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Working Families nod to Nixon reshapes political landscape for New York

A new political landscape is taking shape in New York State following the weekend endorsement of actress-activist Cynthia Nixon for governor by the Working Families Party, the left-leaning group that traditionally stands with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The fracture in the long-standing partnership between Democrats and the labor-oriented party creates the potential for Nixon to siphon away significant numbers of Democratic votes in the November general election, much to the delight of underdog Republicans.

“It’s another rejection of this governor, and it shows we are headed toward a change election this year,” Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said late Sunday, noting Nixon has underscored the governor’s difficulties with his usual support in labor.

The stunning weekend development could draw to Working Families many Democrats who normally would mark their ballots for Cuomo, to the advantage of the eventual Republican nominee. Indeed, GOP front runner Marc Molinaro last week sarcastically offered his encouragement to the Nixon effort.

“I wish her the best of luck,” he said during a Buffalo interview.

Nixon’s backing stems from intense infighting within the small but influential Working Families party during a state committee meeting in Albany over the weekend. Amid indications of the party’s intention to support Nixon, several top unions loyal to the governor withdrew from the meeting and the party itself late Friday.

Cuomo then announced Friday evening that he would not seek the Working Families nod, ending the long relationship between the minor party and Democrats, as well as with the governor.

As a result, a gathering made up of about half the party committee backed Nixon on Saturday, as well as supporting New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn over Democrat Kathy Hochul of Buffalo for lieutenant governor. Nixon and Williams are also challenging the incumbents in the September Democratic primary.

“Our state committee decided overwhelmingly to endorse Cynthia and Jumaane ... because they believe we can have a New York where our leaders always put working families first, not real estate billionaires and hedge fund donors,” said party Executive Director Bill Lipton. “We can have a New York where our leaders no longer rule by bullying and fear, but actually fight for and win victories – like an end to mass incarceration, making it easier to vote, expanding workers rights, public financing of elections, full funding of our kids’ public schools, universal health care, a 100 percent renewable energy economy, affordable housing, a revitalized upstate economy, and — yes — a functional subway system.”

But Cuomo’s camp noted the plethora of unions sticking with the governor, as well as the withdrawal from the party on Friday by two major unions – 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union and the Communications Workers of America Local 1 – once they saw the party headed toward Nixon.

Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer said Cuomo will run on an “unmatched” progressive record that includes establishing a $15 minimum wage, marriage equality, new gun safety laws, free college tuition at state universities, paid family leave, ending finger printing for food stamps, and a record $27 billion in funding for education.

“After nearly a decade of discord, we have a united Democratic Party, and the governor is 100 percent focused on maintaining that unity to fight Trump in Washington, take back the House and win the state Senate,” Fashouer said. “The schism between the progressive unions who founded the WFP and some of its member organizations is unfortunate, but in that divide the governor stands with the unions who have left the WFP and no longer feel it represents the interests of middle and working class New Yorkers.”

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner added he believes organized labor will remain a key element of Cuomo’s support.

“Rank and file labor will be behind the governor,” he said. “This is just a political maneuver on the part of downstate leaders.”

Still, he acknowledged the presence of the well-recognized Nixon on the November ballot is “obviously going to hurt.”

“But the governor is in strong enough shape to win election,” he said.

The latest Marist poll shows Cuomo leading Nixon by more than 3 to 1 among registered Democrats in New York State.

Nixon’s candidacy is expected to be formalized at the Working Families convention in Harlem next month.

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