Crain’s New York
June 2, 2014
Lost in the chaos of the Working Families Party’s Saturday night convention was the party’s state committee’s endorsement of challengers to two members of the Independent Democratic Conference, including the co-leader of the state Senate, a WFP spokesman confirmed.
The influential labor-backed party’s state committee voted to endorse former Bronx Councilman Oliver Koppell, who is running against state Sen. Jeff Klein, who heads the IDC, and former Comptroller John Liu, who is running against IDC state Sen. Tony Avella, according to WFP spokesman Khan Shoieb.
Still, a number of key member unions of the WFP are sticking with Mr. Klein, according to multiple labor sources in attendance. And party officers still have to give final approval to the state committee vote, Mr. Khan said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also earned the party’s nod after pledging (by video) to push for Democratic control of the state Senate and support primary challenges to IDC members if they don’t return to the Democratic fold.
The WFP also endorsed ex-Queens Councilman Leroy Comrie over state Sen. Malcolm Smith, a former IDC member whose trial on corruption charges began Monday. And the state committee voted to back Debbie Medina, a challenger to Brooklyn state Sen. Martin Dilan, a member of the main Democratic conference, sources in attendance said.
Mr. Shoieb tweeted that the powerful health care workers union 1199/SEIU was expected to be in Mr. Koppell’s corner, and sources present said an 1199 representative did cast a vote for Mr. Koppell on Saturday. However, an 1199 spokesman said the party had not yet made a decision about whom to back in the race. The political director of the influential building workers union 32BJ did vote to support Mr. Koppell on Saturday evening, multiple sources said, but 32BJ itself has not yet gone through its official endorsement process. One of the union’s top priorities, the Dream Act, fell two votes short in the state Senate when Mr. Klein brought it to the chamber floor earlier this year.
Some unions are continuing to back the powerful Mr. Klein in a split akin to the one over whether to back Mr. Cuomo.
Unions still backing Mr. Klein include the retail workers’ RWDSU, the Hotel Trades Council, the Teamsters, the United Federation of Teachers and the Mason Tenders. Mr. Klein did not interview with the WFP committee in the Bronx, and so unions supportive of him on Saturday could only vote “no endorsement” or abstain. The unions that supported Mr. Klein voted “no endorsement,” but could not overcome the votes from unions supportive of Mr. Koppell and party activists, according to HTC political director Josh Gold and Mike McGuire, the political director of the Mason Tenders.
At one point, according to multiple sources, it appeared that Mr. Gold might not be able to vote because the union was potentially behind on its dues. Mr. Gold eventually presented WFP executive director Dan Cantor with a credit card in a joking manner and was allowed to vote.
It’s possible that the WFP could ultimately flip and back Mr. Klein and others if his Independent Democratic Conference rejoins the main Senate Democratic conference before petitioning for ballot access ends. Currently, the IDC jointly controls the state Senate with Republicans.
An IDC spokeswoman declined to say whether the IDC would rejoin the Senate Democratic fold. “Senator Klein’s attention is focused on getting the job done for the people of New York during these important final few weeks of the legislative session. He is a lifelong Democrat who is not walking away from his strong record of core Democratic legislative accomplishments and looks forward to a healthy debate of ideas and sharing his vision for New York in the coming election,” the spokeswoman said.