By Alex Distefano
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In the city, activists have centered on bringing out the vote in communities of color, especially among union people. "We have two goals," says Deirdre Schifeling, a WFP organizer. "One is to get back the white working-class Republicans. The second challenge is to energize the vote in black and brown communities." Schifeling is on her way to address Local 1199 union members at Maimonides Hospital in southern Brooklyn. Her job is to explain what WFP is about and to convince people that the party deserves their vote.
"In New York State, three things matter," Schifeling tells union members. "Money, troops, and the ballot line. We don't have money, but we have troops and the ballot line." She explains why the Democrats need to be pressured by a union-based party and the importance of voting for Working Families candidates. "This is the way to hold politicians accountable," she says.
The "spoiler" issue has always dogged third-party movements. But New York is one of nine states in the nation that allow cross-endorsements, a luxury the Working Families Party has taken full advantage of. Nearly every one of the hundreds of candidates backed by the WFP over the years has been with a major party. With a handful of exceptions, all have been Democrats. Which begs the question: Is this really a third party at all? Some activists sneer at the WFP's policy of rubber-stamping Democrats with the expectation that the party's imprimatur will bring out a candidate's progressive side.
But the Nader candidacy is clearly a divisive issue for WFP activists. "I really get a little perturbed over this whole Nader thing," says Lewis. "My constituents need something practical. They don't have the luxury to waste their vote." Cantor is less hard-line about it. "There are people who will vote for Nader for president and for Hillary for senator on the Working Families line," he says. "In both cases, you're voting against the two-party duopoly."
With nearly all of New York City's elected officialsincluding the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, and dozens of City Council memberson their way out next year due to term limits, the WFP will have a prime opportunity to make its mark on the city's political future for some time. But a strong showing on Election Day has to come first. "This is going to be decades in the making," says Cantor. "We have to have patience."