Cuomo Goes to War With Working Families Party Before Vote to Endorse Nixon

The early skirmishing between Nixon and Cuomo is getting serious with the Working Families Party in the crossfire. Photo: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On Saturday, the state committee of New York’s left-of-center Working Family Party is meeting in Albany. While the party’s convention won’t be held until next month, rumors have abounded that the state committee, which has the power to endorse, may move quickly to give the nod to left-bent gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, the former Sex and the City star who has launched a serious primary challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

As recently as yesterday, Cuomo’s powerful labor allies were working to keep a Nixon endorsement from happening, according to the New York Times:

Powerful labor allies of Mr. Cuomo’s are pushing to fill vacant slots on the party’s central committee to tilt the governing body in the governor’s favor — and threatening to withdraw from the party entirely if they fail and Ms. Nixon wins the endorsement.

But the Times reported that the threats have already become a reality in advance of the vote:

With the Working Families Party — a small but influential coalition of labor unions and progressive activists — considering an endorsement of Ms. Nixon, two powerful unions announced on Friday that they were withdrawing from the party, and other labor leaders have threatened to create a new labor party.

The stunning development comes as Mr. Cuomo has also privately urged some of those same unions to withdraw funding from liberal community groups backing Ms. Nixon, according to five people familiar with those conversations.

In other words, Andrew Cuomo is going to war.

Four years ago, Cuomo won the nomination of the WFP — which has its own general election ballot line — over progressive primary rival Zephyr Teachout. It kept Teachout out of the general election, and thus saved Cuomo a lot of trouble after he beat her in the Democratic primary. Since then Cuomo may have sabotaged his own cause by abandoning some of his pledges to the WFP and convincing several major unions to drop their affiliation with and financial support for the party. What’s left of the WFP is quite naturally not that inclined to love Cuomo (its grassroots membership never has), and Nixon may reap a quick harvest and with it the right to go straight through to the general election if she chooses to make Cuomo’s life a yearlong hell.

Indeed, the latest action from two big remaining unions (large locals for the Communications Workers of America and the Service Employees International Union) indicates they expect to lose tomorrow — unless they are quietly pledging a reversal if the WFP steering committee behaves.

More generally, we are seeing some of the fallout from Cuomo’s past hardball tactics, and an indication that, if anything, he’s going to intensify them this year. The latest series of actions against the WFP apparently began with a personal pledge from Cuomo of vengeance against anyone contributing to progressive groups backing Nixon:

Bill Lipton, the state director of the Working Families Party, said that he had attended a meeting earlier this week in which the governor had said, “If unions or anyone give money to any of these groups, they can lose my number.”

Mr. Lipton added that the groups in question — Citizen Action, New York Communities for Change and Make the Road Action — had been “at the forefront” of several of the governor’s signature accomplishments, including increasing the minimum wage and criminal justice reform.

If Team Cuomo goes to the mattresses against Nixon and her supporters, it could complicate future negotiations to get her to fold her campaign if she loses the Democratic primary. More immediately, it will reinforce her message that Cuomo is “Andrew the Bully,” a Democratic replica of Donald Trump.

You have to wonder if Cuomo is engaged in overkill. Even as his allies went after Nixon and the WFP, polls continue to show him with a huge lead:

But the primary’s not until September, and no one familiar with the Governor of New York would think it likely he can contain his anger at being opposed that long.

Update: The Cuomo campaign contacted me to make it clear the Governor is not seeking the Working Families Party endorsement.

Cuomo Goes to War With WFP Before Vote to Endorse Nixon