Two recent special elections are putting a spotlight on the Working Families Party, and testing their newfound strength, following the recent ballot reshuffling that not only elevated the labor-backed group, but also established a permanent line for one of their would-be rivals, the Green Party.
In the Rochester mayoral race, Democrat Tom Richards, who was favored to win the race all along, squeaked to victory with just 6 percentage points to spare, over the WFP’s Bill Johnson.
Coming in with 8 percent of the vote–enough to have put Johson over the top–was the Green Party candidate, Alex White.
(Richards, the Democrat, got 11,952 votes, or 48.99 percent. Johnson, the WFP candidate, got 10,307 votes, good for 42.25 percent. And Alex White, the Green, got 2,133 votes, or 8.74 percent).
“Had they been with us, that would have been great,” WFP Executive Director Dan Cantor told me.
TJ Helmstetter, a spokesman for the WFP, was more forceful in his chest-thumping.
“Polling had Richards up by nearly 30 points at the start of race, so closing it to 6 is testament to the WFP’s focus on doing the unglamorous but essential work of talking to voters about issues,” Helmstetter emailed me. “It helped balance the spending advantages that the Democrats had and countered Richards narrative of ‘inevitability.’”
Helmstetter went on to say, “We understand the frustration in African-American and labor circles that the Green Party chose to endorse another candidate. We support the freedom of parties to endorse whomever they choose, but from our point a view, a unified WFP-Green-Independence ticket would not only have produced a major upset, but also would have sent a clear message to Democrats that pro-corporate candidates are a liability.”
In the second special election, the Democrats and WFP backed the same candidate, Sarah Anker. The Green Party didn’t field anyone, and Anker won by about 220 votes, with 356 votes coming from the WFP line.
“In a close election like this one, we’ve once again demonstrated the power of the Working Families Party endorsement,” said Suffolk County WFP co-chair Michele Lynch.
Conversely, it underscores how problematic an election can be when the left-leaning Green Party fields their own candidate, who, most likely, siphons votes away from the WFP candidate.
Politically, the WFP and Green Party agree on many of the same issues–taxing the rich, expanding entitlement programs, protecting labor rights–but they differ in important, strategic ways.
The WFP is a labor-backed outfit dedicated to bringing the Democratic Party back to their progressive roots. The Green Party has a philosophy of mounting their own candidates, in an effort to form a viable third party.
One WFP source said the Green Party is “on the outside, throwing stones. We have a seat at the table.”
After the 2010 governor’s race, which determines permanent ballot positions for political parties in New York, the WFP moved up from Row E to Row D (after they grudgingly endorsed Cuomo). But the Green Party, who went with the surprisingly compelling Howie Hawkins, got more than the 50,000 votes needed to establish a permeant ballot line, landing them on Row F.
So, the WFP moved up, and so did one of their main rivals. And it shows.
One political operative who asked not to be named, said that for the WFP, “It’s like one step up and two steps behind.”
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