In a painfully honest opinion piece published in the New York Daily News yesterday, Working Families Party national chair Dan Cantor admitted that his party’s selection of defeated Democratic Congressional candidate Joe Crowley over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a mistake.
After the WFP was “embarrassingly” not part of Ocasio-Cortez’s June 24th primary victory, the party chair is now urging New York 14th Congressional District residents to “stay away” from the party’s ballot line in November.
Dan Cantor: “It was a mistake.”
Writing in the Daily News, Dan Cantor admitted the Working Families Party had made the wrong choice when it offered its ballot line to incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley. The op-ed (written to contain a public relations disaster as much as to influence voters) is surprisingly frank in places. Especially forthcoming is Cantor’s explanation for the unforced error:
“It was a mistake. Ocasio-Cortez knew something we didn’t. She gambled that voters were ready for a candidate who told the truth about our society and economy. Who didn’t mince words about the economic, racial and gender inequality that characterize life in the Bronx and Queens (and America) today. Who would put forward a bold, progressive vision.”
Taken at face value, Cantor is admitting that the WFP decided voters were NOT ready for a candidate who told the truth about our society and economy. Instead, the WFP preferred to nominate a candidate who would NOT put forward a bold, progressive vision.
In an attempt to justify the move, Cantor explained that the WFP is concentrating on the New York gubernatorial race. Their main focus is helping the WFP-endorsed candidate Cynthia Nixon overcome incumbent Andrew Cuomo’s $30 million campaign war-chest. Cantor justified supporting Crowley saying, “We were reluctant to take on another fight with another powerful Democrat.”
In other words, sometimes the WFP endorses candidates it actually agrees with, and sometimes it endorses candidates for pure political expediency to avoid a fight.
The statement may not shock hard-boiled political insiders, but it is a surprising admission for a political party to make in public. The op-ed is not an apology for making a genuine mistake, but rather a detailed explanation of why the WFP sometimes decides to betray its principles for a shot at short-term political gain. This time, against expectations, the gamble failed. So now they are sorry.
Dan Cantor focuses on Lieberman and Crowley
After apologizing for the WFP’s mistake, Cantor focuses most of his attention on a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by former Democratic Senator and Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman, a mainstream Democrat, has summoned the wrath of the WFP by urging readers to still vote for Joe Crowley on the WFP line in the November general election. The former Senator thinks Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s socialist positions (positions the WFP normally agrees with) are toxic for the Democratic Party.
Dan Cantor pulled no punches in his description of Lieberman. “If Ocasio-Cortez represents the future of the Democratic Party,” he argued, “Lieberman represents the worst of its past. It’s infuriating to see him cynically make a case for voting WFP.”
Put differently, Cantor thinks Lieberman is being cynical for encouraging voters to support Crowley now in July. The WFP encouraged the same voters to support Crowley few months ago. Cynicism is evidently a matter of timing.
Dan Cantor also blames Joe Crowley for not “removing himself” from the ballot after he lost.
“Crowley declined to vacate the WFP line,” he said, “despite our requests, and so we’re stuck with him on the ballot. Crowley has said repeatedly that he isn’t running, but removing himself from the ballot would have eliminated any doubt. But he refused, and under New York law, that decision rests in his hands.”
Cantor’s explanation is incomplete at best. Strictly speaking, New York law does not allow candidates to simply remove themselves from the ballot. In order to vacate the line Crowley would need to accept a nomination for another office, thereby disqualifying himself from the NY14 ballot line.
This is exactly what is happening in New York’s 2nd District, where the WFP endorsed another losing Democratic candidate, DuWayne Gregory, instead of progressive Liuba Grechen Shirley. The WFP has told News Growl that Gregory has accepted a nomination for Clerk of Suffolk County, and as a result is now removed from all NY2 ballot lines.
Crowley does not want to make a similar move, referring to it as “voter fraud.” He has a point. Suffolk County Clerk may not be a high-profile office, but it still matters to the people running for it as genuine candidates. Having their race used as a dumping ground for losing Congressional candidates like DuWayne Gregory cannot be much fun. Having a political heavyweight like Crowley appear on the ballot could be downright disruptive.
Also, as Dan Cantor has now admitted, the decision to nominate Joe Crowley was one of political expediency, not genuine support. Why should Joe Crowley allow his name to be put forward for an office he does not want, in order to help a party that does not support him? Unlike DuWayne Gregory, Crowley is unlikely to run again for Congress. There is no reason for him to play ball with the WFP. Political expediency runs both ways.
The pitfalls of fusion voting
The Working Families Party was created to take advantage of fusion voting laws that exist in New York and a few other states. While the situation in NY14 is embarrassing, it is really just a public relations problem. No one doubts that Ocasio-Cortez will romp home to victory in November, with or without the WFP line.
But there is a possible existential threat looming for the WFP in November thanks to the inherent risks of fusion voting in New York.
The New York gubernatorial primary is not until September 13th, less than two months before the general election. If the WFP candidate Cynthia Nixon does not win that primary (as looks likely) there is no guarantee she will want to continue running. She could simply stop campaigning, or even accept a nomination for another office and be vacated from the WFP gubernatorial ballot line.
In order to retain its ballot access for all New York races, the WFP will have to get 50,000 votes for its gubernatorial candidate in November. Not retaining its automatic ballot status in its most important state would be catastrophic.
Without Nixon, the WFP might have no choice but to try nominating Cuomo, and it is entirely possible that Cuomo would not accept the nomination. Might the WFP find itself facing oblivion without a candidate for Governor in November?
It is possible. If Nixon does not win the Democratic nomination, the WFP is counting on Nixon deciding it is politically expedient to keep running on their nomination. And, as Joe Crowley has demonstrated, political expediency is a fickle mistress.