Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, center, speaks at a rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, September 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Nice piece in the New York Daily News on the little-known but influential role of the Working Families Party in the probable election of Bill de Blasio as the next mayor of New York City.

Although City Hall has been out of Democratic hands for twenty years, neither Mayor Rudy Giuliani nor Michael Bloomberg has left a trail of crumbs for pols of their persuasion, like de Blasio’s opponent Joe Lhota, to follow toward victory.

“But,” writes the News’s Harry Siegel, “while the mayors squandered their opportunities to realign the city’s politics, a small party far to their left has been doing just that.”

For the first time since the office was introduced in 1993, the next public advocate [de Blasio currently holds that job] won’t chomp at the mayor’s ankles. That’s because de Blasio and Letitia James are both Democrats, and also Working Families Party stalwarts—de Blasio one of its founders and James the first Council member elected on its line alone.

“On the issues they care about, from minimum wage to tenant issues to development, they are absolutely definitional—they can set the debate at the city and the state level,” de Blasio said of the WFP in 2010.

The party, founded in 1988 to take advantage of New York’s fusion voting system, which allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines, effectively represents organized labor. Despite its small membership, it used its ballot line and operational resources to push Democratic officials farther left, and elect new ones who are already there. That plan has paid off.

And the WFP, headed by long-time activist Dan Cantor, is not an only-in-New York thing. It’s recently won landmark legislation to tackle the student debt crisis in Oregon, fought the corporate education reform agenda in Bridgeport, CT, and won paid sick days in Jersey City, NJ. WFP spokesman Joe Dinkin says they’re eager to work “wherever there are like-minded leaders interested in building independent progressive political organizations.”

UPDATE: The last paragraph has been changed to better reflect how the WFP is expanding beyond New York.

Leslie Savan points out where Jon Stewart and Joe Lhota seem to find common ground in the ACA debate.