N.Y. state AFL-CIO endorses incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo
The gubernatorial primary in New York puts Gov. Andrew Cuomo (left) in a contest against Cynthia Nixon (right). | AP

ALBANY, N.Y.—Setting up yet another showdown between Democratic Party regulars and party progressives, the New York State AFL-CIO sided with the regulars and endorsed incumbent Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for re-election to a third term.

That sets up a Sept. 13 state primary face-off between Cuomo and former “Sex and the City” TV star Cynthia Nixon, an LGBTQ activist making her first run for public office. She’s picked up support from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and Our Revolution, successor to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. A third, little-known hopeful is also in the race.

Nixon also has the ballot line for the Working Families Party, which she’ll keep regardless of the Democratic primary’s outcome.

Nixon, a volunteer for Sanders in 2016, hasn’t picked up Sanders’ nod herself. But he criticized another recent “regular” endorsement for Cuomo – from Democratic National Chairman Thomas Perez, a Buffalo native – by noting that traditionally DNC leaders don’t take sides in party primaries.

Cuomo not only has the state fed in his corner, but he’s got the backing from leaders of the state’s biggest unions, including the Civil Service Employees Association, the New York State United Teachers, Service Employees Local 32BJ and SEIU1199 Hospital and Health Care Workers. Other high party figures also back Cuomo. They include former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Cuomo leads Nixon by approximately a two-to-one ratio in recent public opinion polls. But those polls were notoriously unreliable in two high-profile progressives-vs-regulars face-offs last month.

In one, Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another PCCC-backed hopeful, beat Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., in the party primary for Congress. Her social media campaign, touting Medicare For All and other progressive positions and criticizing his corporate contributors, overcame his $1.4 million-$30,000 spending edge.

In the other, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who had progressive union support, swamped establishment-backed Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial primary, by almost 2-to-1. The last pre-primary poll showed they were tied.

Nixon is framing her campaign in progressive terms. She recently led most other Democrats in calling for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Service. ICE officers are responsible for implementing GOP President Donald Trump’s policy of yanking children away from their migrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The policy drew national and international outrage.

Nixon touts more equitable education funding as her top issue – a constant complaint from New York City residents against the state legislature. And she criticizes Cuomo for shortchanging the New York subway system, for not pushing affordable housing and renewable energy and for letting renegade State Senate Democrats produce GOP control of that chamber. Nixon also supports legalizing marijuana.

The state fed, and many member unions, see things differently. They see a governor who has stood up for workers’ rights. And their endorsement may be important: New York is the most-unionized state in the U.S., with one of every four workers being a union member.

Cuomo’s most recent move, just before the state fed’s decision, was an executive order attempting to counteract the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision, which potentially makes every state and local government worker, including teachers, “free riders” able to use union services without paying one red cent for them.

“When it comes to fighting for organized labor and the middle class, Andrew Cuomo has set a standard for every elected official in this country. Working men and women have no greater champion for their cause,” said state fed President Mario Cilento. He then promised the state fed would run “an intensive grassroots campaign to ensure a victory” for Cuomo. That includes political mail, door-knocking and individual conversations touting the governor.

“Gov. Cuomo supported labor organizing drives, contract campaigns and job actions across the state that empowered working men and women,” Cilento said.

“Actions speak louder than words. Leadership isn’t just saying you are going to do something. It’s about getting things done and having a real, tangible, positive effect on the people you represent. Gov. Cuomo is a leader in the truest sense of the word.”

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta lauded Cuomo’s “steadfast dedication to working men and women of this state in the face of a federal assault on organized labor. As the federal government tries to undermine the strength of unions, New York State stands with labor, and I look forward to continuing to work with Gov. Cuomo.”

Besides the unions which endorsed Cuomo, Office and Professional Employees Local 153 President Mike Goodwin welcomed Cuomo to a cheering crowd against Janus in February.  And Communications Workers President Chris Shelton lauded Cuomo’s role in settling worker struggles against bosses.

The Working Families Party has quite a different view of Cuomo, so it “overwhelmingly” gave its ballot line to Nixon, said Executive Director Bill Lipton. Nixon and running mate Jumaane Williams, a New York city councilman, “believe we can have a New York where our leaders always put working families first, not real estate billionaires and hedge-fund donors,” Lipton added (his emphasis).

“We can have a New York where our leaders no longer rule by bullying and fear, but actually fight for and win victories like an end to mass incarceration, making it easier to vote, expanding workers’ rights, public financing of elections, full funding of public schools, universal health care, a 100 percent renewable energy economy, affordable housing, a revitalized upstate economy, and — yes — a functional subway system,” Lipton concluded.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).