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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Minor parties competing for Cuomo votes

Lieutenant Governor Nominee Kathy Hochul with Hillary Rodham

Lieutenant Governor Nominee Kathy Hochul with Hillary Rodham Clinton as she appears with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo at the "Women for Cuomo" event, Grand Hyatt, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Bryan Smith / Bryan Smith

A pale blue banner bearing the phrase "Women's Equality" loomed above the stage where Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday proclaimed her support for Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his running-mate, Kathy Hochul.

Clinton and the other Democratic speakers, including the governor himself, stumped from the rostrum for the "Women's Equality Agenda," a 10-point legislative package.

There was also a third use of the phrase -- in "Women's Equality Party." This is an ad-hoc Nov. 4 ballot line for Cuomo and Hochul, and it raised the most interesting practical issues of the day.

The touting of this alternative line became visible to those leaving the rally at Manhattan's Grand Hyatt hotel. "Vote WEP," proclaimed white T-shirts given out by Cuomo staff. "Stand with the Women's Equality Party," slick fliers said.

A big campaign tour bus on East 42nd Street was painted to say "Women's Equality Party."

But Cuomo and Hochul also are running on an established third-party line abbreviated as "WFP" for Working Families Party. WFP and WEP differ by one part of a letter -- like X and Y chromosomes.

For Cuomo and Hochul, it's no problem; a vote on any of their four ballot lines counts toward their total.

Candidates often create such ad-hoc alternative lines by petition. Republican challenger Rob Astorino's allies put a "Stop Common Core" line on this year's ballot, for example.

In New York, with its funky system of "fusion" voting, it does matter how many votes a cross-endorsing party gets. Any party needs 50,000 votes in the governor's race to retain automatic ballot status for the next four years.

The similarity of acronyms of the union-backed WFP and the Cuomo-created WEP could cause confusion. This is especially interesting since WFP leaders have openly clashed on policy with Cuomo in the past.

The competition for Cuomo votes hasn't gone unnoticed. On Monday the WFP had feminist icon Gloria Steinem state in a mailing: "Our votes on the Working Families Party line help elect leaders who have promised to pass a full Women's Equality agenda . . . "

Thursday, WFP co-chair Karen Scharff distributed by email a new video, "Why Women are Voting Working Families."

Cuomo also accepted the Independence Party endorsement last spring even as Astorino and Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs called for the party to be shunned.

Four years ago, the Libertarian Party fell just shy of automatic ballot status with 48,386.

This year, Michael McDermott of Hauppauge is running for governor on the line after the party petitioned its way onto the ballot. He took part in Wednesday's debate with Cuomo, Astorino and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

From Cuomo's left, Hawkins blasts the "so-called Women's Equality Agenda" as a political contrivance.

"Cuomo over the last two years could have won nine of its 10 points," Hawkins says on his website. "But it was more important to him to create a campaign issue against his Republican opponent, despite his overwhelming lead in the polls."

Hawkins, who got 59,928 votes in 2010, seeks to do better this time.

If the Women's Equality Party somehow draws 50,000 votes, Cuomo could control not only the state's dominant major party but a new minor party.

Or, WEP could simply damage WFP or Independence by siphoning Cuomo votes.

Life is complicated on a New York election ballot.


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