New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is responding to a rebellion from the state's progressive third party by attempting to push other Democrats away from the Working Families Party.
Cuomo has asked Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to refuse the Working Families line on November's ballot, four sources told BuzzFeed. One of those sources said Cuomo had sought the same from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
Aides to Cuomo and Tom DiNapoli didn't immediately respond to inquiries about the alleged strong-arm move. An aide to Schneiderman declined to comment.
Cuomo's move is an escalation that raises the stakes on both sides of the ideologically charged battle, one that has brought to the fore the New York governor's growing rift with the state's left. Cuomo political aide and longtime enforcer Joe Percoco has, the sources said, made the request, which is aimed at threatening the party's ability to get the 50,000 votes for governor in November's election required for a permanent slot on the statewide ballot.
The Working Families Party, whose base combines labor unions and individuals and activist groups, has emerged as a force in New York through unusual "fusion" laws that allow candidates to run on more than one party line. Serving at times as the tail that wags the Democratic Party dog, it has close ties to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other top officials.
Cuomo, who ran on the party line in 2010, has governed as a liberal on some cultural issues, like marriage equality, but has moved to his party's right on the economic issues of higher taxes on the rich and expanded spending that are at the core of the Working Families Party's agenda. People close to the party say its leaders hoped to use the endorsement as leverage to extract a promise from Cuomo — for instance, a major change to campaign finance law that could tilt the balance away from wealthy individuals and businesses.
But while Working Families elements from major labor unions, like 1199 SEIU, worked to cut a deal with Cuomo, sources close to the party said, its grass roots revolted. The activist group Citizen Action and local leaders are instead fighting to have the party endorse Zephyr Teachout, a law professor and former aide to Howard Dean, at its convention this weekend.
People close to the party say Cuomo may find it hard to win at the convention.
"They've actually built a part that is full of true believers — and nobody in the rank and file believes the government promises," said one person close to the WFP.
"The core activists are asking, 'How can we endorse this guy? He's a right-wing douchebag,'" said a New York Democrat.
A source close to the governor's office cast it in similarly ideological terms:
"Let's remember there's a national debate going on right now about where the Democratic party is. Is it a party of Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren? Or is it the party of Cuomo, Governor O'Malley and Hillary Clinton?" the source said. Cuomo is "trying to blend that into this years re-election bid."
The logic of Cuomo's request to Schneiderman — a political foe — and DiNapoli is that pulling other top officials off the line could diminish the votes for its gubernatorial candidate. Some in the Working Families Party argue the reverse: That it will get more votes as a protest against Cuomo, and that the other officials would do more damage to themselves than to the party if they dropped the line.
Cuomo is also, in any event, expected to win handily in November.
And Cuomo is fighting for the endorsement — but the legendarily brass-knuckles governor's new move is going further, and attempting to do deep damage to a party that has become one of the most powerful progressive institutions in the country.
Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Ben Smith at email@example.com.
Jacob Fischler is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.
Contact Jacob Fischler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.