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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Cuomo's minor-party setup: Heads he wins, tails someone else loses

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks on Nov. 1, 2014,

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks on Nov. 1, 2014, during a campaign event at Casita Maria Centre for Arts & Education in the Bronx. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Many pundits have treated this election for New York governor as a snore. But in at least one murky way, the campaign became like none other in recent memory.

It takes a bit of explanation to get at just how unusual this is -- and why the adrenaline is running in certain circles.

The top player in the dominant Democratic Party, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has engaged in open discord in the campaign’s final days with one of the minor parties that cross-endorsed him for re-election.

Candidates do not typically show strains with the people whose support they courted and won. That’s what makes this atypical.

Imagine if Cuomo decided to run a primary candidate against an incumbent Democrat who cannot un-endorse him -- and whichever candidate won, it would add to the governor’s total.

This scenario is similar in spirit.

WFP has been on state ballots since 1998. Cuomo’s ad hoc, newly created Women’s Equality Party -- which is formed around him, running mate Kathy Hochul, and his stated legislative agenda -- becomes the challenger.

The main incentive for any alternative party to endorse a flushly funded, high-polling mainstream candidate is clear. All parties -- Independence, Working Families, Conservatives and Greens -- need 50,000 votes for governor to maintain their automatic ballot status. Otherwise, they must spend four years petitioning candidates onto the ballot. And the number of votes a party gets above 50,000 determines its ballot position in relation to the other party lines.

Falling out of automatic ballot status is expensive and clout-reducing for a party, and can even be fatal. Cuomo knows this. When he withdrew from the 2002 Democratic primary for governor, it proved too late for the Liberal Party to drop him as a candidate. Cuomo drew less than 50,000, effectively wiping out the Liberals then led by the late Ray Harding (who Cuomo later prosecuted while attorney general).

So now the WFP is looking the fend off the Cuomo-created WEP -- by telling its fans and members to vote for Cuomo on its line.

One recommended sample letter sent out by WFP leader Bill Lipton to certain party members states: “Most of you know that I was bitterly disappointed that Zephyr Teachout did not receive the WFP nomination for governor. But now is the time to face reality. Andrew Cuomo is going to be our next governor and what we need to do is hold him to the promises he made in order to win our nomination.”

In a sense, the WFP pitch seems to be that voting for the governor on its line offers progressives a chance to support the Cuomo that they prefer him to be.

WFP and Cuomo have differed on several issues for years -- education, charter schools, fracking, taxes, and even the actions of Occupy Wall Street. But, apparently fearing the prospect of opposing Zephyr Teachout in the general election on the WFP line, Cuomo agreed last spring to full-fledged support for a Democratic Senate majority.

Now that he has WFP’s endorsement irrevocably in hand, Cuomo can display his lack of any particular fealty for this minor party.

On WNYC last Friday, Cuomo said: “We’ve formed every kind of fringe party for every kind of reason. We have Democrat, Republican, Green, Red, White, Blue, Working People, Working Short People, Working Tall People. We’ve never had a women’s party.

"This is the home of Seneca Falls. Let the women make their voice heard.”

In the competition among WEP, WFP, and Independence, if it's heads Cuomo wins; if it's tails someone else loses.

Charges of irregularity, meanwhile, have continued to afflict leading figures in the Independence Party -- as raised in this recent Newsday piece.

Ironically, that isn’t the organization Cuomo’s at odds with. He’s backed, as before, by both Independence and WFP -- yet it’s the WFP line that’s become the flashpoint.

Many insiders will be watching to see Tuesday night which minor parties achieved the 50,000 mark. That may not be known, however, until some time afterward, perhaps in some cases even when the vote is certified.

In 2010, for example, the Libertarian Party came up short by less than 2,000 votes statewide. Observers can only keep an eye on the results as they come in.

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