New York’s Working Families Party was formed two decades ago with an eye toward moving not just the Democratic Party but the electoral process to the left. In so doing, the thinking went, a new and more responsive politics might emerge in the state and nation.
The WFP’s aggressive and strategically savvy prodding has not always been welcomed, especially by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. The party, which has clashed repeatedly with the governor in recent years, has enthusiastically endorsed the governor’s 2018 Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, as part of a progressive slate that also includes New York City Council member Jumaane Williams (who is challenging incumbent Democratic Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who was elected as Cuomo’s ticket mate four years ago) and Democratic state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
The WFP, which has its own New York state ballot line but generally backs progressive Democrats, is also supporting the reelection run of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who accepted the party’s March endorsement with a declaration that “I believe that the people of the Working Families Party believe in the same things that I do.”
But the WFP has not made an endorsement in the race for state attorney general, an office that was held until earlier this month by Democrat Eric Schneiderman. Schneiderman’s abrupt resignation—after The New Yorker published a story in which a number of women said the attorney general had physically abused them—set off a late scramble for the post. A number of prominent Democrats positioned themselves for runs, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, a veteran anti-corruption activist.
That posed a challenge for the WFP. Both James and Teachout are longtime allies of the party. James was elected to the New York City Council in 2003 on the Working Families Party ballot line. She won the citywide office she currently holds with strong WFP support in a 2013 election that made her the first African-American woman to hold citywide office. Teachout, who ran for governor in 2014 (when, after a contentious convention, the WFP backed Cuomo for a new term), has worked closely with the WFP in recent years and ran for Congress in 2016 with strong WFP encouragement.