Working Families Party
The Working Families Party (WFP) is a minor political party in the United States, founded in New York in 1998. There are active chapters in New York, Connecticut, Oregon, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Nevada, West Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, and Illinois.
|Preceded by||New Party|
|Headquarters||1 Metrotech Center North, 11|
Brooklyn, NY 11201
|Membership (July 2017)||52,748|
|Colors||Blue, White (official) |
|Seats in the Senate|
0 / 100
|Seats in the House|
0 / 435
0 / 50
|State Upper House Seats|
1 / 1,972
|State Lower House Seats|
1 / 5,411
The Working Families Party of New York was first organized in 1998 by a coalition of labor unions, community organizations, members of the now-inactive national New Party, and a variety of advocacy groups such as Citizen Action of New York and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The party's main concerns are jobs, healthcare, raising the minimum wage, universal paid sick days, the student debt crisis, higher taxes on the rich, public education, and energy and environmental reform. It has usually cross-endorsed progressive Democratic or Republican candidates through fusion voting, but will occasionally run its own candidates.
WFP follows the ideals of progressive politics, describing itself as a "grass roots independent political organization". Right-wing writer Seth Lipsky of the New York Post describes WFP as "quasi-Marxist" and some right-leaning publications refer to WFP as the Tea Party of the left.
Like other minor parties in the state, the WFP benefits from New York's electoral fusion laws that allow the party to support another party's candidate when they feel it aligns with their platform. This allows sympathetic voters to support a minor party without feeling like they are "wasting" their vote. Usually, the WFP endorses the Democratic Party candidate, but it has occasionally endorsed moderate Republican Party candidates as a strategy for spurring bi-partisan action on its policy priorities.
In some cases, the WFP has put forward its own candidates. In the chaotic situation following the 2003 assassination of New York City councilman James E. Davis by political rival Othniel Askew, the slain councilman's brother Geoffrey Davis was chosen to succeed him in the Democratic primary. As it became clear that Geoffrey Davis lacked his late brother's political experience, fellow Democrat Letitia James decided to challenge him in the general election on the WFP ticket and won Brooklyn's 35th City Council district as the first third-party candidate elected there in 30 years.
Some of the party's endorsed candidates include Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, Chicago Mayoral Democratic Candidate Jesús "Chuy" García, US Senators Chris Murphy (CT) and Jeff Merkley (OR), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.
In 2006, the party began ballot access drives in California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, and South Carolina. In 2010 Oregon joined South Carolina and New York as states that allow fusion voting.
Edwin Gomes, running in a February 2015 special election for the Connecticut State Senate, became the first candidate in the nation to win a state legislative office running solely as a nominee for the Working Families Party.
In 2015, NY WFP ran 111 of its candidates, winning 71 local offices.
In 2015, the WFP endorsed Bernie Sanders in his campaign for U.S. President, its first national endorsement. In 2016, after Hillary Clinton became the Democratic nominee, the WFP endorsed her for president.
In 2017, Joshua M. Hall, running in an April 2017 special election for the Connecticut House of Representatives, became the second candidate in the nation to win a state legislative office running solely as a nominee for the Working Families Party.
In 2019, the WFP endorsed Elizabeth Warren in her campaign for President of the United States. Warren won the endorsement with 60.91% of the vote, compared with 35.82% for runner-up Bernie Sanders. The WFP received some criticism for not releasing the individual vote tallies between the party leadership and membership base, each of which accounts for 50% of the vote. In the 2016 primary the WFP had endorsed Sanders, one of Warren's opponents in the 2020 primary.
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The WFP was launched with the agenda of well-paying jobs, affordable housing, accessible health care, better public schools and more investment in public services.
In 2004 in New York and 2014 in Connecticut, the WFP saw the enactment of one of its highest legislative priorities, an increase in the state minimum wage, which it had supported since its inception.
Paid sick days were enacted statewide in Connecticut in 2011, and citywide in both New York City and Portland, Oregon in 2013.
Another major platform of the WFP is to defeat the "Rockefeller drug laws" in New York State, a remnant from when Nelson Rockefeller was Governor. The WFP contributed largely to the victory of David Soares to Albany County District Attorney whose platform was based on reforming drug policy, while generally taking a less punitive approach to criminal justice.
In the 1998 election for governor of New York, the party cross-endorsed the Democratic Party candidate, Peter Vallone. Because he received more than 50,000 votes on the WFP line, the party gained an automatic ballot line for the succeeding four years.
Patricia Eddington of the WFP was elected to the New York State Assembly. In the 2002 election, the Liberal Party, running Andrew Cuomo (who had withdrawn from the Democratic primary), and the Green Party, running academic Stanley Aronowitz, failed to reach that threshold and lost the ballot lines they had previously won. This left the WFP as the only left-progressive minor party with a ballot line. This situation continued until 2011 following the party's cross-endorsement of Eliot Spitzer in the 2006 election, in which he received more than 155,000 votes on the Working Families Party line, more than three times the required 50,000.
In South Carolina, WFP cross-endorsed Democratic party congressional nominees Randy Maatta, (District 1) and Lee Ballenger, (District 3). In the SC State House elections, the WFP cross-endorsed Democratic Party candidates Anton Gunn (Kershaw, Richland), Eugene Platt (Charleston). In New York, the WFP cross-endorsed the statewide Democratic Party slate.
In Massachusetts, Rand Wilson won enough votes in the general election for State Auditor to guarantee the Working Families Party ballot access in the following election. Wilson garnered 19% of the vote in the head to head race against Democratic incumbent Joe DeNucci, allowing ballot access in 2008. However the ballot initiative, "question 2", that would allow candidates to be nominated by more than one party, failed. The WFP in Massachusetts dubbed the question 2 campaign "Spinach for Democracy."
The South Carolina Working Families Party convention endorsed five candidates for state and local office. One candidate, Eugene Platt, running for SC State House District 115, was also nominated by the South Carolina Green Party. The nomination of Michael Cone for the US Senate race, opposing incumbent Lindsey Graham, marked the first time the South Carolina party nominated anyone for statewide office. Cone was defeated by Horry County Republican Committee member Bob Conley in the Democratic Primary.
The WFP endorsed Barack Obama for U.S. President on all their state lines.
The WFP endorsed several candidates for local offices, Bill Thompson for New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio for Public Advocate, and Corey Ellis for Albany mayor. Ellis did very well in the Albany mayoral election, 2009, coming in second ahead of the Republican candidate. The WFP also backed eight new members of the city council, including Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, who helped create the New York City Council Progressive Caucus.
Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic nominee for Governor of New York, accepted the Working Families Party cross-endorsement. Cuomo ran with the WFP's endorsement, because the WFP accepted his policy positions.
In the same year, the Connecticut WFP endorsed Dannel Malloy for governor. He received 26,308 votes as a Working Families candidate, putting him ahead of his Republican opponent, and securing ballot access for the party in that state.
In Connecticut, the WFP won all three minority seats on the city council of Hartford, completely eliminating Republican representation. As of 2016, the WFP continues to hold all minority seats on the Hartford City Council.
In Connecticut, the WFP backed Chris Murphy's successful race against billionaire Linda McMahon for the US Senate seat that was vacated by Joe Lieberman, supported SEIU/CCAG leader and organizer Christopher Donovan for Connecticut's 5th Congressional seat, as well as defeated a ballot initiative in Bridgeport, Connecticut that would have abolished the elected board of education. In Oregon, the WFP backed Jeff Reardon for state house, a challenger who defeated Democrat Mike Schaufler in the primary. The party opposed Schaufler's conservative record on taxes, healthcare and the environment.
In November 2013 the Party endorsed the successful New York City candidates Bill de Blasio for Mayor, Letitia James for Public Advocate, and Scott Stringer for Comptroller, as well as a dozen WFP-backed candidates to the City Council, dramatically growing the Progressive Caucus. The Working Families ballot line contributed 42,640 votes to de Blasio's total of 795,679 votes, and 53,821 to James's total of 814,879 votes.
After considering Zephyr Teachout, the party re-endorsed Cuomo for New York Governor despite some dissatisfaction and frustration with his first term. However, Cuomo resisted the party's influence and sabotaged the party electorally. In 2010 more than 150,000 of his votes came on the WFP line. As of November 7, 2014, 120,425 votes came on the WFP line for Cuomo, less than in 2010 likely due to "dissatisfaction and frustration" dropping the party from fourth to fifth, behind the Conservative Party and the Green Party.
In February, Edwin Gomes was elected to District 23 of the Connecticut State Senate in a special election. He became the first candidate in the nation to win a state legislative office running solely as a nominee for the Working Families Party. Gomes defeated Richard DeJesus (D), Quentin Dreher (R), and the non-affiliated Charles Hare and Kenneth H. Moales, Jr. in the special election on February 24. However, Senator Gomes previously served the district as State Senator as a Democrat and caucused with the Democrats upon assuming office.
In the fall of 2015, the Working Families Party conducted a combined membership-drive and open poll among its enrolled members on whom to endorse for President in 2016; the result being Bernie Sanders. Official numbers were not disclosed but party spokesman and co-founder Dan Cantor said the results were "overwhelmingly" in favor of Sanders, with some sources stating it was an 87 to 12 to 1 percent vote with Sanders over Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley respectively. The South Carolina Working Families Party cross- endorsed Democratic nominee Dimitri Cherry in his effort to unseat incumbent Congressman Mark Sanford in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District; Cherry also garnered the endorsement of South Carolina's Green Party but lost to Sanford in the general election.
On April 25, 2017 a special election for State House district 7 in Connecticut resulted in Joshua M. Hall winning under the Working Families ticket, which allowed the party to pick up a seat in the lower chamber of the State Legislature.
In April 2018 an endorsement of Cynthia Nixon over incumbent Andrew Cuomo in Cuomo's bid for a third term as New York governor caused a schism in the party in which labor unions including New York's biggest union Service Employees International Union and Communications Workers of America to indicate they would not support the party in the election. The withdrawal was believed would significantly hurt the party's finances which in 2018 was $1.7 million and statewide staff of about 15 people. The battle received considerable attention since there were concerns that Nixon might have drained enough votes from Cuomo in the general election to allow a Republican to be elected.
In the race for New York's 14th congressional district, Joe Crowley remained on the ballot as the Working Families Party candidate even though the party withdrew support from him after his loss in the Democratic primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
On October 5, 2018, the Working Families Party cleared Cynthia Nixon from their ticket on the general election ballot and agreed to endorse Cuomo, who defeated Nixon in the Democratic primary, for a third term.
On September 16, 2019, the Working Families Party endorsed Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries. In the 2016 primaries the party endorsed Bernie Sanders, one of Warren's opponents in the 2020 primary. Some backlash ensued after that decision was made due to the refusal of the WFP to release the vote. Jacobin published research indicating that Sanders had likely won the party's popular vote and that it was likely that the leaders wanted Warren over Sanders.
On November 5, 2019, the Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks won an At-Large seat on Philadelphia City Council. The City Council reserves two seats for a minority party, and this is the first time one of those seats went to a candidate not on the Democrat or Republican line in forty years.
The state directors of the WFP are Bill Lipton (NY), Lindsay Farrell (CT), Sue Altman (NJ), Brandon Evans (PA), Karly Edwards (OR), Jay Hutchins (MD), Delvone Michael (DC), Marina Dimitrijevic (WI), Ryan Frankenberry (WV), and Georgia Hollister-Isman (RI). WFP's national director is Maurice Mitchell.
Some left-wing commentators have criticized the WFP for being insufficiently committed to progressive principles. Following the 2010 New York State gubernatorial election, Billy Wharton argued that Andrew Cuomo obtained significant concessions from the WFP by initially refusing their endorsement (and thus jeopardizing their ballot access). Likewise, the editor of the World Socialist Web Site has called the WFP an "opportunist" party for its close work with the Democrats.
In August 2009, various media raised questions about the relationship between the WFP, a non-profit political party, and a for-profit private company called Data and Field Services (DFS). An editorial in The New York Times questioned whether DFS may be charging select clients below market rates for political services. In August 2010, the federal investigation into the party ended with no charges being filed, and no charges being referred to other law enforcement agencies.
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