I am not someone beguiled by the narcissism of protest votes. I mostly see elections as revealingly bad theater and an opportunity to nerd out on data interactives. But once in front of a ballot, I’m a fairly uncomplicated and pragmatic voter. I went for Kerry and Obama because they were obviously better than Bush, McCain and Romney. In New York State, I vote the Working Families Party line because under fusion voting, I can cast a ballot for a party that aspires to push the political system leftward without risking helping a Republican get elected.
But this time around, I just can’t. This magazine has endorsed Andrew Cuomo on the WFP line in order to strengthen the WFP’s hand and to keep it on the ballot going forward. I respect the thinking that went into this decision, but I don’t agree with it. On November 4, I’m voting for Howie Hawkins on the Green Party ticket—and I hope you do too.
Let’s get a couple things out of the way. First, Howie Hawkins sounds like a nice guy, and his platform is admirable in many ways. He supports universal healthcare, raising the minimum wage, banning fracking, creating green jobs and serious ethics reform. His education agenda calls for full funding of public schools, universal pre-K and free tuition at state higher-ed institutions, earning him the endorsement of several dissident teachers unions, as well as education activist Diane Ravitch. But neither he nor the Green Party, with just a handful of elected officials anywhere in New York, will emerge from this election as a significant left-bearing force in state politics. A vote for him is, in fact, a protest vote and little more. Second, Cuomo leads Republican Rob Astorino by more than twenty points in polls and is in no danger of losing. In terms of governing consequences, this is the safest of elections in which to cast a protest vote.
The decision then is about the WFP, its relationship to Cuomo and its future under what promises to be another four years of his governorship. At the crux of the issue is the deal struck between the WFP leadership and Cuomo at the party’s convention back in June. In exchange for endorsing him over Fordham law professor and activist Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo promised to campaign for Senate Democrats (yes, you read that correctly) and to pass public financing of elections (a potential game-changer), a ten-point “Women’s Equality Agenda,” marijuana decriminalization, a raise in the state minimum wage, greater municipal control over the minimum wage and more funding for public schools (see Sarah Jaffe, Jarrett Murphy and Ted Fertik on the deal). The machinations and compromises leading up to the deal are byzantine, but in a nutshell: the WFP’s unions (1199, HTC, 32BJ, etc.), which provide much of the party’s funding, supported the deal—in part because Cuomo threatened and mollified them in the lead-up to the convention and in part because, as institutions, they are dispositionally inclined to prefer negotiations over third-party challenges. Meanwhile, the party’s activists wanted to roll the dice on Teachout and confront Cuomo and the state Democratic Party directly. After a heated debate, some heckling and a lot of good faith arguments, the pro-Cuomo faction, rallied by NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, won—58.7 percent to 41.3 percent.