Monday, April 20, 2009

Early Endorsement Gamble for WFP by David Freelander - City Hall News

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De Blasio’s Performance Expected to be Statement About Party’s Clout

In 2008, the Working Families Party helped a 28-year-old neophyte knock off a 30-year incumbent state senator and turned all levers of state government blue for the first time in 70 years.

Such moves and moxie left many WFP members wondering what they could do for an encore after helping vault 28-year-old Daniel Squadron to the State Senate last September in what was the biggest electoral successes for the 10-year-old party to date.

Now it appears they have their answer: Make sure that the man they endorsed surprisingly early, Bill de Blasio, is elected public advocate.

“We don’t do paper endorsements,” said George Albro, a WFP executive committee member. “The party has a real track record of being effective in campaigns like this. We anticipate being very active—a lot of resources, a lot of troops, a lot of publicity.”

De Blasio has, to date, lagged in fundraising and name recognition compared with his rivals for the seat, but his backers are hoping that an infusion of Working Families money and support can vault him to at least the run-off.

“I think they are an incredible brand, and are extremely good at organizing people on the grassroots level,” de Blasio said. “They made an extraordinary commitment to me by endorsing me so early, and I’m sure they fully intend to back that up.”

The potential lack of a serious Democratic mayoral primary may give extra weight to the WFP endorsement. In a low turnout primary, the key to winning a down ballot race in 2009 may come down to identifying and turning out supporters, something at which the Working Families Party has proved adept.

But winning a 25,000-vote Senate primary is one thing. Throwing their weight around citywide six months out from a competitive citywide primary is another, particularly for an organization that has until now only supported one citywide candidate, Comptroller William Thompson (D), and avoided the last two public advocate’s races entirely.

The support of de Blasio, then, will prove a crucial test of the WFP’s muscle.

“They are not middleweights any more, they are tuning up for the heavyweight bout,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs at Baruch College. “They are not the third major party in New York anymore. They are the second.”

But the move does not come without risks. By putting all of its chips on one candidate early, the party risks angering others in the field. If de Blasio wins, the party will be able to make the case that it is the dispositive force in Democratic primaries. But if he fails, the eventual public advocate will have proven he can win citywide without any help from the WFP. Fast forward four years, when the first-term public advocate decides to run for the open mayoralty, and he could afford to essentially ignore the WFP, who would have already proven themselves ineffective at winning citywide races. Other citywide candidates could develop similar doubts.

Nor did the endorsement come without controversy. The other candidates grumbled that because of de Blasio’s longstanding ties with some of the big unions, like 1199, and with progressive groups like ACORN, receiving the Working Families Party imprimatur was a foregone conclusion, and thus, hardly newsworthy.

Some within the party voiced concern as well, complaining that the endorsement was railroaded through for the sake of getting the support to de Blasio early. Each of the party’s affiliates—its clubs, member unions and civic organizations—cast a weighted vote, but some organizations did not have a chance to consult their members before the vote. This could create an awkward situation if in the end some of the member unions, organizations or clubs opt to support another public advocate candidate while the WFP and its army of grassroots operatives turn out for de Blasio.

“There was no reason to push the vote through that early,” said Michael McGuire, director of the Mason Tenders PAC. “They easily could have tabled it and let other organizations do their process. There was a feeling that a certain powerful segment of the party has been with de Blasio from day one.”

These are precisely the kind of bare-knuckle tactics that have vaulted the WFP to influence. Now that they are there, though, many are left scoffing that the party has abandoned some of the good government roots.

“I think a lot of people in the inside just roll their eyes and don’t see them to be all that progressive of a group,” said one Brooklyn political insider. “They are very much part of the traditional power structure, and make very opportunistic endorsements.”

ABOVE: The Working Families Party put all their chips on Bill de Blasio’s public advocate run, hoping for a big payoff on primary day and beyond.