Women’s Equality Party ignores only woman in race

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Women's Equality Party, Liuba Grechen Shirley
Democratic Congressional candidate for the New York 2nd District, Liuba Grechen Shirley

The Women’s Equality Party of New York (a pseudo-party that, thanks to New York State’s quirky fusion voting laws, provides an extra voting line in general election ballots) has endorsed male Democrat DuWayne Gregory for the New York 2nd Congressional District. This was done despite there being a woman in the race with a track-record of campaigning for women’s rights, fellow Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley.

Bizarrely, not only did the WEP fail to endorse Grechen Shirley, they did not even bother to interview her. Now, depending on the outcome of the April Democratic Party primary, the Women’s Equality Party may have denied Long Island residents the chance to vote for a female candidate for Congress this November.

Liuba Grechen Shirley frozen out

DuWayne Gregory
Presiding Officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, DuWayne Gregory, photo: Twitter

As an energized, female candidate with an impressive track-record of progressive campaigning, not endorsing Liuba Grechen Shirley seems like an odd choice for the Women’s Equality Party. But according to Grechen Shirley’s campaign spokeswoman, the Women’s Equality Party did not even engage with her. They simply handed the nomination to her male rival for the Democratic nomination DuWayne Gregory.

Like Grechen Shirley, Gregory is a native Long Islander with roots in the New York 2nd district, and like Grechen Shirley, Gregory has a track-record of public service. Both candidates took part in “March for our Lives” protests over the weekend. Policy-wise, Gregory is not a bad fit for the progressive platform espoused by the Women’s Equality Party. But, neither is Grechen Shirley. And Grechen Shirley is a woman. Should she have not at least had a courtesy call?

The Women’s Equality Party gambit

Unfortunately for the women of New York seeking office this year, the Women’s Equality Party is really a political contrivance designed to boost the electoral prospects of Governor Andrew Cuomo and his allies, not generally help women get elected.

The party was created by Cuomo a few months before his last election in 2014, and was headlined by his running mate Kathy Hochul. Because parties in New York can cross-endorse candidates from other parties, the new group provided Cuomo with an additional ballot line in the general election. The extra line also created a useful political counterweight to the Working Families Party, with which Cuomo has a testy relationship and who in 2014 had considered endorsing Cuomo’s rival Zephyr Teachout.

In the end, Cuomo scooped endorsements from four minor parties, including the Working Family Party, and took up nearly half of the ballot “real estate” as a result. Because over 50,000 New Yorkers voted for Cuomo on the Women’s Equality Party line, the party was granted automatic ballot access status and is now able to offer an extra ballot line to anyone Cuomo’s team chooses to support.

And it appears that that in the New York 2nd Congressional race, that person is DuWayne Gregory, not Liuba Grechen Shirley. Being a woman does not appear to matter to the Women’s Equality Party.

A threadbare pseudo-party

New York’s minor parties are often accused of merely being vehicles for influence peddling, but none are more blatant about their lack of grass-roots relevance than the Women’s Equality Party.

For example, the only public announcement of their endorsement of DuWayne Gregory is in an article in the Long Island newspaper Newsday. The news section of the WEP’s website, (as of publication of this article) has not been updated since September 2015.

Women's Equality Party
The News section of the Women’s Equality Party website as of March 27, 2018

Nor is there any mention of Gregory’s endorsement on the WEP’s twitter account, which was last updated in June 2016. Facebook is the most up-to-date, with a post as recent as June 2017, but still no mention of Gregory’s endorsement.

Women's Equality Party
The Women’s Equality Party Twitter account, as of March 27, 2018

The WEP website is also full of sections that have either not been updated since the 2014 election, or only updated just after. These include:

  • The front page, which which includes a message that celebrates crossing the 50,000 vote threshold in 2014 and a video by Christine Quinn about why she is running for office on November 4 (2014).
  • The website FAQ explains that the WEP was founded “this July,” referring to July 2014.
  • On the About page is a reference to the 50,000 votes in 2014 being cast “just under a year ago.”

While it might seem odd for a political party to take so little interest in communicating with its supporters, this is not the biggest indication that the Women’s Equality Party is a party with no grassroots support.

Also absent on the WEP website or any of its social media platforms is any appeal for supporters to do much of anything. They are asked to sign up for an email newsletter and engage in some light social media activity, but that’s it. No appeals to volunteer. No appeals to put up a yard sign. No appeals for money.

This last point is especially striking: this may be the first instance ever of a political party that does not solicit donations from its members or supporters.

The reason why the WEP does not need money is in the fine print at the very bottom of the party website: “Paid for by Cuomo Hochul 2014, Inc.”

DuWayne Gregory wins, women lose

DuWayne Gregory and Liuba Grechen Shirley are both vying for the Democratic Party nomination in the June 26th primary. But as Gregory has secured the nomination of two minor parties besides the WEP (the Working Families Party and the Independence Party), he will appear on three ballot lines in November no matter who wins the Democratic primary.

If Gregory does win the primary, it means there will be no woman on the ballot to run against the incumbent, Republican Peter King. And ironically, the reason there would be no woman on the ballot would be because the Women’s Equality Party did not want there to be one.

Grechen Shirley does not appear fazed by the lack of endorsement by the group claiming to represent her. “I’m not in this race to play political games and win the spoils of patronage,” she said in a statement.

But her brave face does not take away from the fact that a party claiming to support equality for women is, in one respect at least, keeping them less equal.

Women make just over 30% of the New York delegation to the US House of Representatives. They make up a mere 19.3% of the House as a whole.

Thanks to the endorsement of DuWayne Gregory, the Women’s Equality Party is working to keep the number of women in Congress a smaller, not larger.

How well that sits with the voters of New York will be seen in November.

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