This is summer my friends in the WFP made a decision I did not agree with. Rather than endorse known progressive Zephyr Teachout for Governor of New York, they endorsed incumbent Andrew Cuomo. The Governor has not been a friend of progressive economic causes since, well, I do not know that he ever has, but he has been an ally at times, when the right sort of pressure is put on him. Still, I would have been happier had the gone with Teachout, or better yet, at the time at least, Howie Hawkins. To my knowledge Mr. Hawkins never sought the WFP endorsement. More on that later.
Working Families endorsed the Governor on promises which may or may not turn out to be empty to, I am sure among other reasons, secure our place on the ballot. The party has been able to get a lot of work done (full disclosure: I am a past WFP employee and current member) by working hard during elections, making Row D the margin of victory for candidates so they could pressure them into working for progressive causes. The minimum wage was raised, and will be raised twice more at least, because of the efforts of Working Families canvassers and organizers. State Senators have switched their stance favorably on the issue of public financing of elections thanks to the hard work of the WFP. This was possible because of the party’s ballot status and fusion voting in NYS. So while I disagreed with the decision to back Cuomo, I completely understood the main reason for doing so.
As I said, I would have instead liked to have seen us back Howie Hawkins. He has more name recognition among the general population than Teachout with his two previous statewide campaigns (once each for Governor and US Senate) and it was my belief that Working Families and the Greens could have bridged the gap that competing for votes from the left has created and run one hell of a campaign in which a third-party candidate could have actually one. With Green cred among the far left, the public’s familiarity with Howie, and the Working Families’ organizing acumen we could have finally gotten a real left-wing candidate in the Governor’s mansion. Alas it was not to be. Many of us were dejected. Some left to work for Teachout, some, like myself, threw in our support for Hawkins. Then the Greens did what they do best, crap all over everyone who does not completely agree with them.
The closer we got to this Tuesday, the more the Greens made the campaign not about Governor Cuomo and his failings, but about Working Families “selling out.” I knew when the party decided to back Cuomo we would lose some credibility, I did not know just how nasty it would get. The WFP, for its part, was cordial. It understood that some would leave with Teachout, and only ever expressed disappointment, not outrage, toward those of us throwing in with the Greens. This was not good enough for the “purists” on the state’s left. Predictions of the party’s demise were frequent and often rude. All the good work Working Families has done for the last fifteen plus years apparently did not matter to them.
At first it did not bother me much. I shared some of the same disappointment, if not anger, with the Cuomo endorsement. I knew some of this was coming, but the insults continued and intensified. The Greens, and the understandably anti-Cuomo faction of the Democratic party hammered at us, not him, all while ignoring their blatant hypocrisy. They ignored the lack of organization on the Democratic Party’s part (until the WFP twisted their arms) to reign in the outright traitorous (from a party standpoint) IDC. They were all to willing to laugh at the Working Family’s “cynical” attempt to keep their ballot status while the Greens could not contain their excitement at the fact that the now low-grade celebrity status of Hawkins would improve theirs.
I have heard a great deal of caterwauling about the WFP’s “onerous” decision to back Cuomo but curiously little about what Hawkins would do if he won. The Greens are not running for anything, only against something, and while that might be good politics, it is bad faith and bad activism. I still disagree with the Cuomo decision, but I get why, and the WFP’s ballot status has helped far more workers than the grade school antics of the Green Party ever has. For years I never understood the (usually) benign neglect with which Working Families treats the Greens, now I do. They had me, they really did, I was going to vote for Howie, and encouraged others to do the same.
Then I remembered all the hard work the WFP has done. I remember putting pressure to return funding to schools that had been robbed of their student’s future. I remember getting a minimum wage increase passed. I remember that while the Greens talked about supporting fast food workers, it was Working Families organizers that taught those workers how to fight for themselves after years of unions being scared away from that industry. I remembered the hard work and hard choices of real activism for real change.
That is why instead of casting my vote for the honestly admirable Howie Hawkins (and I still feel that way about him, even if I no longer feel that way about the Greens) I will be holding my nose and voting for Prince Andrew on Row D. I will do my part to protect the WFP’s ballot statue, but more than that, I encourage all you Democrats out there disappointed with him who were still going to vote for him as the lesser of two evils (and given the totality of the Republican platform he certainly is the lesser of those two evils) do so on the Working Families line. Let him know that he can no longer play at being a progressive but has to actually toe the line. I don’t just want to preserve Working Families’ ballot status, I don’t want to just be his margin of victory, I want to be the majority of his votes. Those disaffected Democrats out there can make meaningful change for this state if they help make this happen. I am going to do my part, I hope you do yours.