A Third-Party Breakthrough

By Anderson, Theo | In These Times, November 2012 | Go to article overview

A Third-Party Breakthrough


Anderson, Theo, In These Times


The Working Families Party tips a race in upstate New York

In the Democrats' battle to take back control of the House, few races are as close or as important as Dan Maffei's contest in upstate New York.

Maffei, who represented New York's 25th Congressional District from 2009 to 2011, lost the 2010 mid-term election to Republican Ann Marie Buerkle. This year, he and Buerkle are competing once again, but due to reapportionment and redistricting they're fighting in the 24th rather than 25th district.

Maffei enjoys strong support from local labor unions. His greatest asset, though, is his endorsement by New York Working Families Party (WFP). This third party bills itself as "a grassroots coalition of community organizations, neighborhood activists, and labor unions" seeking to "build a society that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well-connected."

New York election laws allow candidates to be backed by more than one party, giving third parties like WFP a level of influence that they lack in most states. The WFP endorsement of a major-party candidate can tip an election.

In the 2009 New York City elections, the WFP knocked on 228,000 doors and talked to more than 62,000 voters, helping seven progressives win various contests. The same year, the WFP helped push "green jobs" legislation through the state legislature, as well as a tax hike on the wealthy. In a testament to the party's success, the New York edition of the business publication Crains reported that the WFP's "growing influence has created anxiety in the business community, and among many Republican elected officials, and even some Democrats."

This fall, the WFP has been out "in full force in key districts around the state," says Joe Dinkin, the organization's communications director. "The road to control of Congress runs right through New York this year."

The 2010 victory of Buerkle, the Republican candidate, was a major coup for the Tea Party. Buerkel has said she decided to run for Congress because the Affordable Care Act "wasn't the right direction for our country." She supports Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan, including his scheme to turn Medicare into a voucher program. She has described the Democratic Party as "a very far-left, progressive party. ... It's not a party that wants to empower people."

In response to Buerkle's far-right ideology, Maffei's campaign is rooted in a grassroots, old-school, pro- union line of attack. …

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