Breaking the Boundaries of 2-Party Politics in New York

Breaking the Boundaries of 2-Party Politics in New York

Breaking the Boundaries of 2-Party Politics in New York

New Yorkers have the option of casting progressive votes for Working Families Party and Green candidates.


America would be a lot better off as a multiparty democracy. The evidence from around the world suggests that with an ideologically diverse range of parties competing on the basis of values and ideals, as opposed to personalities and crude partisan positioning, campaigns would be more enlightening and less negative. Turnout would be higher and the prospects for getting a few things done would be greater.

Unfortunately, two-party competition is the best that most Americans can hope for. Because of structural constraints imposed on the politics of the majority of states by major parties that begin the winner-take-all process by gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts, most Americans are lucky if they have a choice at all. Even in this vital election year, the vast majority of contests are not particularly competitive. As the election-reform group FairVote reminds us: “Voters today are presented with fewer and fewer true choices in elections. Because of the top-down effects of winner-take-all elections, ‘spoiler candidates’ are ridiculed and reviled, and voters are forced to choose the lesser of two evils instead of voicing their true preferences.”

Most “red” states will vote Republican on Tuesday. Most “blue” states will vote Democratic. The primary pivot points for the republic this fall are in a handful of purple states and purple districts, where overwhelming amounts of time, energy, and money are being directed.

But New York is a blue state that allows progressive voters to send clear signals to the political elites, and to the economic elites that so consistently mangle our politics.

New York does not utilize the Ranked Choice Voting system that FairVote favors. But the Empire State does have an election system that allows voters to make ethical and meaningful choices even in contests where one of the major parties is overwhelmingly favored.

Because New York allows “fusion” voting—where votes cast for candidates on different ballot lines can be combined and then fused into a final total—Election Day provides a far greater range of options for holding candidates and parties to account.

Voting the Working Families Party line is the best bet in most races. That’s certainly true in the contest for state attorney general, where New York City Public Advocate Tish James is running an important campaign that is focused on using the position “as a sword and shield” for battling Donald Trump and Wall Street. James has a place on the Democratic Party ballot line, but a big Working Families Party vote will strengthen her hand as she focuses on maintaining the independence and integrity of what is arguably the most powerful AG’s office in the country.

New Yorkers should also follow the Working Families line to vote for a progressive legislature that can tip the balance toward economic fairness, racial justice, and reform of state government. The list of WFP-endorsed candidates is long, and worth consulting.

But what about the governor’s race? In the primary, Cynthia Nixon mounted a bold progressive challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo on the Democratic ballot line in September. She did so with strong support from the WFP, which bravely broke with Cuomo to back the insurgent. Nixon’s spirited campaign was run uphill, but she forced Cuomo to adopt more progressive positions on a number of issues, and she won 537,192 votes and more than a dozen counties statewide

Cuomo prevailed in the primary, as did his running mate Kathy Hochul, who narrowly beat another candidate who had WFP support, Jumaane Williams, for the Democratic nod.

The WFP ballot line for Tuesday’s election was grudgingly given to Cuomo and Hochul after the primary. The progressive third party’s leaders have made it clear that, while they are still disappointed with the governor, they see him as a far better choice than Republican Marc Molinaro, who is also running on the Conservative and Reform Party ballot lines. Nixon now says, “On November 6, I’m joining with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to vote on the Working Families Party line—top to bottom.” That’s an endorsement of Cuomo that does not mention the governor’s name.

But what about voters who simply cannot vote for a Democratic governor who, as The New York Times admitted, in a decidedly half-hearted primary endorsement, “offers less cause for enthusiasm” than down-ballot progressives running on the Democratic and WFP lines? Even as it backed the governor and asserted that his two terms have seen “significant accomplishments,” the Times said Cuomo “has done little to combat the corruption in the Legislature and his own administration, and he has allowed the subway system, the foundation of the New York City economy, to rot. The case for change, at a time when so many New Yorkers yearn for change, is not hard to make.”

New York offers several options for those who won’t consider Cuomo, including former Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner, a former co-chair of the New York State Democratic Committee, who petitioned onto the fall ballot as the candidate of the new Serve America Movement. Miner’s an outspoken critic of the governor, but not for the right reasons; the movement she’s affiliated with is backed by several former aides to President George W. Bush and spouts a neoliberal line of nonsense that errs on the side of austerity rather than progress.

The serious alternative is Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, a socialist with a long history of activism on behalf of peace, justice, labor, and environmental causes. Hawkins argues that “We had half a million people vote for the progressive Democrats [in the primary], and I’m here to tell them that I’m Plan B when we get to the general election.” Hawkins is an able contender who earned 184,419 votes—almost 5 percent of the total—when he sought the governorship in 2014. The support Hawkins won that year far exceeded the 50,000 gubernatorial votes required to secure the Greens a New York ballot line for ensuing elections, and this year he is running with lieutenant governor candidate Jia Lee, a New York City public-school teacher and labor activist. Hawkins is right when he says, “The historic role of third parties has been to force issues neglected by the major parties into public debate—issues like the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the 8-hour day, Social Security, and ending segregation. The Green Party has increasingly been playing this role.”

Polls put Cuomo way ahead of his Republican rival—the governor’s up by 23 points in the latest Quinnipiac survey—so attempts to portray Hawkins as a potential “spoiler” are cynical at best. Hawkins is a credible contender with a good message about contemporary politics—“Demand More”—and a strong vote for him helps the Greens keep their ballot line in the nation’s fourth-most-populous state.

The Working Families Party also needs to maintain its position on the statewide ballot. In the local, state, and federal battles of 2019 and 2020, the WFP’s voice will be more necessary than ever nationally. But it needs to maintain its base of strength in the state where it began two decades ago. That’s one of the most compelling reason for those who are going to back Cuomo to do so on the party’s ballot line. But it’s not the only one. As Cynthia Nixon argues in a video statement posted this week, “When we vote on the WFP line, we’re making a statement. We’re standing with hundreds of thousands of other progressive voters who believe in making New York work for the many, not just the few.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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