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O'Reilly: Andrew Cuomo's third-party move may haunt him

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo shown during a press

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo shown during a press conference. (July 15, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

He could have killed it. But he let it live.

Now, it may devour him.

The "he" was gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo; the "it" was New York's Working Families Party -- the socialist political organization that will effectively control NYC in the personage of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.

It was 2010 and the WFP was reeling from federal probes into alleged election law violations. Cuomo was winning the race for governor over Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino. Cuomo had the Democratic and Independence Party lines; he didn't need a third.

The question was whether Cuomo would also take the quasi-radioactive WFP line, guaranteeing it the 50,000 votes necessary to keep its ballot line for the next four years. Then attorney general, Cuomo had avoided investigating the WFP and its for-profit arm, Data & Field Services, during the controversy despite calls to do so by fiscal-reform groups. But some hoped he might let the party die by refusing its ballot line.

The WFP had been pushing Democrats leftward since its founding by ACORN and union leaders in 1998. Its agenda was becoming New York's agenda -- higher taxes, greater government spending and benefit packages, increased business regulations and government funded health care, even as the state sank deeper into debt. Democrats who wouldn't walk the WFP line found themselves outmanned in primaries.

The question on many political observers' minds in July 2010 was whether Cuomo would accept or refuse the WFP banner. Did ostensible reformer Cuomo have the chutzpah to take on the union leaders and radical community organizers?

Turned out he didn't. Cuomo the reformer became Cuomo the calculator. With the stroke of pen, he protected his left flank for the next four years. It allowed him to make largely symbolic reforms in his first year in office, like his Tier 6 pension plan that didn't touch defined benefits, without real blowback from the ACORN crowd.

But with the election of de Blasio, the WFP's own creation, and Cuomo hoping to become president, who's holding the cards now? Should have let 'em die in '10, Governor.

William F. B. O'Reilly is a columnist and a Republican political consultant.