New York City
Doug Ireland's offhand comments about the Working Families Party's role in the upcoming municipal elections in New York City were inaccurate and hurtful ["Those Big Town Blues," June 4]. He wrote that the WFP "could have played a role in recruiting Council candidates" but did not because the progressive unions took no initiatives and ACORN was distracted by its fight against the Edison Corporation.
Speaking for two affiliates of the WFP--ACORN and SEIU/1199--I say that this is dead wrong. We have been involved in a marvelous WFP-initiated process that has included scores of neighborhood and borough meetings, a remarkable series of interviews with more than 100 potential candidates, worksite presentations on the issues by WFP workplace captains, the ongoing recruitment of neighborhood captains and much more. We had more than 1,000 people at a WFP mayoral forum and have won concrete commitments on our living-wage bill from candidates across the city. Until the WFP, there was no group trying to pull together a community-labor-religious coalition to move ideas, people, money and energy in contests from Nassau County to Niagara Falls.
The WFP slate for this year's city elections will have more union members, community activists and progressives than any slate in memory. We hope Nation readers will vote for, work for and send money to all the WFP-endorsed candidates for primaries and the general election.
SEIU State Council, WFP
New York City
As first-time candidates for public office, we want to say that the Working Families Party and its affiliates have been absolutely essential to our being taken seriously. The WFP endorsement opens doors, and its activists do real work on campaigns. The WFP is the only party that asks tough questions on issues.
The three districts we are running in--Far Rockaway and East Elmhurst in Queens, and Flatbush in Brooklyn--are not known for producing progressive leaders on the City Council. If that changes this year, and if instead there is an ACORN member (Sanders), an ex-cop turned NYCLU board member (Monserrate) or a human rights activist (Vernet) elected--it will be due in part to the persistence and support of the Working Families Party.
JAMES SANDERS JR.
31st council district candidate
21st council district candidate
45th council district candidate
Last fall The Nation ran a piece by Micah Sifry that began: "Today, for the first time in years, the political center of gravity in New York State is shifting." He went on to argue that some substantial portion of this welcome development was due to a hard-working, well-run, complex formation called the Working Families Party.
We're not perfect, but I cannot accept Doug Ireland's characterization of the party as "little more than a liberal adjunct of the Democratic Party." The challenge for a fusion party in our winner-take-all system--a challenge Sifry captured in his piece last fall but that eluded Ireland entirely--is how to be both independent and relevant. It's easy to be independent and irrelevant, but that's not our game.
The Nation tries to walk that same line and no doubt appreciates how difficult it can be. On balance, the WFP has done solid work building chapters, recruiting candidates, running issue campaigns, winning elections, training staff and so on. None of it is glamorous, but it's the very heart of what's needed to build power.
Executive director, WFP
New York City
Doug Ireland argues that the combination of term limits and the new campaign finance program has not, with a few exceptions, generated a "bumper crop of exciting, nontraditional candidacies" for this year's City Council elections. But take a closer look, and you'll find that in district after district, throughout the five boroughs, the field of candidates is crowded with "exciting, nontraditional" contenders--candidates who, were it not for the 4-to-1 matching program, would not be able to run competitively.
The three races identified by Ireland--Arthur Cheliotes, Steve Banks and Ydanis Rodriguez--are only the tip of the iceberg. All around town, activists who have worked in the movement and earned their stripes are running, and running to win--executive director of New York State's largest tenants' rights organization, Joe Heaphy; founder of St. John's University's first gay student organization, Jimmy Van Bramer; founder of the Latino Officers' Association, Hiram Monserrate; former chair of the New York State Women's Political Caucus, Gale Brewer; founder of the community development credit union Neighborhood Trust FCU, Mark Levine; immigrants and immigrants' rights activists like Kwong Hui, Morshed Alam and Margaret Chin; civil rights activists like Charles Barron and Rocky Chin; public interest attorneys like Brad Hoylman; ACORN leader James Sanders Jr.; the lead plaintiff on the historic Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, Robert Jackson; and the list goes on--they are all a part of the progressive movement, and they are all running. And to Citizen Action of New York, they are all proof that campaign finance reform is working in New York City.
Want further proof that the 4-to-1 matching program is working? Ask these "exciting, nontraditional" candidates where their contributions are coming from. The candidates, who have traditionally been left out of our electoral process because of a lack of personal wealth or access to people with money, are raising their campaign funds from people just like themselves.
You can see the strength of these grassroots campaigns as the many "exciting, nontraditional" candidates and legions of their volunteers are descending upon the streets of the city to collect signatures to get on the ballot. The grassroots movement is not absent in New York City, and after this historic election cycle, it will be even stronger.
MICHELE J. MAGLIONE
Citizen Action of New York City
New York City
I did not have space to list every nontraditional Council candidate, so I picked three with an even chance of winning. But Michele Maglione's list is somewhat deceptive. For example, Margaret Chin, Rocky Chin and Brad Hoylman are all running against one another in the same district. Gale Brewer, whatever her other qualities, has been a longtime patronage employee of the Manhattan Borough President's office--a very traditional path to elective office (and Ronnie Eldridge, the term-limited sterling progressive whose seat Brewer is seeking, has yet to make an endorsement in the race, a clear indication of her unhappiness with all three contestants). One is left with only ten districts in which the kind of candidate I described is present--of a total of fifty seats (I wouldn't call that a bumper crop). Only half of those on Maglione's list have a real chance of winning; it is possible that next year's Council will have a bloc of independent/progressive members no larger--perhaps even smaller--than the old one.
I have great respect for Dan Cantor's talents, energy and integrity, and Bertha Lewis has been an admirable leader of ACORN. As to the WFP, I broke the story of its creation in a lengthy, enthusiastic Village Voice article before its official public founding. At WFP events I was approached by a number of people, mostly young, who said they'd been inspired by my article to get active in the new party. I think that gives me some standing for the mild reproofs to the WFP in these pages.
Brother Cantor quotes my friend and sometime co-author Micah Sifry and suggests I walk The Nation's "line." Well, I've always had trouble following anyone else's "line"--I prefer to think for myself. But Sifry's article also said: "How not to be a mere adjunct of the Democratic Party...is a complicated problem that is rooted in the forces that birthed the WFP, and it is not an issue that is about to go away. Certainly the party's early and enthusiastic endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Senate race puts the matter front and center. What kind of progressive third party gets into bed with a First Lady who once said, 'There is no left in the Clinton White House'?"
Consider the following: The WFP, to its credit, conducted a vigorous campaign for the primary item on its state legislative agenda, an increase in the minimum wage; the party held a press conference that starred Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver standing in front of a huge WFP banner. But just weeks before, Silver, at the behest of the hotel and restaurant lobbies, personally rammed through an amendment exempting more than 100,000 of New York's poorest-paid workers--those dependent on tips for a living--from the minimum wage law (a deal documented by Andy Hsiao in the Voice), with nary a peep of public protest from the WFP. Surely all those waitresses and waiters are members of "working families." Should Silver, therefore, be held out by the party as a progressive icon for stiffing them?
This year the WFP endorsed Bill Thompson for comptroller. Thompson got his job as president of the Board of Education in a deal with Rudy Giuliani that included opposing the multicultural Rainbow Curriculum and shredding meaningful safe-sex education. Since our city's school population is overwhelmingly kids of color, and with the front pages just having bannered the latest reminders of an appalling AIDS epidemic among black youth that's been known for some time, it is clear that Thompson--who is African-American--sold out his own community's kids for political advancement. Some kids of "working families" thus deprived of lifesaving information will die as a result. Stomach-turning? The WFP didn't think so. Human Rights Watch just came out with a 207-page report, Hatred in the Hallways, a study of school homophobia in seven states--including New York--where levels of violence and discrimination against gay kids are so great they cannot learn, a situation that the Rainbow Curriculum was designed to counter by teaching tolerance. Thompson won't get my vote.
Finally, my article clearly acknowledged that the WFP was one of two "significant" sources of support for progressive candidates. But the 100-plus interviews Lewis and Gaspard mention were of already-existing candidates, not WFP-generated ones. Right now the WFP is a ballot line, not a full-fledged political party, and it is dominated by the labor leaders who pay the bills, not a broad "community-labor-religious coalition." I hope one day it becomes large and diverse enough to act with more independence, and to rethink its criteria for endorsements. Until then, I stand by my assessment.