NYC FOCUS: My Evolution on Working Families Party
Since then I have had many ups and downs in my attitude towards WFP...but this year may well mark the final breakdown in my interest in them in much the same way this year might represent the final breakdown in my relationship with the Democratic Club IND. In both cases their hypocrisy has risen to a level I cannot tolerate despite past, and even present, agreements with both. At some point fighting the hypocrisy within gets to be too much of a distraction from fighting the good fight in the larger political arena. My ups and downs with IND have been aired extensively and have been among my most read articles. But I have given less airing to my ups or downs with WFP.
From that early interest in their general style and stated (not always actual) purpose, my next encounter with WFP was another very positive one: a certain dynamic City Council woman named Tish James. There is an interesting history to her election as a WFP candidate against a lousy Democratic candidate which is outside the scope of this article. Suffice it to say her election was a perfect, and seldom repeated, illustration of why something like WFP can be so important in a Democratic dominated town. I don't agree with Councilwoman James on everything, but I agree with her on many things and her style and her ability to stand up for the community against powerful interests made a great impression on me. I believe that was when I first started voting on the WFP line some of the time. Not for Tish James, because I am not in her district, but I could add to my general liking of the idea of WFP a real-life example of how they can work at their best.
And yet, interestingly, one of the main issues I like Tish James on (opposition to Bruce Ratner's overdevelopment plan for Atlantic Yards), WFP is split on. This is an issue that has in the past divided WFP. The fact that WFP supports Tish James encouraged my support. But the realization that Bruce Ratner had his own following within WFP was a warning sign, and I began to realize that money, including developer money, had at least as strong voice within WFP as it does within the Democratic Party WFP claims to be an alternative to. Still, I liked the idea behind them and I liked Tish James, so any time I felt dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party, I'd vote on the WFP line...generally for the same candidate that the Democratic Party was running. It was a way of expressing dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party without marginalizing myself the way the Greens have.
My sense of generally positive feelings towards WFP was both tested and re-enforced during the last mayoral race. By then I was already disgusted with Bloomberg's dictatorial style, his calling of protesters against the Republican Convention (like myself and my wife) "terrorists," his support of Tom DeLay's ultra-reactionary PAC, etc. My fellow Democrats in Park Slope all seemed lukewarm in their opposition to Bloomberg. Now I had heard from an insider that WFP was reluctant to endorse Freddie Ferrer, which bothered me and tested my interest in them. But the recruiters WFP put on the street (one of whom was ubiquitous and was one of the best political salesmen I have met...he is now working for DNC I think) were delivering the anti-Bloomberg message with considerable effectiveness. It was on one evening in Park Slope when the New York chapters of NARAL and LCV, completely ignoring Bloomberg's very strong financial support of the anti-choice and anti-environment PAC run by Tom Delay, were endorsing Bloomberg, a WFP attack on Bloomberg particularly inspired me and I gave them what for me was a big donation. At that point I was inclined to vote their line and inclined to send them money.
That was the high point of my relationship with WFP...though I was hoping to see that built upon this year. THAT hope was of course ruined by WFP hypocrisy this year, though in the past there were warning signs.
My inside sources have always emphasized that WFP almost always follows the money, not ideology. And I could see it in some of their endorsements that otherwise didn't seem to make sense to me. That always bothered me. And the fact that Ratner and other developers had their influence on WFP also bothered me, though I understood the link between the two wasn't just money, but also unions. I could at least see WFP's view.
Then there was the State Senate. I hadn't been as aware of it at the time, so it didn't ruin my interest in WFP in 2005, but in 2004 WFP betrayed their ideals and delivered a set-back to progress and reform in Albany by endorsing Republican Nick Spano against progressive Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Cousins lost by 18 votes. We had the chance to begin the retaking of the State Senate from the obstructionist Republicans back in 2004, but WFP ruined it. Their payment for their betrayal of progress and reform? Spano supported increasing the minimum wage...which, of course, Cousins would have also. Before this, I had various feelings of discomfort regarding WFP, but no specific races I strongly disagreed with them on. This was a major disagreement and the first serious blow to my support of them. It was, in my mind, a horrible decision on their part that hurt working families more than it helped them, fully taking into account the minimum wage deal. Strike one for WFP.
But I remained open to working with them, voting their line and even donating to them, though once the full meaning of their endorsement of Spano sunk in, it made me wary of them and made me realize that not all WFP endorsed candidates were pro-working families, progressive or reform minded.
I had another disagreement with WFP in 2006, though in this case I fully understood their viewpoint and came out of the disagreement eager to work closer with WFP. When Dan Squadron ran against Marty Connor for State Senate, I think many assumed I would support Squadron because I had been a critic of Connor's in the past. It was a tough decision for me. I think two factors convinced both my wife and myself to back Connor. First, we were initially turned off by Squadron's style. Simply put, we both independently heard him and didn't feel we could trust him. More on that in a moment. The second thing was decisive though. Squadron enthusiastically emphasized his role in Bloomberg's mayoral control of schools. Joy and I, as parents with a kid who was in the public school system and who had just gone through the horrendous and insane Middle School application process, support of mayoral control was just about a deal breaker for us. Mostly on this issue alone, and a general distrust of his style and, perhaps, his money (I am suspicious of people whose personal money becomes important in a race), I supported Connor.
For this I was rather nastily, and I will add, STUPIDLY attacked by someone in WFP (no names) who tried portraying me as an anti-reform machine hack because I was supporting Connor and because I was on the board of IND. This person attacked me for IND's disenfranchisement of some new IND members in 2006...completely ignoring the fact that I was one of the major advocates for those disenfranchised members and was the person who publicized the event the most. Funny...never got an apology from WFP person for that one. But mostly I considered that amusing and considered it stupidity and rudeness on the part of one particular leading WFP person. I should note, when I have been wrong in attacking someone I freely admit it and apologize. WFP person doesn't seem to subscribe to this philosophy.
When Daniel Squadron won against Marty Connor, I didn't really mourn. I was actually quite hoping to be proven wrong about Squadron. When, soon after his defeat, Marty Connor played Emcee at Vito Lopez's farcical County Committee meeting, I was willing to admit my support for Connor might have been at least partly misplaced, but not yet ready to admit my opposition to Squadron was misplaced.
Since then I have met and talked to Squadron several times and heard him speak several times. I don't agree with him on everything and remain a tad skeptical that in the long run I won't end up feeling towards him much as I now do towards David Yassky, a man I used to like but now despise. But provisionally I now admit that my opposition to Squadron was probably misplaced and I have grown to like and respect him. The style I previously felt suspicious of has either changed, or my attitude towards it has changed and my distrust has largely faded. I don't regret the decisions I made in the past, since I had my reasons for them. But I have grown more than comfortable with Squadron. Keep on proving my apprehensions wrong, Senator Squadron!
After that, I actually saw hope that WFP was going to be a major force for reform in NYC, and could even become a strong force to counter both the mayor and the corrupt Brooklyn machine I spend so much time fighting. I was, in fact, ready to see WFP take the lead and expressed my interest in working with them this year. So it is ironic that at this moment of strongest hope comes my biggest disappointment and probable final break with WFP. Right after I was attacked by WFP for not being reform enough for their tastes, I find that WFP themselves is opposing reform in Brooklyn by endorsing the Brooklyn machine candidate Steve Levin, and opposing independence among City Council members by supporting the machine's revenge attack on Diana Reyna in the 34th City Council District. Added to this is their support of developer candidate Bill de Blasio and of another, more nuanced developer candidate Brad Lander, and I consider this year a disaster for WFP's claims to be reform minded. It also makes their attack on me (and on Connor, for that matter) as being anti-reform suddenly seem hypocritical in the extreme. And among the things that disgusts me the most is hypocrisy.
Just before this massive disappointment, my blogging reached out with considerable enthusiasm to WFP, suggesting that, after the Squadron win and after their pro-reform rhetoric and after the Bloomberg Putsch (an issue WFP and I strongly agreed on and I emphasized that agreement), NOW was the time for WFP, possibly allied with Schumer and Weiner, to take a true leadership role against Bloomberg, against the term limits traitors, and against Vito Lopez. I even noticed WFP was considering a long list of candidates to run and in general I agreed with who they were considering: Marq Claxton, Daniel Dromm, Yetta Kurland, Rocky Chin (if he ran), etc. And I wrote about these candidates and my interest in working with WFP in their election. It really sounded like WFP was gearing up for a major move after the term limits fiasco.
It never happened.
Funny thing is, when I endorsed Connor over Squadron, I got stupid attacks calling me a machine hack. But when I openly supported their anti-Bloomberg Putsch rhetoric and expressed an interest in backing many of the same candidates who were appearing on their short list (I should note Brad Lander and Steve Levin did not appear on that early list, but many far, far better people did), I heard not one peep from WFP. No encouragement. No eagerness to unite in a good fight. Nothing. Perhaps they didn't actually like someone taking serious rhetoric they were using that they never intended to follow through with.
The one and only candidate I see them supporting who was on their early list and that I endorsed even before they did is Daniel Dromm. May we win that race! Dromm is excellent and I am glad to see WFP is getting at least that one right. We are also in agreement on John Liu for Comptroller. And again, I beat WFP in endorsing him.
But it seems their strong rhetoric regarding other City Council races was mere posturing and instead they are taking on races where they can ally with Brooklyn Party Boss Vito Lopez. What a monumental disappointment! And what rank hypocrisy by WFP who had the nerve to attack me as a machine hack using an issue that I myself publicized.
Steve Levin, nicknamed by my wife "Vito's Pet," has so far skipped most of the candidate forums put on in the district. He did attend the CBID dinner, where he basically behaved like a petulent child in full view. Since then I have met him canvassing my neighborhood. I guess he is willing to meet voters one on one in Park Slope but was too scared to face them in a forum where he may be challenged. I will say that Levin, unlike his demeanor at the CBID dinner, was quite nice and charming. I had been told he could be quite charming, and now I am glad I have seen his charming side in addition to his somewhat less than charming side. I will give him credit that he, unlike some politicians I could name, takes my opposition and writing about him in stride. "This is politics!" as he puts it.
Now people have defended Levin by saying he has been to two forums. Wow. Big deal. He didn't show up at the forum co-hosted by the two biggest clubs in the district (IND and CBID) and one of the main neighborhood associations (Park Slope Neighbors). He also didn't show up to IND's endorsement meeting where every other candidate showed up. He didn't even bother to return the CBID questionaire that all other candidates filled out. Seems to me that is a damned poor way to treat some of the most active and engaged members of the community. From what I can see, Levin's only claim in this race is having worked for the Party Boss and so having the benefit of all of Vito Lopez's donors. I see nothing about him that would inspire a WFP endorsement (despite their protestations that they simply liked him in their interview)...except of course all that money. Which, of course, has often been the dominant consideration WFP has when endorsing candidates.
The Levin candidacy is nothing more than a Vito Lopez power play to get his candidate in a district known to be reform minded and anti-machine. And WFP is playing along with this power play despite there being several better candidates running, Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone most prominent among them.
I should also note that WFP is endorsing ANOTER Vito Lopez puppet in Maritza Davilla, who is running against Diana Reyna in the 34th City Council District. Reyna, formerlly an ally of Lopez, showed too much independence, bucking Quinn and Lopez on several occasions. Her punishment is a challenger put up by Vito Lopez. And WFP is endorsing Vito Lopez's revenge candidate against Reyna for her independence.
Now I notice that WFP now seems to be defending the Lopez machine. Remember this is the machine that put Noach Dear, a known and vocal homophobe who had never practiced law in his life, on the bench as a civil court judge as part of some Byzantine web of political favors. I guess WFP has become part of that web of favors and is now happy to ally itself with a machine that puts homophobes in court as judges.
This is the same machine that tried (and ultimately failed) to take revenge on Margarita Lopez-Torres when she refused to hire Vito Lopez's daughter. This is just one example of Vito Lopez running candidates as revenge for political independence. And this is just one of many examples of Vito Lopez's cronyism. Let me quote the Lambda Independent Democrats about Vito Lopez:
The lengthy lead story in the Real Estate section [of the NY Times] credited Lopez with sparking a massive rebuilding effort in Bushwick, way back when he was a graduate student in 1971, and then carrying it through. The story also mentioned that Angela Battaglia's agency is the developer for a $20 million component of the rebuilding effort. It even pictured [Vito] Lopez and Battaglia standing together in front of new housing construction. But the story omitted that Battaglia is Lopez's girlfriend. Does that connection at least deserve mention? Might the article have explained why there was or wasn't a conflict of interest present? Was it a coincidence that Lopez's girlfriend's outfit was put in charge of the $20 million deal? Inquiring minds would like to know. It may well be that everything was done on the up-and-up. But given Lopez's tendency to do favors for his friends-for example, he helped make his girlfriend's brother Jack Battaglia a Civil Court judge-the Times should have explored the question.
— Lambda Independent Democrats
I guess cronyism and revenge politics is now acceptable to WFP.
This is the same machine who wanted to give Bruce Ratner the largest tax break yet (so big, in fact, that even Ratner lover Michael Bloomberg thought it was too much) right after Ratner family members donated to Vito Lopez. I guess Pay-to-play is now part of WFP agenda...oh, wait, in some ways WFP has always expected candidates to pay for endorsements. Maybe that is the common ground between Vito Lopez and WFP.
What I want to know is will WFP again try to portray me as a machine hack because I support Jo Anne Simon against Vito Lopez machine insider Steve Levin? Simon hasn't been perfect, but she has a real track record of standing alongside fellow District Leader Alan Fleishman against Vito Lopez. And Simon is a nationally known and respected advocate for disabled rights. What has Levin done for the community other than Lopez's bidding? I mean had WFP endorsed Ken Diamondstone in that race I would have understood and respected their stand. It might even have led me to reassess the strategic aspects of the race. But instead they became the machine hack enablers. And this after using machine ties as a weapon against Marty Connor! Again, the hypocrisy of WFP this year is stark.
And will WFP again call me a machine hack for supporting Josh Skaller, the grassroots progressive whose fundraising numbers (while refusing any corporate money) are stellar and who is a past president of the real reform club in Brooklyn, CBID? They are supporting Brad Lander whose main sources of funding (outside of family) are corporate interests including one of the central figures in the Pensiongate scandal. Yet I see Brad claiming no corporate money. Maybe he doesn't look into where his donors work, but I found several corporate donors that I see creating a conflict of interest that is so common in NYC politics. Corporate interests don't equate to working family interests as far as I can tell. And, rumor has it (been hearing this for some time but now more clearly) Lander is the de facto Vito Lopez candidate in the race. Lander also has support from Hasid Dov Hikind (despite Lander's anti-Israel views). Hikind has previously been a strong advocate of racial profiling (Lander didn't seem so pro-Hikind then), a strong opponent of marriage equality, and made anti-black statements. I wonder how Lander justifies his alliance with Dov Hikind...and I wonder how Hasids justify supporting Lander over the candidate who far more strongly agrees with their views on gays, choice and Israel, John Heyer.
Out of which mess I eagerly support Josh Skaller and WFP has to justify their alliance with corporate interests, the possible link to a key figure in the Pensiongate scandal, links to Hikind, and even yet ANOTHER link to Vito Lopez (more on that if I can get something on record).
And will they call me a machine hack for supporting Diana Reyna (admittedly a former Lopez ally) against Vito Lopez's revenge candidate, Maritza Davilla, put up to punish Reyna for refusing to vote Lopez's way often enough? WFP cannot claim to support independent thinking in politics while supporting a candidate who was specifically put up as revenge for independent thinking...just like now Surrogate Judge Margarita Lopez-Torres was punished for remaining independent of Vito Lopez's cronyism.
Sadly it is hard for me to see how I can take WFP seriously as a force for progress or reform after this year's round of highly questionable endorsements.