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Unions break with progressives over Cuomo-Nixon fight

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is seen in Manhattan,

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is seen in Manhattan, April 2, 2018. Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

ALBANY — An internal rift on New York’s political left broke wide open Friday when two major unions severed a long-standing alliance with progressive activists over whether to endorse Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo or his Democrat challenger, Cynthia Nixon.

The unions divorced from the Working Families Party after they were threatened by Cuomo, a party official said Friday.

Unions and progressives had backed the minor-but-influential party for more than a decade as a way to try to push Democrats to the left. But a long-simmering feud over direction of the minor party had been gaining steam in a struggle that analysts say echoed the national Democratic divide in 2016 over Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The split came after the governor urged the unions to withdraw funding from any of the activist groups supporting Nixon, one of the former stars of the TV series “Sex and the City.”

“In a meeting earlier this week, the governor was threatening people,” Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, said, adding he was at the meeting. “Several times, he said: ‘If unions or anyone give money to any of these groups, they can lose my number.’ Our friends in labor are in a tight spot and we respect their decision.”

The timing was important. Lipton’s statement came one day before an executive committee of the Working Families Party is expected to call for endorsing Nixon, saying Cuomo has failed to deliver on some progressive issues and has propped up Republican control of the state Senate.

As a result of the split, the two departing unions — the Communications Workers of America and 32BJ, a powerful unit of the Service Employees International Union — might band with other unions to form an entirely new party that not only could endorse Cuomo but serve to blunt the Working Families influence on the left, union officials said.

Cuomo’s campaign sought to distance itself from the fight.

“The schism in the WFP is between its founding labor unions and their organizing groups,” Cuomo spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer said in an email. “The governor stands with organized labor and will follow their lead.”

In an updated statement late Friday night, Fashouer said Cuomo would no longer seek the party’s endorsement.

She also said she disputed Lipton’s claim. A statement from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a Cuomo ally, contended there was “no truth” to Lipton’s statement.

For Nixon, who dubbed her rival “Andrew the Bully,” it was another instance of the governor trying to intimidate activists.

“Andrew Cuomo putting his personal political ambitions over the needs of grassroots organizations fighting for racial and economic justice tells you everything you need to know about him,” Nixon spokeswoman Rebecca Katz said. “And it shows just how terrified he is of Cynthia Nixon.”

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