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Cuomo considers Working Families Party endorsement


Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he hasn’t decided whether to accept the nomination of the Working Families Party in the race for governor. The party previously backed actor Cynthia Nixon after a bitter split in the progressive-leaning minor party.

When the party chose Nixon for governor over Cuomo last spring, the argument was heated. Its executive director, Bill Lipton, said Cuomo, in his first two terms in office, did not live up to expectations that the governor would back progressive ideas and policies.

"For eight years, he broke his promises and kept the Republicans in power in the state Senate," Lipton said at a party nominating meeting in Albany on April 14. "Blocking critical legislation for affordable housing, women’s equality and criminal justice reform."

The decision to abandon Cuomo for Nixon caused some union members to leave the party.

After Nixon lost the September Democratic primary to Cuomo, she said she did not want to remain on the Working Families ballot. Lipton said after meeting on Oct. 3, the remaining party members decided it was best that they put aside their differences and endorse Cuomo and work to get more Democrats elected to the state Senate and to Congress.

"A majority of people felt like now is the time to focus on the threat posed by Trump Republicans, who are out there attacking working families every day," Lipton said. "There’s a dire threat."

The party rejected a request from the Green Party to endorse its candidate for governor, Howie Hawkins. Afterward, Hawkins condemned the party, saying it "is nothing more than a political club firmly entrenched within the corporate-dominated Democratic Party."

"Look at results, not the rhetoric," Hawkins said. "They’ve now endorsed Cuomo three times. A quintessential corporate Democrat."

Lipton disagrees. He said the party will still be an "independent voice" and is not taking back its prior criticism of Cuomo.

"We stand by our critique of the governor that we put out during the race; we’re not changing our minds about that," Lipton said. "We just think we have far greater differences with the Trump Republicans, and that’s our priority now."

Lipton said the party can claim some victories in the primary, including the ousting of six former breakaway Democratic state senators who sided with the Republicans. And he said Nixon drove Cuomo to take progressive positions on items like legalizing recreational marijuana.

Cuomo said he thinks Working Families Party members subscribed to a "theory" that voters wanted new, more progressive candidates. That occurred in a federal primary in June, where challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored an upset win over party stalwart Congressman Joe Crowley. In September, Cuomo received two-thirds of the vote in the Democratic primary.

"They’re facing reality," Cuomo said, "which differs from their theory."

The governor said he also believes the top priority in November is getting more Democrats elected. He said he’s trying to see the "greater goal."

"The greater goal now is to elect Democrats to the Congress, to the state Senate, to stop the madman in Washington," Cuomo said, referring to President Donald Trump. "To have a state Senate that can reverse the bad policies coming out of Washington by passing state laws." 

But does Cuomo need to be on the Working Families Party line to do that? The governor said he hasn’t yet made up his mind.

The party said the deadline for a decision is 5 p.m. Friday.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.