ALBANY, N.Y. - In spite of deep anger and skepticism about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's sincerity, the Working Families Party has endorsed his re-election bid and he will now appear on both the Democratic and WFP ballot lines in this fall's elections. In an 11th-hour deal Cuomo publicly pledged to support pushing for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate and a number of progressive policy initiatives that until now had been blocked by a leadership coalition of a handful of "renegade" Democrats and a Republican minority.
The endorsement was part of an agreement by a "historic coalition," a WFP press release said. The coalition consists of the Working Families Party, Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and major New York unions, including 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, CWA District One, United Federation of Teachers, Hotel Trades Council, UAW Region 9A, UFCW Local 1500, Retail and Department Store Workers (RWDSU), Mason Tenders District Council, and the Teamsters.
According to the release, the deal's legislative commitments include "a robust, statewide system of public financing of elections, funding 200 community schools, a commitment to fix the school funding formula to invest more money in high-need schools, the DREAM Act, the Women's Equality Act, decriminalization of marijuana, and raising the minimum wage to $10.10 while indexing it to inflation and allowing localities to raise it up to 30 percent higher than the state minimum wage."
In a sometimes raucous convention Saturday, the Working Families Party voted to endorse Cuomo over the alternative option, which was to run its own gubernatorial candidate. An earlier Siena poll indicated that such a candidate would, while not winning, cut into Cuomo's substantial lead over Republican candidate Rob Astorino and deny Cuomo the impressive margin of victory he expects as he positions himself for a possible 2016 presidential bid.
In a speech urging support for the governor, progressive New York City Mayor De Blasio said, "From the beginning, the Working Families Party has been the party that has stood up for an economy that works for everyone and a democracy in which every voice is heard. Tonight, that has happened again; because of the WFP, an unprecedented coalition is now committed to making a progressive vision for New York a reality."
While New York is a "blue" state, progressive policy change has eluded it because of the half-century-long control of the state Senate by mostly upstate Republicans. After an unexpected win in 2012 gave the Democrats the majority, such change was again thwarted by the Independent Democratic Caucus, a small group led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, who set up a power-sharing arrangement with the Republican minority.
Until Saturday, Cuomo had not supported returning the Senate to Democratic hands, and had even quietly supported the IDC-Republican control.
While some at the WFP convention viewed an endorsement of Cuomo as a compromise of WFP values, others saw it as an important step to moving the state in a progressive direction. "The WFP stuck to its values," said Bill Lipton, WFP state director. "Tonight was about fighting to give every New Yorker a better job, a stronger school, and a government that actually hears their voice. Tomorrow, New Yorkers will be closer than ever before to seeing a real wage increase. They will be closer to having justice for immigrants, women, and young people of color. They will be closer to having a government that works for them, not just the wealthy and well-connected. And that's where a real commitment to progressive principles can get you."
Photo: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks in favor of endorsing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the New York Working Families Party's convention in Albany, N.Y., Saturday, May 31, 2014. (AP/Hans Pennink)