The Power of Fusion Politics
The Working Families Party gave Spano its ballot line--and with it the race. It turned into a contest so close that it had to be sorted out in court. Spano prevailed against Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a progressive African-American Democratic county legislator. He got 1,800 votes on the WFP line, and held on to his seat by just eighteen votes. This, in a state where Democrats have been laboring to retake the majority in the State Senate.
But the Working Families leadership was satisfied. In exchange for the endorsement of Spano and other Republicans in a tight race, state Republicans relented after years of opposition and hiked the minimum wage, which raised pay for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. By wielding the power to make or break one of its top leaders, Working Families pushed the Republican Party to take a progressive stance.
Much more often, that ballot line goes to a Democrat. The expectations are no different. Last November US Senator Chuck Schumer ran as both a Democrat and a Working Families nominee, and votes on either counted equally toward his re-election. But he got nearly 169,000 of his votes on the WFP line--3.6 percent of his total. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, running for governor in 2006, solicited Working Families as his first endorsement. "What this is about," said Spitzer as he accepted the party's support, "is embracing progressive politics. It's about embracing the ideas and the values that will change the lives of citizens across the state; being willing to challenge the status quo; being willing to say, If it's broken we will fix it.... You have proven that substance matters in politics."
It's also about Spitzer buying into the WFP's sophisticated organizing apparatus. In acknowledgment of his cash contributions--the Attorney General was a keynote speaker at a party fundraiser--Spitzer can expect Working Families canvassers to go door to door or hold rallies in key districts he needs to win. And it's understood that Spitzer will have an obligation to deliver on Working Families' demands.
Spitzer's a radical by Wall Street standards, but not by the WFP's. Items on the party's legislative agenda include universal healthcare, rent regulation, a living wage and closing the income gap through progressive taxation. Founded and led by a coalition of labor unions and community organizations--including the Northeast regions of the United Auto Workers and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), locals of the garment and hotel workers' union UNITE HERE and the service workers' SEIU, ACORN and Citizen Action--Working Families claims an organized bloc of voters committed to economic populism, and the party uses them to get major-party politicians to follow the Working Families agenda. Its organizers strive to appeal simultaneously to Nation-reading liberals, people of color alienated by the Democrats, and working-class whites.