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Working Families meeting offers glimpse of governor race – but Cuomo not seeking endorsement

The first test of the 2018 gubernatorial election could take place in Albany on Saturday at a meeting of the state’s Working Families Party, a tiny but influential band possibly poised to assume a major influence in November.

The minor party, an amalgam of union and progressive interests that appeals to left-leaning Democrats, was considering an early choice between the two contestants in the Democratic primary for governor – incumbent Andrew M. Cuomo and actress-activist Cynthia Nixon.

But the governor is not seeking the endorsement because of division in the party.

"Given the announcement today that the remaining unions will no longer be a part of the WFP, we stand in solidarity with them and will not be seeking the endorsement of the third party line at their convention next month," Abbey Fashouer, a spokeswoman for the Cuomo campaign, said in a statement Friday evening.

While the group had been expected to endorse one of the two either at the Saturday state committee meeting or at the May convention in Harlem, the possibility of Nixon claiming the line presents the potential for a diffused vote among minor party candidates that could damage the Democrat nominee, expected to be Cuomo.

That possibility late Friday was already causing significant divisions after two major union members of Working Families – 32BJ SEIE and CWA Local 1 – said they will not only boycott the Saturday meeting but leave the party. Both are founding components and major funders of Working Families.

“We therefore fundamentally believe that endorsing Governor Cuomo is the most effective way to put the interest of working families first,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, and Dennis Trainor, vice president CWA Local 1 in a joint statement. “The latest developments show that the current leadership of the WFP disagrees with that approach, and we have been unable to convince them otherwise. For that reason, we are not attending tomorrow’s state committee meeting and will be pulling out of the New York State Working Families Party.”

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and a founding member of the Working Families Party, said he will push to delay the vote until the full convention next month.

“It would disenfranchise a whole slate of convention people and take the decision out of their hands,” he said.

Rumore said he has made no decision as to how he might vote, but speaking for the BTF only, noted Cuomo must yet make his case.

“The BTF looks for whether he follows through on returning control to the local districts as opposed to control by the state,” he said, pointing to concerns about teacher evaluations and the role of charter schools. He added the same questions loom for Nixon.

None of this has been lost on Republicans, who recognize that a Nixon candidacy on the Working Families line could siphon enough Democratic votes to provide at least some advantage to the Republican opposition. The favorite vying for the GOP nod, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, acknowledged the potential of the Nixon scenario while visiting Buffalo on Thursday.

“I wish her best of luck,” he grinned during an interview.

Working Families endorsed Cuomo in 2014 in a similar contest against Zephyr Teachout, who was also challenging the incumbent governor in the Democratic primary.

Another variable that could affect Cuomo centers around Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate who Friday announced his candidacy during a rally in Niagara Square.

He was slated to advocate fully funding and desegregating public schools, ending high-stakes testing, and providing a quality education for all students, according to his campaign. Hawkins was also slated to speak on ending “corporate welfare” and promoting a “Green New Deal” of public works to include improving mass transit and achieving 100 percent clean and renewable energy in 15 years.

Hawkins ran for governor on the Green line in 2010 and 2014. In 2014, he finished third with 184,419 votes.

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