deliver a Democratic Senate without the governor, whom they did not trust to keep his vows.
The entire episode demonstrated the power the WFP now has, having delivered 155,000 votes for Cuomo in 2010. The call of the roll of state committee members was a decision about how to use it. The party has always balanced its progressive dreams with practical calculations about backing candidates who, if not perfectly aligned with their goals, would back at least portions of the WFP agenda and help the organization build its influence.
Cuomo’s hostility to much of that agenda for most of his term raised the possibility that the WFP would, on principle, throw its power against a candidate all but certain to win. In the end, the deal Cuomo struck was enough for most of the WFP state committee members. Whether the move pays off for the party and its agenda will be clear only after he and the state Senate begin conducting business in 2015.
(Many thanks to The Nation’s Frank Reynolds, who has dutifully scrubbed and managed all the posts today and into the night.)
Zephy Teachout Asks WFP Members to ‘Pass the Peace’
10:50 pm update
Zephyr Teachout, making her pitch for the Working Families Party endorsement, stressed the need for party members to mend fences after a wrenching debate over whether to back her or Andrew Cuomo. She ended her speech by asking members to follow the example of church congregants and “pass the peace” with a handshake to the person next to them.
But the kumbaya moment did not obscure a sharp if subtle critique of the deal that party leaders struck with the governor.
“My goal is to launch a different argument about what kind of America we want to live in, what kind of New York we want to live in, not what kind of New York we will settle to live in.,” she said, stressing themes of economic democracy, checks on corporate power and support for family farms and small businesses.
“I will never ask you to compromise your principles and values,” she said. “No matter what happens here tonight, I want you to stand with each other to be good fighting friends together.”