The Working Families Party officially designated Cynthia Nixon as its candidate for governor, as well as New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for another term, at the third party’s state convention on Saturday.
But left out was Zephyr Teachout, who was denied the party’s ballot line for attorney general—at least for now.
The state committee voted overwhelmingly for a placeholder, Legal Aid Society lawyer Kenny Schafer, who has agreed to step aside for either Teachout or New York City Public Advocate Letitia James in the fall after the primary.
The WFP had originally backed former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, but when he resigned amid bombshell abuse allegations, it was left looking for a new candidate. James seemed a likely choice. She has long had close ties to the WFP, which propelled her to victory in her first New York City Council race. But in her bid for attorney general, she announced she would not seek the WFP line, saying at her kickoff event that she is focused on securing the Democratic line right now. Governor Andrew Cuomo allegedly threatened to withhold support for James if she accepted the WFP line.
That left the third party with the decision of either supporting Teachout and risk pitting two progressives against each other in the general election, or choosing a placeholder who would give the party the option of choosing a new candidate after the September Democratic primary. The committee decided on the latter.
After losing the vote, Teachout said the WFP is in a “tough spot” right now, and still considered the committee meeting at the convention a “great opportunity” where she was able to lay out her vision for attorney general, which would involve taking on the Trump administration, Albany corruption and Wall Street.
“I would have loved to get it outright, but I certainly really appreciate the chance to get these ideas out there,” Teachout said.
She added, regarding the decision to choose a placeholder, that she is not a “backroom deal person,” but did not answer whether she thought any behind-the-scenes decision making happened in this case.
Ultimately, the WFP described the decision as endorsing both candidates for attorney general rather than as a choice not to throw its support behind Teachout at this time.
“We are supporting two progressive candidates who have come out of our race and are the leading contenders for the New York state attorney general,” Bill Lipton, WFP state director, said. “And it speaks volumes to have together, the WFP and our allies, have changed the center of gravity in the Democratic Party and New York state.”
He added that the committee chose to not take Cuomo’s “bait,” and did not want to pit two progressive woman against each other.
“I think what you saw today was a really informed set of folks who talked a lot among themselves and reached the conclusion that Andrew Cuomo was trying to put us in a box and we were going to rip up the box and say, ‘We’re not going spend the fall with progressives fighting against each other,’” Lipton said.
The Daily News reported Friday that Lipton wanted the party to choose a placeholder so as not to alienate black liberals. And the state Democratic Committee put out a statement earlier in the day on Saturday painting him as a party boss flexing his influence. But Lipton pushed back against the idea that the decision was any sort of backroom deal, or that he is a party boss, saying the WFP doesn’t “do things behind closed doors” and that individual committee members had made their choice.
The convention on Saturday marked the latest chapter in the ongoing feud between the governor and the WFP, which picked up steam when it endorsed Nixon over Cuomo in April and resulted in the WFP losing a number of its major union backers.
But despite the politics and the fighting and the tough decision that had happened just hours before, Nixon was met with enthusiastic cheers and chants of “Cynthia” when she took the stage to address the gathered WFP members, accept their nomination and take cracks at Cuomo.
“Governor Cuomo has $31 million in the bank and counting, but we have each other. We have the millions of people standing up and fighting back,” Nixon shouted at the crowd. “We are calling for a new New York. For who?”
“All of us,” the crowd roared back.
Rebecca Lewis is a reporter for City & State, a politics and policy journal with which The Public shares content.